Yoga is a practice for the mind. According to T.K.V. Desikachar, “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.” To easily understand this meaning of yoga, we can look at an ancient Indian story.
A group of warriors were studying under their trainer, Drona. They had practiced hard, and they were all strong, brave, and had the confidence to defeat enemies. But Drona knew they were not ready to fight. As warriors, at least one more skill, the ability to direct the mind, needed to be mastered.
Drona had set up a small wooden bird in a distant tree and these warriors were supposed to strike the eye of the bird with their arrow. Before they acted, Drona asked them what they saw. “I see the wooden bird, the leaves beside the bird, the branch the bird is sitting on, the tree.” “I can see grass under the tree, other trees around, the sky, the clouds…” One by one, warriors gave similar answers. They named off everything. Drona asked them to put down their bows as he knew they would not hit the eye of the bird.
It was Arjuna’s turn. “What do you see?” Drona asked.“The eye of the wooden bird”, Arjuna answered clearly.
“Is this the only thing you can see? Are you sure? There are lots of things around. Your eyesight must have some problems.” Drona was teasing Arjuna.“The eye of the wooden bird, this is the only thing I see.” Arjuna answered firmly.
Drona was pleased with this response and ordered Arjuna to shoot. Arjuna held his bow steady, gazing at the target and shot the arrow which hit the bird’s eye.
From the story, we can see that to stop the distraction, we need a focused mind. A mind that can lead the way instead of being distracted. In our regular yoga practice, we can use body exercise to train the mind to concentrate on our goal. For example, when practicing Warrior I, we can consciously lead the mind to focus on breathing while holding the pose. Thus, the state of mind turns a posture exercise into a yoga practice.
Yoga not only physically improves our flexibility, balance, and strength; but more importantly, it helps us concentrate. This ability gives us the willpower to achieve our goal like a warrior: firm and stable without being affected by diversion.
- T.K.V.Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga: Developing a personal practice, part III, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 1995), 149.
- The story of the warrior Arjuna is rephrased from B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (London: Thorsons, 2001), 28.
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