Yoga as a Way of Being a

...The most important purpose of Yoga is to bring about a deep transformation of the individual—an awakening of intelligence that is free of dependencies and romantic beliefs and ready to meet the accelerating challenges of the 21st century.1

—Ganga White

The physical postures that comprise much of hatha yoga are extremely appealing to many men. They satisfy a man's need for physical exercise and provide many health benefits. They help today's overloaded man to relax, and so provide a much-sought antidote to stress. They can help a man to become more graceful, poised, and balanced in carriage and movement. They can help restore and renew both body and mind, helping men to feel clearer, lighter, and more creative. And perhaps most important of all, they can be fun and enjoyable to do in and of themselves. Because most men are first attracted to yoga for its physical health benefits, Yoga for Men has presented as much information as possible regarding the physical health aspects of hatha yoga to help today's man find the yoga approach that is best for him.

The ultimate goal of all yoga, including hatha yoga, however, goes beyond the physical benefits of yoga practice: It is to make the body the most perfect vehicle possible so a man can realize his total being to the fullest—body, mind, and spirit. Having a healthy and sound body is considered a prerequisite to the ability to still the mind and so achieve the higher states of concentration and meditation that lead ultimately to the realization of bliss and ecstasy as a man realizes his true nature. Hatha yoga is but one of the rungs on the ladder to self-realization.

In its largest sense, yoga is more than just the practice of physical asanas: It is a way of life—a way of being a man in the world. The eight limbs of raja yoga, discussed in Chapter 1, serve as ethical guidelines for how a man can best conduct his life so he can realize the greatest harmony both for himself and for all those around him. The teachings of yoga can serve as a much-needed roadmap to a way of life that allows men to revere the divinity in themselves and all of creation as they navigate their own unique life journeys.

The teachings of yoga are especially valuable to men at the current moment in history. According to yogic tradition, civilization undergoes extended cycles of time characterized by highs and lows, lightness and darkness. Every cycle is comprised of four stages, each of which is known as a yuga ("age" or "eon" in Sanskrit). These stages are very long and last for millennia. The first stage in each cycle, called a satyayuga ("truthful age"), is the highest point. It is characterized by prosperity, wisdom, and balance. The last stage, a kali yuga ("black age"), is the lowest point, and is characterized by poverty, misery, and confusion.

Yoga scholars maintain that we are currently at the beginning of a kali yuga, or a dark age. Thus, yoga theory accounts for the sense of confusion, helplessness, and aimlessness that many people today profess to experience. The events of September 11, 2001, and the ensuing chaos are but one expression of this dark undercurrent. Despite—and some might even argue because of—the rapid advances modern civilization is making in science, medicine, and technology, many people feel isolated and overwhelmed on a personal level, lacking a sense of purpose or unity in the fabric of their lives. The practice of yoga can help a man to become more centered and in touch with the essential unity of all creation.

Yoga has the powerful ability to change and transform our lives for the better. Hatha yoga has the power to begin an exciting and seemingly unending journey of self-transformation. Frequently, men who begin the practice of the physical postures of yoga merely for the physical exercise they offer find their lives changing in unexpected ways. These changes can be very subtle or more pronounced. The sense of peace and calm often engendered by the practice of yoga can help make a man more open and receptive to other changes in his life. The mindful awareness that is placed on the breath and the position of the physical body during the execution of an asana is already the beginning of a type of meditation. Men often find themselves spontaneously drawn toward meditation once they begin the physical practice of yoga. They may also change their eating habits as they gain more respect for their bodies. They may develop newfound appreciation for friends, mates, and family. They are learning firsthand that yoga is indeed more than just physical exercise: Yoga is a way of life.

Yoga has developed a variety of tools and techniques to help those who practice it progress further along their own path of self-development. These tools are wide and varied. To help you take your knowledge and practice of yoga to a further level of development should you so desire, you'll find information on the following practices in this chapter: yogic principles of diet, the science of yogic breathing (pranayama), and meditation. These are among the most powerful tools that yoga can offer to transform your life. I invite and encourage you to try them for yourself.

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