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3rd international day of yoga

Establishing a Yoga Day on the 21st of June is an acknowledgement of the importance of yoga in our daily life By Leda Shantala It is truly amazing how the most pressing problems of our times can be answered by the millenary holistic system of yoga. Its palpable results, experienced by practitioners all along, are now validated not only by medicine and psychology but also by modern physics. In an age with escalating violence, how crucial is yoga’s principle of non-violence and self-restraint, its injunction to be truthful and pure in body and mind, its focus on taming wild impulses and movement of thoughts! In times where the rhythms of daily life have been accelerating to the point that humankind is prey to stress and neuroses, it’s important to learn to pause: pause in movement, in breathing, in the thinking process. Our nature is dual: the one which expresses itself in movement, and the silent witness, which is our core, our spiritual self, the only one we can rely on. There are things, deep inside us, which are one, we all share them. But if we only look to what our own eyes like, all we’ll be able to see is division. The mind always creates dualism. Want or not want. Like or dislike. A divided mind is always in opposition and creates conflict within itself and consequently with others. So, it has been proven by our forebears and through the course of many centuries, that we could live in a different, more holistic way, if only we could tame our minds. Yoga enables us to discover the quietness within us, brings together and harmonizes ideas and feelings. This helps us realize the unity with other people and all life forms on this planet, focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us, leading us to a peaceful interaction with others, and a greater respect and acceptance of life itself. Raja yoga, although a philosophical system, also includes special body work to enhance and prepare the practitioner for the ultimate goal, which is psychological and mental freedom from matter and time. Part of its tools are asanas, pranayama and dhyana. Asanas (the yoga poses) realise an organic connection of breathing, movement and mental concentration. They make us feel harmony and balance in the body. Their function is also to take away physical pain. Because, by eliminating pain, as well as the memories of pain which are imprinted in the body, the person is liberated from his past. What today we call unconscious and psychosomatic is not something magical: it is our history, the way we grew up which got imprinted into our body. How can a person tame his mind if pain keeps him connected to the body at all times? So one of the purposes of asanas is to get rid of the memory, which has become frozen tension in the body. Breathing is also a very important part of yoga. We grow up in such an anxiety-filled environment, that, from our youngest years, as babies, we have shortened our breathing. Pranayama controls our vital force and purifies the mind through breathing. This is achieved by introducing pauses in the breathing. For when you pause, you listen. You expand. It has been proved by wise men, that when there is pause, the mind stops as well. Thus we begin to have control on our thought process: those thoughts that run one after the other, like film frames. Which brings us to dhyana (meditation). A procedure of mental elimination in which we don't do anything, but rather we try to restrain the tendency to extroversion, to thinking, to movement, in order to realize the spiritual world existing in profound, quiet layers. Yoga is precious and indispensable in the modern world. It is surely a great thing that in recent decades it has been spreading at a fast pace and has become very popular in the West. However, this sudden popularity has its price and its dangers: sometimes this expansion means losing the right spirit, the right direction, the true goal. Yoga shouldn’t sacrifice its spiritual essence for the sake of fashion, and become just another physical fitness method. It would be a great loss for humankind. Leda Shantala is a senior teacher of yoga and meditation with more than 30 years’ experience. She studied in India with swami Satyananda, B.K.S Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikatchar, sri Chandra Swami. She is also dancer, choreographer and teacher of Indian classical dance Bharata natyam, the first to introduce this art to the Greek public, head of the Leda Shantala Dance Theatre. She is also a certified Senior Dance Movement Therapist. She has created the Shantom House of Culture, an institution dedicated to the promotion of Indian culture through yoga, meditation and Bharata Natyam. Interview on Bharata Natyam & yoga

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