Yoga has been around for a long time but not always in the format we know it to be today. The word Yoga itself means union or to yoke and is used to describe both the outcome and the process of unification. While this may seem somewhat abstract in the beginning, we need only look to the challenges of modern society to understand its relevance. We have more than ever but are less content, we have greater means for interaction but are more isolated, we achieve so much but sacrifice our health and our relationships for it and we develop our minds to such an extent yet have no control over it. The significance of unification becomes clear when we consider how every one of these problems stem from a lack of connection, be it with our material belongings, bodies, thoughts, energy levels, emotions or each other. The great minds of past have studied the human condition and understood these disconnections to be the source of our hardships and suffering. They then proceeded to formulate various forms of Yoga to suit the needs of each era in order to bring harmony back to the individual and society in general.
Contemporary Yoga deals predominantly with the body in order to suit our physical preoccupation, emphasising Asana or physical postures as the primary practice of Yoga. In spite of its relevance, it can only be called a practice of Yoga when there is a process of connection embedded and unification as its goal. On the most tangible level, this refers to the union of mind and body, attention and task. Some may find this concept to be a little strange but how else could we cut ourselves when cooking except when the mind is elsewhere, disconnected from the task at hand? How else do accidents happen, can poor posture prevail, can physical discomfort turn into chronic pain, or hunger go unnoticed but for this disconnection.
There is an old Cherokee proverb: "If you hear the whispers, you won't have to listen to the screams".
Until we establish the mind or the awareness with our bodies and its actions, we will never have the opportunity for constructive nor efficient response. Yoga dives deeper though through a connection with Prana (subtle energy or Chi). When we extend our field of consciousness to such energy and its flow, we become more capable of attenuating its influence on us through various physical postures and breathing practices. To awaken our latent store of Prana is the very purpose of Hatha Yoga, which can be seen as the father to all physical styles of Yoga. These energetic shifts increase our level of vitality and aid in general well-being. The balancing of these energetic currents also bring harmony to our outwardly expressions, softening the destructive ways in which we relate to other people and situations.
When we understand Yoga through its philosophy, every moment in daily life becomes an opportunity for Yoga. Listening without reaction or distraction is a way of deepening our connection to another. Reading with the mind calm and focused on the subject improves retention and learning. Even sweeping while 'one with the task' ensures the best outcome along with a joyous experience!
It is said that all we desire is already present within us. As we shake off the shackles of our careless thoughts through mindful action, we gradually come closer to this blissful nature that is inherent within us even though it is not apparent immediately. Unification with our true nature is the ultimate goal of Yoga. It culminates in a state of liberation from ignorance and suffering where we are one in knowing and being; undifferentiated from the very qualities we long for, becoming love, bliss and compassion itself.