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What is Yoga? Part 1

Translation of an article by Norio Shimada,


If you are already practicing yoga, please think back: when you first learned yoga, how did it make you feel?

When I first took the Yoga and meditation class from the Mahayogi Yoga Mission (MYM), it was grueling! But I recall that after the class ended, I was released from tension and exhaustion; I felt uplifted. And I think that on the same day I did the asana (postures) again in the evening. Needless to say, I had extreme muscle pain for the next two days.

The mystical, calm feeling felt refreshing to me back then, and it left an impression. It is a mysterious and comfortable feeling when the mind is tranquil, looking calmly within. That feeling was unlike anything I had felt in any sports or other kinds of lessons. Most impactful of all was meeting with and experiencing the unique presence of the staff (who were later to become my brother and sister disciples.)

You may all have had different experiences and feelings, but to reach this point where you are now, there must have been “something” that made you go further than just the first step, wasn’t there? In the upcoming series of articles I would like to delve into what this “something” is. I would be delighted if people who have yet to experience the MYM and have the great fortune to begin learning Yoga could read my writings and begin the practice with a sense of familiarity and find empathy in the fact that he or she is not alone in having various questions.


What Really is Yoga?

—What really is Yoga?
A strange exercise from India practiced by flexible people?!
—Why would one practice Yoga?
For health?!
—What happens when one practices Yoga?

You make progress losing weight! It seems that sage-like naturalists who are of dubious character like to practice, so…

These are likely the most common answers when people are asked about their impressions of yoga. In some way, they are correct. Now, for people who have already begun practicing yoga, why did they start? Further, for those who have been practicing for a long time, what exactly has changed in them and how? What did they really discover? Are they somehow exceptional?

Nowadays, yoga is presented in a variety of formats, such as books and videos. As a solution for health and beauty and as a means to deal with typical problems in modern times, such as stress and mental health, yoga has been introduced and adapted to fit the culture. However, if you look at the origin of Yoga, it is a path [or discipline] that has been passed down from guru to disciple in India for over three thousand years. It is neither a means to health nor a philosophy or therapy devised by a particular person. It is the antithesis of modern Western civilization, it reveals the most essential existence to us humans, and it is a systematized path. Even from the most ancient times, when modern technology and telecommunications were not available, Yoga is a science that has been verified in exhaustive detail, demonstrated through practice, and proven. Some of the knowledge of the universe, the soul, the mind, and the body that has been verified by Yoga has also now been explained by modern science and medicine. The rest of this knowledge has not been accepted by [modern] science, or has not been able to be explained yet. Nevertheless, in the coming decades and centuries, science will continue to explain and interpret this knowledge.

What is especially important is that since ancient times, people had already found this Existence, determined its characteristics, and knew the method by which to liberate human beings and how to fully utilize it. They practiced this method, systematized it into a path and transmitted it to the later generations; and that path is Yoga. Its essence can be seen in a variety of religions from all countries, in various scholastic disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, biology, and in Japanese martial arts. Regardless of who is inquiring or in what era, we will be led to that same Reality: the One Absolute, without beginning or end—That is called the Truth. The search for and realization of this Truth is the ultimate purpose sought by Yoga.

However, over the years, the original Yoga has devolved into various subspecies as it spread across the globe. Among them there are things that appear as if the superficial effects alone are highlighted, as if a tiny essence of what Yoga truly is has been diluted into something almost unrecognizable as Yoga. There are certain types of “yoga” that are almost some form of acrobatic beauty competition. These practices are doing nothing but exploiting the side benefits that arise in the process of the practice of seeking the Truth, so they are altering the purpose of Yoga into health and healing. The sad thing is that, unfortunately, this exploitation-turned-business model is the state of most forms of modern yoga. Furthermore, in the 1990’s in Japan there was the nightmarish [sarin gas bombing] incident perpetrated by the Aum Shinrikyo cult [who claimed to follow the teachings of Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism.] Many Japanese people were first exposed to the word ‘yoga’ through that disaster. These unfortunate misconceptions and misunderstandings about Yoga, which sadden and fill with regret those who know what Yoga really is, remain to this day like a deep scar in the collective memory of the Japanese people. Nonetheless, the essence remains the same no matter what. Those who truly, earnestly seek Yoga will be led one by one to the true path of Yoga.

Our Master, Shri Mahayogi said,
“If the content of the Truth changes when the age changes, then it is not the Truth. Truth is superior to any situation or circumstance. Even in this modern age, the Essence of humans is unchanging. To validate this unchanging Essence and Truth is the mission given to [all] yogi and yogini who have set forth on the path of Yoga in this modern age.”

How great it would be to transmit to others what one has learned from Yoga through one’s way of living. And how great it would be to spread Yoga one by one through Yoga’s most original way [the innermost secret of the entire reformation of the self, the transmission from the master to disciple]! This is the very way Yoga has been passed down for over three thousand years. There is no need to have a license or to have large amounts of money [for a teacher training]. No matter where you are, even if you are alone, it is practicable—that is Yoga. To focus upon each and every moment, living in line with the Truth—that way of life becomes the most liberating, unfettered way of life. The fascinating great beings of the past—all they did was to actually practice this simple way with profound intensity and exactitude. However, most of us have the custom and mental habit of being attached to things completely opposite from the Truth, so we cannot readily live in this unfettered freedom. So let us begin by studying the system of Yoga well and becoming self-aware of our ignorance by means of acquiring correct knowledge. Then, we will immediately understand that we cannot become liberated and unfettered merely through exercise and posing in meditation.

People have various motivations to begin practicing Yoga, so it is natural that they have varying degrees of effort and involvement. It may just be for health and beauty, or it may just be for rejuvenation, and I think that that’s sufficient in the beginning. Even so, it will take much effort to continue the daily asana practice until it becomes a habit. Perhaps the passion will fade away eventually. But wait! Do not dismiss Yoga at this point based on your interpretation of what Yoga is. In the beginning there is only so much one can see and do. Yoga is far too grand and deep to grasp everything by such shallow understanding. Back when about six months had passed after I began practicing Yoga, I, too, was telling my family and friends about it as if I knew everything about Yoga. I realize now that I was not even standing at the entrance to the path of Yoga.

When you are in the process of practicing the discipline of Yoga, think only about the present moment as the starting point. When you are learning how to live your life, there is no sense in worrying about the future, or even worse, the past. You need to train yourself to concentrate only on what needs to be done now, and what can be done now. Various failures and disappointments inevitably come, regardless of whether one practices Yoga or not, however, living the Way of Yoga means that one concentrates on the present and, in so doing, remains pristine and being empty-handed afterwards.

Most likely, you’ll find yourself unable to perform a particular asana, or follow a particular teaching from the scriptures. When that happens, it is important not to fall into self-hate for being incapable. Eliminating that kind of thinking is a priority. Practice seriously every day so that you can become capable. The only thought or impression that should arise afterwards is the objective confirmation of the fact that you have practiced with utmost focus.

When you began practicing Yoga, I’m sure there were senior practitioners who had already been practicing longer than you. There was a time that my thinking went something like this: “How many years will it take me to get to their level? Why is my progress so much slower than that of others?” However, the inevitable conclusion is that only you can produce results for yourself, and there is no use comparing your ability or situation with others. You can, of course, still emulate others’ passion, efforts, humility, and much more.

If you simply practice, you will definitely notice that you have undergone a transformation since you first began. The recurrence of this awareness will build up your confidence and your trust in Yoga. Once that happens, daily life becomes joyous and cheerful. You will end each day just having thoughts about your beloved guru. Once that thought becomes the passion for Yoga, your daily life will be filled with happiness. When I recall myself being depressed, sighing constantly, unmotivated and complaining throughout the day before I began to practice Yoga, I am truly amazed by this transformation. This fact, which I have actually experienced, can absolutely be experienced by anyone. I can confidently declare this to all without any hesitation.

What do you think? Yoga is truly fascinating. I don’t know of anything else in this world that gives me this much pure, unconditional joy. I wish that as many people could experience this as possible.

Now, you may say that “I get the gist of what Yoga is”. So then, in order to know what you need to do, in order to get concrete results, let us open this gigantic door to the Path of Yoga, and enter it to proceed.


About Mr. Shimada:

He is a disciple of Shri Mhayogi living in Japan. In addition to being a devoted practitioner of MYM since 2010, he is a single father of a teenage son and works a full time job.

To read the continuation of this piece and to learn more about embarking on the path of Yoga, please click on the link below and subscribe to our monthly publication, Pranavadipa.