On Yoga

Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Yoga is a system of integral education, not only of the body and mind or the intellect, but also of the inner spirit. It is a complete method of overhauling the human personality. Yoga is an exact science, aiming at the harmonious development of the body, the mind and the soul. It is a practical system of self-culture. Yoga is the turning away of the senses from the objective universe and concentrating on the mind within. Yoga is eternal life in the spirit.

Yoga is for all. Yoga is universal. Yoga is not a religion, but an aid to the practice of the basic spiritual truths in all religions. Yoga can be practised by a Christian or a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Sufi or an atheist. To be a yogi means to abide continually in God and to live at peace with all.

The idea of the novice that yoga constitutes physical exercises or mere asanas and pranayama etc. is a terrible error. Real yoga is more than asana, pranayama, mudras, bandhas and kriyas. These are aids to yoga only.

Most people do not have access to real yoga beyond its physical level, because true yoga needs intense personal discipline coupled with intense thinking under the guidance of an able teacher. Yoga promises superphysical and spiritual blessings. It becomes unattractive to a person who clamours for immediate fruits and worldly prosperity.

Yoga aims at controlling the mind and its modifications. The path of yoga is an inner path whose gateway is your heart. Yoga is the discipline of the mind, the senses and the physical body. It helps to control and coordinate the subtle forces within the body.

Life today is full of stress and strain, tension and nervous irritability, passion and hurry. If you put into practice a few of the elementary principles of yoga, you will be far better equipped to cope with this complex existence. By practising yoga you can have calmness of mind at all times, restful sleep, increased energy, vigour, vitality, longevity and a high standard of health. You can turn out efficient work within a short space of time. You can have success in every walk of life. Yoga will infuse in you new strength, confidence and self-reliance. The body and mind will be at your beck and call.

Yoga brings your emotions under control. It increases your power of concentration at work. Yoga gives poise and tranquillity and miraculously rebuilds one’s life. Yoga brings about physical and spiritual development, side by side. The yogic way of life deepens your understanding and enables you to know God and your relationship with Him.

Just as action, feeling and thought are not distinct and separate, so also work (karma), devotion (bhakti) and knowledge (jnana) are not exclusive of one another. You must, therefore, develop your heart, intellect and hands. Only then can you attain perfection. Many aspirants do not possess integral development, as they neglect one or the other of these aspects of their personality.

One-sided development is not commendable. Yoga educates and develops the whole person – head, heart and hands. There must be integral development. To become harmoniously balanced in all directions is the ideal of yoga. This can be achieved by practising the yoga of synthesis.

Whatever practice you do – japa, asana, pranayama, kirtan, self-enquiry or meditation on a form – do it systematically and regularly every day. The reward is immense. A little practice of hatha yoga will give you good health. Raja yoga will steady your mind. Karma yoga will purify your heart and prepare you for the practice of Vedanta. Sankirtan will relax your mind and inspire you. Meditation will take you to liberation.

Yoga removes tamas, inertia, and rajas, restlessness of the mind and body. It gives one easy mastery over the turbulent senses. Equanimity is yoga. Serenity is yoga. Skill in action is yoga. Control of the senses and mind is yoga. Anything by which the best and the highest in life can be attained is also yoga. Yoga is thus universal in its application, leading to all-round development of body, mind and soul.

The yogi observes the law of moderation at all times. He treads the middle path. He does not torture his body, but he does regulate his eating and sleeping, and his talking and working. Proceed upon this path gradually and steadily. Nothing can be achieved overnight, but steady practice will certainly bestow great blessings in the long run.

Yoga is a process of continuous transformation. The inner perfection of self-realization can only come to be revealed by experience. This happens only progressively. Transformation of one’s personality is achieved through stages. Yoga is not something merely to be heard. Yoga has to be assimilated and put into practice in daily life. The practice of yoga enables one to realize unity with the whole world. It is living in tune with God.

As you advance in yoga, the ego is progressively replaced by the spirit. It is through this that the will of God works. By practising yoga, the seeker is freed from the tyranny of the lower mind and becomes divine.

It is within the power of everyone to attain success in yoga. What is wanted is sincere devotion, and constant and steady practice. Spiritual growth is gradual. There is progressive evolution. You should not be in a feverish hurry to accomplish great yogic feats or enter into samadhi in two or three months. You will have to ascend the ladder of yoga patiently step by step.