Integral Yoga: health, happiness and emancipation

Yoga is a system of integral education, education not only of the body and the mind or the intellect, but also of the inner spirit. Swami Sivananda

Classical yoga is an ancient system of self-development which originated in ancient India many thousands of years ago. This system, also called integral yoga, aims at bringing harmony between body, mind, and soul. Nowadays, yoga serves a unique role in helping people to confront the stress and challenges of modern life. Through special yogic techniques and principles, classical yoga gives us the tools to bring health, happiness, and positivity into our everyday life.

According to Vedanta, the ancient philosophy of Yoga, the real nature of existence is consciousness or spirit. The spirit is encased in a physical body and in a psychic system which together allow its expression, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on their level of purity. In other words, if the body and the mind are pure and healthy, they will let the light of consciousness shine through them manifesting in a high level of health, vitality, and happiness. The body and the mind are like the vehicles of the soul, and it is of primary importance that they should be maintained in the best condition possible in order for the soul to reach the final destination of life, which is the realization that we are, in essence, spirit, free from all the limitations of the material body and of the mind. This final stage of emancipation is called Moksha or Mukti and is considered by Yogis to be the goal of life.

The 5 Basic Principles of Yoga

There are 5 basic yoga principles which we can apply in our daily life in order to purify and develop our two instruments: the body and the mind. Just like a well-maintained vehicle will drive well without problems and will bring us to our destination safely, a well-trained and healthy body and mind will give us the freedom to live a disease-free life and will permit us to achieve our goals.

Proper exercise (Asana)

A good vehicle needs a well-lubricated engine. The yoga postures (Asanas) play that role. They are excellent physical exercises for maintaining a high level of physical fitness. The muscles are made strong and elastic, the spine and the joints become flexible, the nervous system and the internal organs are toned. The whole body functions smoothly. The classical system of the asanas is an excellent method for stress management.

Proper breathing (Pranayama)

Breathing exercises (Pranayama) help us to reconnect to the battery of the body (solar plexus) and to recharge our body and mind with life force energy (Prana or Chi). Similar energizing effects for our health as with acupuncture are produced resulting in a radiant state of health.

Proper relaxation (Savasana)

Relaxation corresponds to the cooling system in a car. In a similar way we need to make sure that the body and the mind do not get overworked and overheated due to unrelieved stress and tensions. Relaxation is the natural way of the body to recharge. Any classical yoga class includes techniques of relaxation which have very positive stress relieving effects and thus enhance our physical and mental health.

Proper diet (vegetarian)

Any vehicle must be supplied with the proper fuel for its engine. Imagine running a diesel car with gasoline. The engine will choke after some time and the car with stall. In the same way, the wrong diet, based on processed foods with a heavy proportion of fats and sugars, will inevitably lead to serious digestive and other health problems. A vegetarian diet is ideal for the practice of yoga. It is nutritious and healthy for the body, as well as light, which helps the mind to concentrate better and facilitates the practice of meditation.

Positive thinking and meditation

The driver of the body vehicle is the mind. Even a good balanced lifestyle of proper exercises, proper breathing, proper relaxation, and a good diet will not give the expected results if the mind is scattered or holding on to negative feelings. A positive mind with a strong power of concentration is the key to happiness and success in Yoga and in life. The science of Raja Yoga (meditation) offers various techniques which lead to a controlled, focused, and peaceful state of mind.

Health is wealth – Peace of mind is happiness – Yoga shows the way 

Swami Vishnudevananda