Studies about yogic methods reveal that ancient teachers knew how to heal without the benefit of today’s medical science and instruments. Those who study yoga may be doing so for the health benefits it provides; yoga has been touted as a way to increase metabolism, strengthen muscles and leads to reduced stress. The breathing techniques demonstrated during yoga sessions, or pranayama, become a tool any yoga teacher or student can utilize if they become stressed out during the day.
The benefits of yoga, however, go beyond science. Ancient yogis used the techniques embodied in yoga to reach moksha, or a state of consciousness wherein the yogi realizes his or her oneness with the world. Moksha, along with dharma, kama and artha, are the four goals of life, and they can be realized through the disciplined and regular practice of yoga.
Kama is defined as the urge to attain one’s deepest desires and goals. This can range from finally being able to do a difficult yoga form to achieving the goal of owning a home or making a long-awaited career change.
Similar to kama is artha, or the acquisition of resources that are valuable to you. While this may seem contradictory to ancient yogic goals of releasing oneself from the burden of worldly possessions, “resources” need not be tangible. Perhaps maintaining strong family ties is valuable to you, or staying healthy. The techniques developed through mastering the asanas can lead us on the path to kama and artha.
Dharma is the “Way,” or the laws that govern nature and the universe itself. According to the texts of The Bhagavadgita, yoga is one of the paths toward salvation and realizing the inter-connectedness of everything, from microscopic creatures to the massive sun that shines down on us all.
Modern scholars and yoga students have written countless books with the goal of understanding how the practice benefits the body, increases circulation and may reduce stress. Science, of course, can explain these benefits, but the spiritual results gained from yoga are much more difficult to articulate with words.
Individuals who have an inner desire to attain moksha through becoming one with the self, the future and the past may be surprised that yoga could hold the key to attaining what is called “enlightenment.” It is this aspect of the ancient yogic practice that instructors should emphasize in their classes as much as breathing and poses.
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