Yoga means controlling nature, purifying nature, transforming nature by awakening the Soul sleeping in us. It is no asceticism or occultism; it embraces life in all its activities, empowering body and mind, for higher life.
Inward Journey of Consciousness
Yoga Removes Divide Between Man & Divine
Yoga, in its deeper aspects, is a journey of our consciousness inward, piercing the veils of nature, layer after layer, till we connect the soul, the inmost being where the Divine Light is always glowing.
The journey may be difficult. Swami Vivekananda says it is a means of compressing one’s evolution in a few years or even a few months of a single life.
It involves challenges: the unending resistance of obstinate nature. The progress may be slow, but we must carry on, patiently working on our nature, rejecting what is to be rejected and strengthening what is to be strengthened, without frustration, trusting the Divine Guidance within, surrendering to the Divine Will acting in us.
As we progress in yoga, we will begin enjoying this inward adventure of consciousness. It leads us into something which cannot be valued in material terms: self-existent bliss ever undimmed, independent of what is happening in outer life, in the noisy, clamorous external world- living in eternity and infinity unified with the illimitable Divine Consciousness.
This union is difficult but attainable, for it is nothing but uniting with our deepest consciousness, with the Divine Force always helping us on the way upward and inward.
Mind Beyond Mind
Consciousness Is Hidden
Life is evolution, spiritual evolution of consciousness, after involution when the Consciousness got concealed in Matter, Nescience. So, the evolution of consciousness began with Matter. From Matter evolved Life and from Life evolved Mind. But Mind is not the end of evolution. It continues according to the evolutionary Nature’s scheme.
Man is called the roof and crown of all creations because he has a developed mind that is full of the potential of unending upward and inward journey of consciousness. In man, the evolving Nature has reached the momentous stage from where she seeks to take a giant flight into a luminous future, using Mind as the vehicle of this upward leap.
Mind remains latent in plants. In animals it is crudely evolved. Mind has evolved in man and yet it is restless, seeking to go beyond mind to reach the Soul, the Consciousness what it really is.
Asceticism of Life& Yoga
Yoga Not Rejection
Impatient for further unfolding of Mind, man with spiritually developed mind tends to reject Matter and Life, supposing them as hindrances pulling him down, thwarting his inward and upward movement. This is from where originates the philosophy of asceticism-fleeing Life, denying the Life in Matter to get the Mind fully and then through the mind to reach the Soul.
This is where yoga steps in with its harmony. It teaches us that we need not run away from the life in body to evolve further. We must rather perfect body and life along with the mind. At one point of yogic progress, we must leave behind the mind- emptying mind and then going beyond mind to connect the Consciousness, full and pure.
Yoga Divinizes Life
Harmonizes Body, Life, Mind
India’s traditional Yoga from the beginning of its luminous journey has kept its focus fixed on a perfect blending of the physical, vital (life) and mental energies, harmonizing the three for a greater consummation going beyond the three.
It has its own systems and techniques for various kinds of yoga, all standing on their own, complete in themselves, with well-defined methods and their applied paraphernalia.
For example, Hatha Yoga focuses on the gross body and the unrefined vital functioning while Raj Yoga focuses on the purification and transformation of mind that is entangled in the body-life complex. And the triple paths dealing with Works, Devotion and Knowledge seek to transform the Natural Man into the Spiritual Man, the Human Purusha into the Divine Purusha.
Importance of Body in Yoga
Body Must Be Accepted & Perfected
Hatha Yoga deals with the body, our material base. The body cannot be ignored, cast aside. For without body, life and mind cannot exist. But the body and the life operating in the body must be purified through asanas. These asanas help keep the body immobile while allowing the mind/consciousness to have its full undisturbed run.
The asanas are supported by pranayamas which help in controlling breath. Control of breath is immensely important for yoga, for breath holds the key to the life-force operating in body.
In course of practicing these asanas and pranayamas, we become progressively aware of the inner functions of the body and the subtle operations of life forces. This awareness helps us control them and move on towards the pure Consciousness we have been seeking to reach.
Yoga Is Balance of Mind
Keeping Mind Free from Outer Life Intrusion
Sage Patanjali defines the essence of yoga in his countless yoga sutras (aphorism). One of them reads: “Chitta vritti nirodha”. Translated, it means steadying the restless oscillations of the mind so that it stays fixed in the equilibrium of yogic consciousness, regardless of what is happening outside.
Lord Krishna in Gita says, ‘Yoga is retaining the balance of mind, in success or failure.’
A true practitioner of yoga is never perturbed by the commotions happening in outer life.
Teacher a Living Influence
Without Guru, Yoga Path Doubly Difficult
Since this is a difficult journey upward and inward with nature obstinately putting up obstacles, we cannot move much ahead all by ourselves, without the aid of the teachers: the gurus, the masters who guide us on the basis of their long yogic experiences and sound knowledge at every stage, showing us how to move, where to move and where not to move.
This is why ancient India laid so much stress on the ‘gurukul’ system. Under it, the aspirants for higher life, shishyas would learn under the loving and watchful guidance of their gurus. They would come with empty minds and return, fulfilled, rich with the knowledge of life, the goal of life and the sure way to reach the supreme goal of life.
This is relevant even now, for without the living influence, the living example of the gurus, the aspirants cannot hope to move much ahead in the testing path of yoga.
Yoga in Contemporary Time
Superficial Reigns, Soul Ignored
The modern world tends, sadly, towards the superficial, ignoring the deep. And the same is being seen as regards yoga in the contemporary time. The Vedic philosophy of yoga would seek to harmonize the gross with the subtle, the superficial with the deep and the deep with the deepest. But now, the deeps are being cast aside and the superficial reigns.
Yoga is now meant merely to relieve stress of mind and body. With the therapeutic value of yoga reigning worldwide, the deeper, the spiritual, the nature-transforming aspects of yoga are being dumped into oblivion.
The soul of yoga is being lost; the guru-shishya spiritual companionship is being relegated to the background; yoga is being reduced to the gross and the physical.
Is Yoga Science?
Yoga Looks for Truth Inside; Science, for Truth Outside
Yes, yoga is science. For, yoga is a study of the inner physical, vital and mental workings of man- the subtle energies moving in body, life and mind- in the same way as the scientists study the workings of the natural forces outside.
Yoga is a study within while science is a study without, both seeking the Truth behind the phenomenal existence- studying, learning, controlling and then using the knowledge gained for a purpose, for a more perfect life- science for a better material life and yoga for a deeper spiritual life.