A62 What Is Yoga: An explanation of what Yoga really is

Various forms of meditation and inner concentration have been developed by most cultures and systems devoted to human health, harmony and evolution. The concept of coming into contact with an inner power, an inner voice, an inner knowledge or an inner guidance is common to all spiritual systems and religions. These techniques, however, were used in the past mostly by the priests, monks, mystics and those with deeper inclination for spiritual growth. The most scientifically developed and effective system of inner concentration is probably the system called Yoga. There is much confusion concerning the meaning of the word, and what exactly a person who practices yoga does; why he does it and what effect it has on him and his environment. Some believe that it is another religion. Others claim that it is a science of human harmony, while still others praise its wonderful healing powers on the body and mind. The truth, of course, for each one of us is relative depending on our experiences, childhood programming, desires and needs. I will express to you the truth as I see it after 25 years of studying and practicing yoga and 20 years of teaching it. My association with yoga has also brought me into contact with thousands of other teachers and students of this system in America, Europe, England, Australia, India, the Middle East and Greece.

WHAT YOGA IS NOT

Let us begin by clearing up some misconceptions about what yoga is. These misunderstandings are the result of lack of information and first hand experience on the part of those who have these false conceptions.

1. YOGA IS NOT A RELIGION
It is a science of human development and improvement which can be used in any religious setting, and along with any particular dogma. It is a system of techniques designed to aid an individual in creating a world of inner and outer harmony, health and happiness. These techniques will help each to benefit more deeply from his own religious path. A Christian will become a better Christian, a Christian in spirit and not only in name. A Hindu will become a better Hindu, a Moslem a better Moslem. The same techniques of yoga which will help a Christian focus more deeply and clearly on the Christ, will help a Hindu to focus more deeply and one-pointedly on Krishna or Rama. Yoga embraces the concept that there is ONE GOD who is worshiped through all the religious paths. It never asks a man to change his religious beliefs or worship some other God. Yoga has no particular form of God or type of worship. Yoga is a system of techniques which help each man and woman worship more efficiently, independent of his or her religion. Yoga is like a car which is at the disposal of all. I can use it to go where I want, and you to go where you want. The same car takes each of us to where we want. Each chooses his own direction.

2. YOGA HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH NARCOTICS OR LICENTIOUS SEXUAL ACTIVITY
A person practicing yoga is required to stop taking any form of drugs for a considerable period of time in order to be introduced to any advanced techniques. He is required to purify his body and mind of toxins and impure thoughts which disturb his concentration, before he can seriously start practicing yoga. Actually yoga is used quite successfully in many parts of the world to help people find the inner strength and inner peace to free themselves from dependency on drugs such as narcotics, hashish, tranquilizers, medical drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee. When an individual finds an inner strength with which to face the world, he does not need such external crutches.

3. YOGA HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH MAGIC OF ANY KIND
An individual who starts to practice yoga is clearly warned against the desire to develop or use powers of any kind to control the lives of others. The goal of yoga is human harmony, enlightenment and union with God. It has no egotistical goals, such as control of others through use of magic. This is severely discouraged.

4. YOGA IS NOT RETREATING FROM THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF LIFE
Rather it is a preparation of the body and mind so that one can perform his duties more efficiently, more happily, more harmoniously, more creatively. Any employer who would make a study of the efficiency, honesty and consistency of his employees who do yoga, would find that these qualities are present in them to a greater degree than the average of the society. Now, it is possible that some students, teachers or even whole schools of yoga have mixed yoga with some of the above such as other religious beliefs, drugs, magic or encouraged their students to ignore their responsibilities to their families. But these are deviations on the part of individuals, and not at all in line with the pure system of yoga as it has been and should be taught. If a few individuals use yoga in the wrong way or combine it with other systems to suit their needs, then this does not lessen the value of the system of yoga itself. One simply has to be selective in his choice of a suitable center and teacher.

WHAT, THEN, IS YOGA?

There are many ways to describe yoga. It is something different to each person according to his needs and goals.

1. It is a Science of Human Development, offering techniques for the harmonization and mastery of the body, bioenergy, senses and the mind.

2. It is a way of life which creates a state of inner harmony, as well as harmony with the environment around us. These guidelines for living are similar to the ten commandments of the Bible and will be discussed later.

3. It is a method for the transcendence of human suffering, leading to freedom from illness, pain and unhappiness.

4. It is a system for the development of the inherent mental and super-mental powers which are at present latent in man. (We use only one tenth of our brain – evolution has not stopped). We continue to evolve and yoga is an efficient system for accelerating human evolution.

5. It is a path to Self – Knowledge beyond the changing reality of our bodies and personalities.

6. Its ultimate goal is the transcendence of the mind and union with God, the Universal Spirit living in all beings.

WHY DO PEOPLE START PRACTICING YOGA?

People turn to yoga for various reasons according to their needs, issues, problems and goals in life.
1. The majority start because they have some physical or emotional problem such as headaches, high blood pressure, spinal problems, arthritis, constipation, drug dependency, insomnia, nervous tension, fears, anxieties; or they may have lost a loved one, or their wealth, or their job, or have some other difficulty in life. Yoga gives them a chance to help themselves. It is not a drug which someone can take. Each person learns to develop his inner strength, to care for his body and mind properly, to cure himself and to develop his ability to face life, and to enjoy it.
2. Others start because they simply want to learn to relax and be at peace with themselves. They enjoy the inner peace which they feel during and after the practice of the various techniques. They find that when they develop a daily discipline, that this peace and sense of well being carries over into most of the day. They begin to change their attitude towards life.
3. Others come to improve the quality of their bodies and minds. They do not have any specific problems, but are interested in greater control over their bodies and minds. They develop this increasing control through regular practice of the techniques. As they progress they are given more difficult techniques. It is similar to studying any other subject. Whether learning to drive a car, to play the piano, to cook a good meal, to run a business, to do scientific research; there are techniques which can help us learn to master those activities more efficiently. The same is true with the mastery of the body and mind. There are techniques which can make the process much easier for us.
4. Fewer people come for spiritual growth, in order to improve their character, to develop the ability to love more purely, to increase their self-knowledge, and in general, to become free from the limitations of their bodies and their minds. Eventually they feel an increasing need for contact with the Divine. They want to feel the Divine in every moment, to break through the illusion of this temporary material reality and discover the Absolute Truth. They seek enlightenment and union with God.
5. Others may start out of curiosity and if they are not then attracted by one of the above mentioned motives, they soon give up the effort. All motives are acceptable and one motive may lead to another. Also we often function from a combination of motives.

THE FOUR BASIC SYSTEMS OF YOGA

There are many systems of yoga, but they fall into four basic categories. All the systems have the same goals i.e., harmony between body, mind and soul, harmony between human beings, freedom from mechanical, unconscious, robot-like ways of thinking and living, transcendence of the limitations of the body and personality, the reduction of ego and selfishness and, eventually, the experience of the Divine in oneself and others. Yoga offers various paths towards the same goals in order to facilitate the different needs, characters and inclinations of the various types of people. Each is free to follow whichever path suits him personally. Most people, however, find that a combination of the paths suits them more. There is a path for the practical person, for the doer, for the emotionally oriented, for the mentally and philosophically oriented; and a path for the development of will-power which is useful for all the paths. You may choose according to your inclinations.

1. KARMA YOGA is also called the householder’s yoga or the path of action, of activity in the world. One does not need to practice any special techniques or go to any special classes or retreat from life at all. One simply learns to SERVE, WITHOUT EXPECTING ANYTHING IN RETURN, AND TO ACT WITHOUT BEING ATTACHED TO THE RESULT OF HIS ACTION. Thus, the Karma Yogi serves his family, helps his friends, offers whatever selfless service he can to society so as to lessen the suffering around him. He diminishes his ego by becoming free from his own needs and pleasures, so that he can offer something worthwhile to the society in which he lives. He does not worry about the others. He does not worry. He acts. There is a great difference between action and worry. Worry is worthless and brings negative results. Action with love and self-confidence can bring about great changes. Thus a Karma yogi, may run a business, fight a court case, drive a taxi, or bring up children. In each case he will use all his mental and physical powers to create the desired result, but his happiness will not depend on the result. His happiness depends on his knowing he is doing his best. His business may fail, he may lose his court case, his children may not act in the way he would like them to, but he is at peace. He has done and is doing his absolute best and will continue to do so, but without anxiety about success or failure. He begins to feel himself as a cell in the body of humanity and starts to look around to see what he can do to make the world a better place to live; to help the poor, the orphans, the blind, the lonely, the ill. He may choose to direct his energies towards various movements such as those for World Peace or for Human rights. He corrects the world and himself at the same time. The key words here are SELFLESS SERVICE and DETACHMENT FROM THE FRUIT OF THE ACTION. The motto is «Service to Humanity is Service to Divinity». This is in alignment with the teachings of Christ in which He explains that He is in every being and that, whenever we help anyone, we are helping Him in reality. Service is the path towards human unity through selfless action.

2. BHAKTI YOGA is the yoga of devotion, love and worship of the Divine. It is the emotional path towards union with God. Yoga leaves the form of worship up to the individual. It encourages the Christian to worship Christ. The Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems and Jews will each worship in their own way. This is the path of complete surrender to the Divine Will. One tries as much as possible to have the name and form of the Divine constantly in his mind, i.e., the ceaseless prayer recommended by St. Paul, LORD JESUS CHRIST HAVE MERCY ON ME. This path is expressed in Christ’s words «Love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength and all your soul». And this commandment soon leads into the second, «Love your neighbor as you love your self». Christ makes no conditions, such as; if he is a Christian, or a saint, or not if he is a sinner, or a communist, or a Jew, or a Black. He tells us, also, to love our enemies – everyone without exception. Thus, while we must channel all our emotional energies into our worship of our chosen Ideal, at the same time we must keep our hearts and minds open to everyone else, no matter what their chosen way of worship or belief. The Bhakti yogi soon starts to discover that God is the inner resident of each and every being in creation and consequently his or her love expands towards all. Ego and selfishness are slowly eroded by his love, which is like a light removing the darkness in his life. It is not possible to truly love God, without loving people. This path purifies negative emotions, destructive desires, the mind and the character. It is considered one of the more suitable methods of enlightenment in our present age. The methods of Bhakti yoga are prayer, chanting, spiritual discussion, repetition of the name of God and various traditional rituals which may suit the individual. A combination of Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga offer an individual in our society an opportunity to better his own life and the world around him simultaneously. It requires no techniques and no special training.

3. JNANA YOGA is the path of wisdom, understanding, discrimination and philosophy. It is the path which few can follow. It requires a razor sharp mind which is always aware of the truth that we are not the contents of the mind, nor are we the body. Everything we see is just a temporary reality which is always changing and will soon pass. The Jnana yogi gradually ceases to identify with his body, his emotions, the contents of his mind. He begins to experience his Self as the WITNESS of all these changing phenomena which are taking place in his body, in his mind and around him. He practices non-attachment to any particular person or situation. He loves, but is not attached to. His love is felt as the experience of unity with the other being, but not a need to possess the other being. There is a great difference between attachment and love. They are opposites. Real love can exist only when there is no attachment, no need for anything from the other, not even his presence. Only then can one love unconditionally. The Jnana yogi seeks to experience the Truth. He has heard from others that there is a more permanent reality behind this world, in which all forms are sure to decay, die and disappear. His logic confirms to him, as Socrates’ did so well, that this must be true. But now he wants to experience it. There is a great difference between hearing, believing and knowing by experience. The Jnana yogi usually does not concentrate on Holy forms. He seeks to know the formless, the unmanifest God. He seeks to experience God as the basis of every being and object which exists in this world. He sees everyone and everything as simply a temporary projection of the one universal spirit. The Jnana yogi constantly struggles against the tendency of the mind to identify with pleasures and pains and various emotional states which cause him to loose his awareness of the Truth – that he is an eternal consciousness which is independent of all this which is going on in his life. Life is a temporary drama in which he is playing a role for the time being, but the day will come when he will wake up, either through a spiritual awakening, or through the death of his physical body, and he will realize that all this was like a dream, that he is really not a man or woman, mother or father, artist, businessman, scientist, politician, wealthy or poor, but that he is a soul who was just temporarily playing these roles. The path of Jnana yoga by itself is difficult, but the truths which it offers us are very useful in keeping a peaceful and clear mind for facing the various tests of life.

4. RAJA YOGA is the path of gradual control over one’s self through the development of discipline and will-power. It is a system which is useful to any one, even if he chooses to follow the other paths. It offers techniques for the harmonization and eventual mastery of the body, breath, emotions, senses and mind. Whatever we do in life, we do it with our body and our mind. So our efficiency in every action, in every effort is improved when the quality of the body and mind are improved and our control over them is increased. Now, most of us have practically no control over our minds. We cannot relax, cannot concentrate,we cannot overcome obstacles such as tiredness, lack of energy, illness, negative reactions to heat and cold, emotional tensions, fear as well as our subconscious conditioning. Few people are masters of themselves and have control over their bodies, their mind, or their lives. The Raja yogi gains control in a step by step process starting with the most material aspect of our existence, the body, and slowly working towards the more subtle, the mind. These are called the 8 steps of Raja Yoga. We will list them briefly here and then discuss them in detail later in the book.
a) CONTROL OF BEHAVIOR is recommended for the individual who wants to become the master of himself. The key to all individual and social harmony is to «do to others as we would like others to do to us, and not to do to others anything we would not like them to do to us». If a person follows this one recipe for life, then he will have inner peace. His mind will be at ease knowing that there is consistency between his beliefs, his words and his actions. Thus the following five requirements are asked of the Raja yogi:
1. Not to consciously harm any being, with his thoughts, words or deeds.
2. To always speak the truth.
3. Never to take anything which does not lawfully belong to him through his honest work.
4. Not to envy or feel jealousy for what others have, but to be happy for them.
5. Not to unnecessarily waste energy on sexual activity either mentally or physically.

b) DEVELOPMENT OF DISCIPLINE is the second requirement of this path. He is asked to discipline himself in the various ways:
1. The practice of various austerities and vows such as fasting, occasional silence, and in general the practice of a simple life without many unnecessary comforts, which weaken one’s body and mind.
2. To maintain purity of the body and mind.
3. To worship God daily in his chosen way.
4. To study the truth of himself both as a personality and as a soul, through self-observation, reading and discussion.
5. To practice contentment. To learn to be at peace with himself, accepting what life has given him and not to be greedy for more and more material possessions.

The first two steps of Raja Yoga remind us to a certain degree of the Ten Commandments. They are guidelines which are found in all spiritual paths and help to set a safe and stable foundation for the spiritual structure which we are about to build. If the foundation is not well formed we could have problems later as we begin to increase the energy and power flowing through our bodies and minds.
c) CONTROL OF THE BODY is then developed through the use of specific exercises, some dynamic and others static. Breath control and deep relaxation are also used in this stage so as to develop the strength of the nervous system and harmonize the endocrine system. This is very necessary in order to succeed in the advanced stages of mastery of the emotional and mental energies. These exercises and techniques are also used today for therapy. The goal here is to develop a healthy and strong body which will not obstruct us in our daily life or in our spiritual quest.
d) CONTROL OF THE BIOENERGY is then achieved through the mastery of certain advanced breathing techniques in conjunction with concentration on energy centers in the body. This produces an excellent state of health and vitality and facilitates the eventual control of the mind. The breath, bioenergy and mind are very much interconnected. These techniques are very useful for learning to master the emotions, but are also dangerous to be practiced without expert guidance.
e) DETACHMENT FROM THE SENSES is now necessary as the mind is usually at the mercy of the various sense inputs which are bombarding the eyes, ears and other sense organs. One learns to disconnect the mind from the incoming sense messages and allow them to go directly into the subconscious, without disturbing the conscious mind, so that one can concentrate on what one is doing. This frequently happens involuntarily as a result of intense concentration on some creative activity, i.e. painting, dancing, singing, playing music, gardening, knitting etc.

f) CONCENTRATION OF THE MIND ON A SINGLE POINT.

g) MEDITATION ON A CHOSEN OBJECT OF CONSCIOUSNESS.

h) ECSTASY OR UNION WITH THE OBJECT OF CONCENTRATION – GOD.

The first five steps are called outer yoga, because they have to do with the control of factors outside of the mind. The last three steps are called inner yoga, because they have to do with the control of the mind itself. These steps will be explained in much more detail later in this book. Simplified, the last three steps have to do with learning to hold the mind on one object of concentration for a long time. Then one begins to experience deepening levels of that object until one experiences a oneness with that object. For example, we might start by concentrating on the name and form of Jesus the Christ. After some intense practice we will begin to feel Christ not as a man, with a form, but as an energy, as light, as a consciousness, as a vibration, as the Logos. In the final step we will lose our sense of self, our sense of individuality, separateness and there will be only the Christ consciousness. We will have then merged into unity with Christ.

Thus, we can see that yoga has something different to offer to each individual according to his own needs, desires and goals. It also seems apparent that it has much to offer to our society in terms of increasing the quality of health, mental peace, productivity, and the unity and harmony of the society as a whole. It seems only logical that such a system, modified to suit specific needs, could start to be introduced in schools, offices, acting and musical companies, scientific research center and various private and government organizations, as is already being done so to some extent in America, Europe and Australia. Now that we understand that meditation is the seventh step of one of the four major paths of spiritual growth, let us go on to discuss in more detail what meditation is and how it can be used.

Comments are closed.