Health and Happiness through Yoga

Among all these years when I have to fight a daily morning battle to get out of bed for work, there were five days in a row when I most willingly got up before daybreak. That was the time when I took part in the World Vegetarian Congress in Goa three years ago. Every morning there was a yoga session from 6:30 to 8:00. To take part, which was entirely voluntary, you had to be up before 6:00. But there was absolutely no struggle, no grumble. We all looked forward to it. There is probably no better way to begin a day than do yoga.

I have to say that my body was not very well conditioned for yoga. My bones and joints were so stiff that I couldn’t even sit cross-legged. I looked on with envy as some of my classmates did the various postures with ease and grace. But all credit to the teacher, an Indian man with a doctorate in philosophy, he introduced me to the joy and magic of yoga, not only through practice but also through theory. In his article published in the congress programme, the teacher posits that while the holistic connotation or meaning of “health” can be understood as “happiness”, yoga is the appropriate instrument for bringing about both. He asserts that there is an element common to all yogic practices “which can be said to be the cornerstone as regards bestowing health and happiness”. The element is “awareness”. He defines awareness as “the ability to 'stand back’ and observe one’s own physical and mental activities”, allowing one to abide in his transcendental Self. The path to happiness is on the upward path of awareness, from scattered, distracted awareness to pure, objectless awareness. This sort of awareness, according to the teacher, is precisely what yogic practices aim at. Of course I was nowhere near reaching that state of awareness, but I totally agree with the idea, which reminds me so much of this verse from Psalms:

"Be still and know that I am God.”

After those few excellent morning sessions, the only other time I ever did yoga was when the teacher and his family came to Hong Kong for a visit and kindly conducted two sessions for me and my friends. Not having the time is always a handy excuse, but I guess it’s more the conviction that I won’t find a better teacher here than the remarkable man I met in Goa, who still remains a good friend to this day.

When we embraced each other before he left Hong Kong, his final words were: “Practise yoga.” I’m afraid I have let him down.

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