There are many classical or traditional yogic paths that awaken and expand our own consciousness, facilitating connection with the highest truth. These yogic systems, such as mantra, laya, kundalini, bhakti, jnana, karma, etc., give us the tools to achieve greater knowledge and our own experience of connection.
There are different yoga systems suitable for different personality types. Each one allows us to access our own truth, and to reach that truth on our own through our own chosen path and our own effort to evolve.
The great yogi Patanjali, defines the Raja Yoga system in this way: “Yoga is the blocking (nirodha) of the mental modifications (chitta vrittis) so that the witness (drashta) re-identifies with the Being (transcendental)”
The Patanjali system known as Ashtanga yoga has come to be the epitome of classical yoga philosophy, making it one of the seven major philosophies of India.
Patanjali defines in a very formal way what yoga is and at the same time expresses the ultimate goal in yoga. Although few people achieve a total re-identification with the Self, the journey that is made through the practices of raja yoga, to reach the goal, brings to the practitioner of yoga gratifying experiences that result in a greater capacity for perception and understanding of life, the human condition, and the greatest cosmic reality. Patanjali’s yoga system precisely lays out all the right tools to guide the process of transforming the limited, ignorant, and bored mind into a self-effulgent and powerfully creative force in order to enjoy a more meaningful life, comprehensively, healthfully and happily.
The definition of yoga in the Hatha yoga texts speaks of the union of Prana (the ascending force) and Apana (the descending force) in the manipura chakra (energy center located behind the navel). Hatha yoga teaches us to master the vital force of life, known by the name of “Prana”. By learning how to feel and manipulate this force, we gain access to the source of our Being (transcendental). If prana and apana can join in manipura chakra, we can awaken a very powerful energy that will lead us to the highest achievement of raja yoga, self-realization through Samadhi.
The ancient book Hatha Yoga Pradipika says: “When perfection is attainable through siddhasana (a powerful meditative posture). When the flow of prana stabilizes, the breath stops spontaneously (kevala kumbhaka) and a mindless state (unmani) arises spontaneously ”(1:41).
The definition of yoga in kundalini yoga speaks of the union of Ida (the mental current) and Pingala (the pranic current) in the Ajna Chakra (what yoga calls the third eye, located in front of the pineal gland). Here yoga seeks to unify the duality in us by connecting the body and the mind. This leads to the experience of the higher, transcendent and absolute Self. Understanding these definitions of yoga, we can then affirm that:
Yoga is a conglomeration of techniques and practices through which we become powerful enough to put our ideas into practice with a clear mind and precise and well-defined objectives. This allows us to wake up and see who we really are and what the life process is about.
We can also say that anything that allows us to be more aware of ourselves and feel connected to ourselves and to life, is a form of yoga. It could arise from having a cup of tea, as is done in Japan in formal tea ceremonies, or it could be the sense of connection that comes from doing something we enjoy like sports or gardening. Everything we do can become yoga if done with full awareness.
Consciousness is the key that allows us to feel and experience the connection with our transcendental Self, with the truth, and with the cosmic reality. Without consciousness, we could sometimes be connected and not even know it.
It is clear that all of us who want to start having yoga experiences should understand that teachers are supporting the evolutionary growth of the student, both inside and outside the classroom, when they teach with an emphasis on the use and knowledge of awareness, rather than just teaching technique and physical alignment. This is happening even if the student may not realize it.
According to the different yogic traditions, evolution is a systematic process through which we learn to harmonize ourselves while we are purifying ourselves. It is a process through which we develop the ability to express our positive qualities in an optimal and creative way. In this context, the evolution of the human Being is not self-realization but the search for perfection and mastery in the way of living, by which once that state of perfection is reached, self-realization is the organic and natural result.
Yoga is an ancient and complete system of evolution for the Human Being in the physical, the vital, the mental and the emotional as well as the psychic and spiritual qualities. It is an educational process that leads to the development of an internal discipline, resulting in clarity and inner strength. The development of this force brings the qualities that we consider appropriate and correct. With mental clarity comes the wisdom to apply those qualities at the right time. With confidence, we can avoid arrogance, negative ego expression, and thus rise as human Beings.
With the above we can conclude that yoga recognizes that within human being there are physical, spiritual, moral, psychological and psychic needs. To accommodate these needs and to eliminate or correct irregularities and abnormalities in our life, different systems of practices have been developed. This definition emphasizes the way in which yoga is useful in the world, preparing us to take our place in life, to improve society and the environment. Yoga has the ability to develop our mental and emotional functioning with stability and harmony, our love and our compassion, so that we can function in the world in a balanced way with more positivity and effectiveness.
Hari Om Tat Sat!
This article has been inspired by the teachings of the Bihar School of Yoga, and has been written in honor of the wisdom, kindness, unconditional love and service done to humanity by Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati and Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati.