Yoga prescribes eight steps to discipline your mind. How many do you follow besides asana and pranayama?

The declaration of June 21 as International Day of Yoga by UNESCO is one of the more creditable achievements of Narendra Modi‘s otherwise underwhelming government.

While more and more Indians are now embracing Yoga, it can be argued that the last four years has seen India become a more raucous, angry and irritable country, far from the calm and peace Yoga is to bring its practitioners.

One reason for this gap, clearly, is an overwhelming ignorance of what Yoga is: a union of mind and body, not just a health or fitness fad.

In his excellent new book Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker, the diplomat-politician-scholar Pavan K. Varma explicates the five schools of philosophy that preceded Shankara’s, and throws light on the Yoga school compared to its predecessor Sankhya.

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By PAVAN K. VARMA

“The Yoga school broadly accepts the worldview of the Sankhya [of a cosmic duality to the universe] but fleshes out the physical discipline and meditational regimen required by an individual to realise the separation (kaivalya) of Purusha, pure-consciousness, from the non-sentient Prakriti.

“The Yoga Sutra is attributed to Patanjali and is dated to sometime before 400 CE. Several scholars believe it to be of much greater antiquity, and it is very likely that even if composed later, the Sutra codifies a tradition and practice from several centuries earlier.

“The Yoga Sutra begins with this aphorism: Yogah chitta vrittih nirodha: yoga is restraining the mind from discursive thought.

“This restraint, it believes, can be brought about by discipline, both physical and mental.

“In the sutra, discipline is outlined as an eightfold path, starting from yama (self-restraint), niyama (virtuous observances), asana (posture), pranayama (consciously controlling breath), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentrating the mind), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (a trance-like state in which there is complete union with the subject of meditation).

“Yoga literally translates to ‘union’, and the purpose of the entire regimen of the eightfold path is to prepare the disciple for this union with Purusha.

“Unlike the Vedantic system, which believes that enlightenment, based on jnana, can come to anybody at any time through direct anubhav or communion, Yoga provides to Sankhya a carefully structured complementary system of mental and physical exercises that it believes is a pre-condition to moksha.

“On one essential point, however, Yoga differs from Sankhya, and that is in its acceptance of a personal god, who directs the cyclical evolution process from creation to dissolution.”

(Excerpted from Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker, by Pavan K. Varma; Tranquebar; 364 pp, Rs 699)