If you are searching for inspiration to explore the Yoga universe, then meet Acharya P. Unniraman, a manifestation of a healthy, balanced and peaceful being, walking the Yogic path and spreading the Yoga wisdom for over four decades. 68 years old, with the eyes of a child and a genuine smile illuminating everything around him, Acharya runs the Patanjali Yoga Research Centre & Charitable Trust in Kozhikode, Kerala, India. The centre, located in Kozhikode city, and the retreat 12 km away, alongside multiple daily commitments, all require Acharya’s attention, which he delivers with joy, undisturbed, full of energy from the moment he wakes up at 3 am to maintain his rigorous practice. And the secret? Dedication and patience make everything possible.
Yoga is for Everyone
Being able to observe Acharya in his daily routines, during our recent trip to Kerala, only strengthened my trust in Yoga as a way of life. It is truly not an activity picked up on a specific day, but a complete path towards conscious life, in which each step carefully and gradually prepares one’s consciousness for expansion beyond the physical and mental realms. And this is where our highest potential is waiting to be re-discovered. Acharya’s capabilities are an obvious confirmation. During our talks, he emphasized that Yoga is for everyone, with no difference. As a result, even 70 and 80 years old enjoy the practice at their centre, hence Yoga fully respects individual physical conditions and limitations. And is the goal to live a happy life limited by age? Acharya elaborated, “So normally [people say] I want flexibility, I want to practise Yoga postures perfectly but by the practice, we only gain that benefit. So the main emphasis is not on flexibility. Flexibility is only one part of the benefits. If anybody has a very stiff body, cannot bend forward, even those can practise. Gradually if they practise, they gain sufficient flexibility and movement. They get benefits physically, mentally and also feeling inner happiness.”
Follow the Tradition
While it is positive that Yoga has become a mainstream helping masses, it may be challenging to orientate in a labyrinth of multiple styles. While appreciating the popularity of Yoga, Acharya highlighted the importance of promoting traditional Yoga, which is a spiritual path, rather than just the physical aspect of it. Acharya maintains the original system of teaching called Gurukula, when the knowledge is passed directly from a Guru to a student, therefore finding a genuine teacher is a foundation of the path. As everybody is unique, Acharya outlined that individual attention to every student is very important for understanding their conditions and guiding them through a safe and fruitful practice.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
The ancient sage Patanjali codified Yoga into a system of eight stages, which build one on another and every stage must be mastered to reach the ultimate aim – enlightenment (Samadhi), with the journey being as important as the vision of the final goal. It is actually not flexibility, falsely perceived as Yoga’s pre-condition, but our intention towards ourselves and the others, Yama and Niyama, the first two Patanjali’s ethical principles, which open the doors to Yoga. The practice of postures -Asana, and breathing techniques – Pranayama, come only after adopting the two first principles. The next three stages, Pratyahara (withdrawal from sensual disturbances), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation), can be gradually entered if one achieved a discipline of the body through practising the postures and purity of the life force energy-prana through breath control. As the eight-limb path progresses, it is worth noticing that the Asana, the physical aspect of Yoga, is eventually preparing a practitioner to sit steadily in meditation without bodily tensions. Acharya simplified, “If anybody wants to practise meditation, they want to sit properly, if they move here and there, there is no meditation.” The eight limbs of Yoga reflect the whole life journey and as Acharya concluded, “Samadhi is the ultimate aim of Yoga and our life also.”
When We Meditate
Following the eight limbs of Yoga, it is easier to comprehend what is necessary to rediscover our meditative ability. It is already our true nature, yet our awareness of it has vanished because of external disturbances and internal tensions. Acharya explained that our mind is a complex phenomenon consisting of conscious, subconscious, unconscious and superconscious qualities. When the body becomes relaxed, the mind follows. Gradually there will be no thoughts at all and here the connection to subconscious level happens. He continued, “If we can connect to our subconscious mind, it means we are very healthy and we get a lot of things. That time if we give some suggestions to our mind it is very powerful. So when we connect to the subconscious mind, we have success in our life. Through meditation, really everybody is a genius. We can utilize this [potential] properly through Yoga and meditation.”
Elaborating on the eight-fold path, the most popular Hatha Yoga covers the Asana and Pranayama stages including specific bodily purification techniques and energy locks. They are all aiming to get rid of physical, emotional and mental tensions, the major obstacles on the way towards deep meditation. Acharya expanded, ” Some other sages, gurus, saints and yogis developed a system called Hatha Yoga, concentrated mainly on bodily movement, Pranayama-breathing exercise, Shat Kriya-the purification of body, Mudra (bodily gestures) and Bandhas (energy locks). These all come under Hatha Yoga.” This classic Yoga style is also a firm foundation for beginners to explore other types and deeper aspects of Yoga.
Yoga in Daily Life
The consistency of daily practice is the key to experiencing the complete benefits of Yoga. Acharya’s approach is exemplary as not even travelling prevents him from maintaining his practice. He pointed out that there is enough time for implementing Yoga in a busy life because it is not important to have enough time but rather manage our time efficiently. Acharya inquired,”If we travel by train or on a flight, why cannot we practise Yoga? We have lots of time there, enough place on the seat or on the floor. I practise Yoga on a train, waking up at 3 am, cleaning the body and practising.” As an example of a suitable flight routine, Acharya suggested Nadi Shuti pranayama, chest and shoulder breathing, which also assist with the cabin pressure during take-off and landing. There is truly no excuse!
Acharya’s vision is to make Yoga accessible to all and especially to village people and children. His is an ambassador of Yoga, whose own lifetime practice generates the energy for eagerly sharing this ancient art of living for the well-being of all. Acharya is a proof that Yoga is a recipe towards a healthy, harmonious, peaceful and joyful life, available to everybody! May we all honour our teachers and respect this ancient heritage!