"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell























































































VEDANTA KESARIWhat is Yoga? | P. Govindarajan | November 2004  





          What Is Yoga?




          P. Govindarajan




     Man, as a social being, should be interested in the improvement of his personality. His physical appearance in terms of build, constitution, complexion, genetic inheritance, height, physical handicaps etc. have to be accepted as given by nature and man can do nothing about his physical endowments. However, his defective mental traits - in terms of incorrect attitudes, wrong beliefs, false convictions, dogmas etc. can certainly be changed for the better. Yoga can greatly benefit us in this regard.

     The improved functioning of mind can be effected through the practice of Yoga. Research studies conducted by medical experts have revealed that the practice of Yoga benefits both body and mind. Some seals discovered in Indus Valley reveal that Yoga has been practised in India from prehistoric times.

     The ritualistic part in the Vedas deals only with sacrificial worship and does not make any mention about meditation or Yoga that finds a place only in the Upanishads. Yoga literally means yoking of consciousness with the spark of Divinity within.


     Yoga in Practice


     Yoga, like all other sciences, combines theory with practical application. Those who seek mental perfection through Yoga should have a clear idea of theory in order to practise meditation correctly. The Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita are considered as the original source books on Yoga. They teach the inseparable relationship between conscious self and Divine Spirit and this 'know-how' is a very essential prerequisite for the correct practice of yoga, as wrong methodology adopted may harm both the body and the mind. Yoga makes practical use of the theoretical knowledge for yoking consciousness with the Divine Spirit to purify and perfect itself and it will, therefore, be useful to know the methodology and technique of Yoga taught by the Upanishads and the Gita.


     Yoga in the Upanishads and the Gita


     The most popular Kathopanishad that makes specific mention of Adhyatma Yoga, i.e., meditation on the inner Self, says: 'That firm control of the senses is Yoga. Then the yogi becomes free from all vagaries of mind; for the Yoga can be acquired and lost.' Another Upanishad details the various benefits of Yoga in these words: 'It is said that the first signs of entering Yoga are lightness of body, health, desirelessness of mind, clearness of complexion, beautiful voice, agreeable odour and scantiness of excretions.' The Gita advocates moderation and temperance and says: 'Yoga is for him who is moderate in food and recreation, who is moderate in works, who is moderate in sleep and wakefulness; Yoga destroys all sorrows.' It adds that yogi gains infinite happiness which can be grasped by the intellect but is beyond the range of senses, wherein established, the yogi swerves not from truth and having gained Yoga, he holds that there is no greater gain beyond it.

     The Mundakopanishad refers to two birds of beautiful plumage, which are inseparable companions, residing on the same tree. This highly symbolical language refers to individual self, as the centre of consciousness, and the Self Supreme. These two birds are said to be interdependent and inseparable as consciousness cannot exist in body without life and life can have no meaning or serve any useful purpose without consciousness. Kathopanishad (1.3.1) says: 'There are two (selves) in the world which have entered into intelligence in the supreme cavity of heart enjoying the results of their deeds. The knowers of Brahman (Vedas) call them as light and shade.'

     The reference to these two entities in the body is more clearly brought out in the Bhagavad Gita, which says: 'One should uplift the lower animal self (mind) by the higher self (Buddhi); one should not degrade one's self, for the self (mind) is both friend and foe of the self (Buddhi).' Memory is the storehouse of both good and bad tendencies and the bad should not be allowed to score over the good. For the practice of Yoga the inherent difference between the lower animal self and the higher self should be clearly known.

     Both Upanishads and the Gita make mention of the perishable body, the mind and the Self that form a triad in unity. Yoga means the yoking of consciousness of the lower self to the higher Self and unless the distinction between them is clearly understood, the practice of Yoga as taught in the most ancient scriptures cannot be undertaken correctly. When the brain ceases to function due to irreparable loss of consciousness, physicians declare this state as Brain Death. However, life still lingers in the body, as the heart continues to function pumping blood to the various organs. Life can be considered as totally extinct only when the heart stops beating. This life forms part of the complicated individual self. In order to practise Yoga the right way, a strong theoretical foundation about the two selves should be laid by a careful study of the Upanishads and the Gita.


     Types of Yoga


     The three essential functions of human mind are its thinking, feeling and willing faculties. Individuals are temperamentally very different, as their interests and inclinations vary widely. Keeping this in view, the Gita advocates Jnana Yoga (path of Knowledge) for thinking people, Bhakti (devotion) for the emotional ones and Karma (action) for the strong-willed. Swami Vivekananda succinctly brings out the essence of religious practice in these words in the beginning of his lectures on Raja Yoga: 'Each soul is potentially Divine. The goal [of life] is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling Nature, external and internal. Do this by work or worship or by psychic control or philosophy, by one or more or all of these and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms are but secondary details.'

     Unfortunately, the scientific study of evolution is confined to only the biological or physical aspects, but man is primarily concerned with the evolution of his mind. Approximately, 35% of global population are suffering from mental degeneration due to the inability of the mind to cope with the rapid changes in the external environment. Yoga is primarily concerned with improved working of mind through expansion of awareness. Samadhi is the highest state of Yoga that unfolds the vast potentials of human mind for higher thinking, sublimation of emotions and strengthening of will. Pursuit of excellence and perfection in any field of human endeavour is greatly facilitated by the practice of Yoga.


     Eight Steps of Yoga


     The whole process of Yoga consists of Yama (outer restraints), Niyama (inner restraints), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breathing control), Pratyahara (inner drawing of senses), Dharana (one-pointedness of mind), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (Uninterrupted meditation). Of these eight limbs, the last two, namely Dhyana or meditation and Samadhi (trance) are the most important. Yoga is the process that brings inner transformation from carnality to divinity through mental perfection. Yoga attempts to bring out the potential Divinity in man. It seeks to integrate all the mental faculties such as perception, thinking, feeling, will power etc., by sublimation of the outward going senses to convert physical energy into psychic energy to overpower the animal instincts of the evolutionary past. Through the practice of Yoga one tries to maintain the balance and equilibrium of these faculties, to reach the heights of human possibilities and perfection. In the midst of most intensive activities and turmoil, mind learns to maintain peace, undisturbed by the external environmental changes. Discharging one's duties and gaining greater awareness, man can become noble, divine, pure and perfect. By the regular practice of Yoga, man tries to rise above his limitations and in the midst of troubles and tragedies, he learns to dwell in perennial joy and peace that passeth human understanding. Yoga gradually brings about over a period of time an inner transformation in the aspirant - converting a sinner into a saint, and a saint into the Divine.


     Prabuddha Bharata

     Vedanta Kesari

     Vedanta Mass Media


International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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