Yoga: A True Harmony of Head, Heart and Hands
The same harmony with Spirit is reached through another branch called Karma Yoga, the Yoga of action through selfless service. This path is described in detail in the Bhagavad Gita, another of the main scriptures that expound the teachings of Yoga. Karma Yoga involves performing duties with a focused mind and loving intention, without attachment to the outcome or to personal reward. When the heart and mind are trained to act for the well-being of all, the practitioner becomes an instrument of the Divine Will, transcending her/his individuality.
The Bhagavad Gita also advocates the path of love and devotion to God in some form, called Bhakti Yoga. Many individuals are naturally inspired to see the Divine Light in a spiritual teacher, deity, symbol or in the infinite magnificence of Mother Nature. Through faith, constant remembrance and devoted service to that representation, one can rise above the illusion of a separate self and experience union with the Spirit that dwells within everything, including oneself.
Yet another branch of Yoga promulgated in the Bhagavad Gita is Jnana Yoga, the path of wisdom. This method requires self-analysis and a keen intellect to practice a steady, systematic discrimination between the unchanging Spirit and the ever-changing forms of creation. By identifying less and less with one’s own body, mind and ego, one comes to experience the Spiritual Self that is normally hidden behind these grosser aspects of being.
Though Yoga emerged in ancient India as one of six schools of Hindu philosophy, all of these paths, teachings and practices remain timeless tools for personal transformation. The more well-known practices—–asana, guided relaxation, pranayama and meditation—create numerous physical and psychological benefits and, when properly instructed, can be practiced by anyone, of any age, of any faith. Yoga practice can be reduced to very simple and safe forms, such as slow deep breathing, and is being used therapeutically to treat countless health issues.
My teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda, playfully expressed its simplicity when he said that Yoga means having an easeful body, a peaceful mind and a useful life. While someone may be naturally drawn to a particular form of practice or one of the branches mentioned here, there is a great benefit to practicing all of them, thus addressing all the levels of our human nature. However, even without this comprehensive approach, any one of them can bring a practitioner to the ultimate goal of liberation and make the journey an enjoyable one.