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At the Feet of The Mother

Rediscovering Yoga 1: Defining Yoga

Over a hundred years back at the turn of the previous century, Sri Aurobindo wrote in a prophetic vein about the important place that yoga was going to take in the sum total of human activities of the future: 

We are in an age, full of the throes of travail, when all forms of thought and activity that have in themselves any strong power of utility or any secret virtue of persistence are being subjected to a supreme test and given their opportunity of rebirth. The world today presents the aspect of a huge cauldron of Medea in which all things are being cast, shredded into pieces, experimented on, combined and recombined either to perish and provide the scattered material of new forms or to emerge rejuvenated and changed for a fresh term of existence. Indian Yoga, in its essence a special action or formulation of certain great powers of Nature, itself specialised, divided and variously formulated, is potentially one of these dynamic elements of the future life of humanity. The child of immemorial ages, preserved by its vitality and truth into our modern times, it is now emerging from the secret schools and ascetic retreats in which it had taken refuge and is seeking its place in the future sum of living human powers and utilities. But it has first to rediscover itself, bring to the surface the profoundest reason of its being in that general truth and that unceasing aim of Nature which it represents, and find by virtue of this new self-knowledge and self-appreciation its own recovered and larger synthesis. [CWSA 23: 5 – 6]

The prophesy is coming true. Yoga has indeed become one of the major gifts of India to the world. With its appeal to a wide range of humanity independent of religious beliefs and secular views, with an increasing validation by scientific research and acceptance in academic circles Yoga is fast becoming popular among the different strata of Society. Yet it is still ill understood and its far reaching effects and impacts far from being understood. And until we discover or rather rediscover it, – for Yoga is as ancient as the hills, we shall remain deprived of its real potential and be satisfied with the husks while leaving the real grain that hides behind its elaborate systems, techniques and processes. 

What then is Yoga? It is most commonly understood as a set of physical and breathing exercises meant for physical health and mental wellbeing. While these things are important for our immediate utilitarian purposes, they are neither the core nor the whole of Yoga. As far as physical health is concerned, its importance lies in the purposes to which we shall put the instrumentality of the body. Besides there are a number of different ways that one can acquire good health. Asanas are one of them. Though here too there is a need to make a distinction between asanas and yoga asanas as they were once part of the original Hatha Yoga. A set of exercises does not automatically become yogic unless it is accompanied by a certain attitude and directed towards genuine yogic ends. Therefore, we see in the ashtanga yoga system of Patanjali, asanas and pranayama occur after the preliminary purification is practiced through moral rectitude. It is followed by mastery of the sense-mind, concentration, surrender to and union with God. Of course, the idea of God or Ishwar is as wide as the universe making the system free from the trappings of religion. Yet it brings home the fact that Yoga is not meant for maintaining good health alone but rather the purpose of good health is to ultimately engage in our higher pursuit of the very Highest, the Divine. Good health through asanas, conservation and right flow of life energies by mastery over the breath is important for this reason. But Patanjali, a great codifier of the then prevalent yogic practices is not the originator of Yoga. Nor does he exhaust all the possibilities of Yoga. Yoga existed much before his classical treatise on Yoga sutras and continued or rather continues to evolve after him. If we take the definition given by Swami Vivekananda and endorsed by Sri Aurobindo, Yoga is conscious and concentrated evolution, a compressed evolution instead of the long winding circuitous routes of Nature in her wife wanderings and long preparations and sudden unexpected leaps. Sri Aurobindo helps us:

In the right view both of life and of Yoga all life is either consciously or subconsciously a Yoga. For we mean by this term a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being and—highest condition of victory in that effort—a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos. But all life, when we look behind its appearances, is a vast Yoga of Nature who attempts in the conscious and the subconscious to realise her perfection in an ever-increasing expression of her yet unrealised potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality. In man, her thinker, she for the first time upon this Earth devises self-conscious means and willed arrangements of activity by which this great purpose may be more swiftly and puissantly attained. Yoga, as Swami Vivekananda has said, may be regarded as a means of compressing one’s evolution into a single life or a few years or even a few months of bodily existence. [CWSA 23: 6]

Where then does yoga begin both in the life of the individual as well as in the life of the human race? Or perhaps it existed as a subtle principle or force in nature drawing all things upwards towards the Divine Origin or Source by a natural attraction or as the ‘compelling stuff in things’. For evolution is not unique to man. It is the one happening thing possibly because of the concealed evolutionary Energy hidden within matter or creation itself. 

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