Yoga claims to dictate a way to unite with the soul or spirit which at its most superficial form, allows the practitioner to gain control over much of their subconscious faculties
What does Yoga mean? It is a Sanskrit word that means union. The ancient Vedic masters of India came up with this term and deemed it sufficient to survive the distortions of thousands of years. It is not unlike the Japanese word ‘do’ which again simply means the ‘way’. One may ask union with what exactly or the way to where? The goal or destination has many names -- the soul, the divine, the ineffable spirit, the island, nirvana, liberation or ascension. So Yoga claims to dictate a way to unite with the soul or spirit which at its most superficial form, allows the practitioner to gain control over much of their subconscious faculties.
Suffice to say investigating one's own subconscious workings stands to benefit one since success and happiness in any sustainable form depends largely on the clarity one has of one's own state of mind and intentions.
The famous collection of aphorisms titled the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali compiled almost 2,500 years ago has as its first line just this Atha Yoga Anushasanam meaning "And now after prior preparation, begins the study and practice of yoga." To me, it has always meant that I've tried a lot of things but the satisfaction never quite lasts, as if there is an inherent sense of permanent dissatisfaction built into the way our minds work. So I've tried and failed at countless paths to achieve invulnerable happiness and now begins yoga.
The second line, not unlike other spiritual discourse of its calibre, contains in a very condensed form, the entire remainder of the 194 aphorisms. It goes Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah meaning yoga is the subduing, quieting and setting aside of the various thought patterns of the mind field. That hits the nail on the head because a lot of our problems would dissolve if only we could learn to bring our minds under our complete control.
But how does one achieve that? Since the goal is paving a path into the soul or the depths of the subconscious, a number of yoga postures are necessary, but they're only instrumental along the path. If it can be said that the root of suffering is incessant and repetitive chatter that the mind keeps up and the way out is to subdue and quiet it, we cannot hope to do that by "thinking" about it. The Japanese school of Zen discipline has a joke which goes that one cannot wash away blood with blood. Also logic dictates that thinking about not thinking doesn't rid one of thinking.
One has to go at least a couple of steps deeper and here's where a little educated faith comes in handy, a faith that is cautious and experimental. The state of one's mind is a direct result of its current brain frequency which in turn is a result of something called life force. We can think of it like an electric current that keeps us awake and aware, and how it flows through our nervous system dictates the state of mind we're in.
Unfortunately, we cannot directly control life force, but we can control our breath somewhat which in turn controls life force. Ergo, control of the breath leads to control of life force in turn leading to control of mind and voila problem solved. The catch is it's a long and arduous process. Because we are hardly aware of how the variations in our breathing make up the entire diversity of our existence, from screaming joy to raging disputes, almost everything we do has a breath counterpart like a mirror reflecting all we're doing out there in the "real" world.
So the trick is to make the breath as steady and calm as possible for a duration over a period of time. It requires consistency, discipline and timing. It is impossible to elaborate on all the details of the preliminary practice of yoga in the confines of one article. In brief, the first step is to find a spot to meditate, anywhere where one will not be disturbed for around 20 minutes would suffice. The next step is to get into the right posture for sitting. The spine has to be comfortably erect and preferably not touching anything. Next comes the breath which has to be comfortable and calm. The attention should be held on the sensations of the in and out breaths for the duration of the exercise.
Daily practice of just this simple routine can prove to be a great stepping stone into the vast realm of yogic exercises. With practice and a little experience, one can start delving much deeper leading into the emancipation of the spirit and clear insight into one’s own nature.