Yoga should be kept away from religion. It should be seen as a science, a science of mind and body, and a philosophy. This is what must be explained to people. Yoga is not a charm that will cure diseases by standing on your head. The way modern science has a philosophy, socialism is a political philosophy, capitalism has its own philosophy, yoga also has a philosophy and this is Samkhya. This must be conveyed to all learned people. If this is not explained, then people will consider yoga a part of Hindu religion. And people today are wary of religion; countries prefer to call themselves secular. Even I am wary of religions and sects. So one has to remove yoga from religion and explain its philosophic and scientific basis.

There are various schools of Indian philosophy such as Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, Jainism, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Samkhya. Samkhya is a very ancient system developed by Sage Kapila. The underlying thought in Samkhya is that the basis of creation is Purusha and Prakriti. These two elements exist in everything. Your existence has two elements: body and spirit. Everything in creation consists of two eternal elements, and this is also the basis of yoga.

Yoga has had many different traditions. There is the tradition of Gorakhnath who was a disciple of Matsyendranath. Theirs is the tradition of hatha yoga. Rishi Gherand had his own tradition of hatha yoga. Yajnavalkya also had his own tradition of hatha yoga. There were also tantrik yogis whose tradition was passed down to very few people. All these traditions have existed for centuries.

Then there is Patanjali’s raja yoga. This is completely different from the traditions of hatha yoga. He has written only one sutra on asana: sthiram sukham asanam. He has explained pranayama in some greater detail, but his main emphasis is chitta, consciousness. Chitta and atman, consciousness and spirit. It was asked what will be achieved by practising yoga. He replied, drashtaha swaroope avasthanam. “Then the sadhaka is established in his own nature.” When he was asked what is yoga, he did not define it in terms of hatha yoga. He said yoga is chitta vritti nirodha; it is restraining the waves that arise in the consciousness. Now what are the waves that arise in the consciousness? You get angry. That is a vritti or mental wave; restrain it. When you throw a stone in a lake, it causes ripples. The ripples are not different from the water and in the same way, vrittis are not separate from the consciousness, but they are able to agitate the consciousness. This is how Patanjali has explained yoga.

The Bhagavad Gita describes eighteen kinds of yoga. The first is vishada yoga, yoga of depression. When a person is depressed, he feels hopeless. He does not want to work, study or talk and everything appears negative and unfavourable to him. What did Arjuna say in the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita? “The bow is slipping from my hands, I am bathed in sweat, I am unable to stand, my head is spinning, everything seems negative to me” (1:30, 1:31):

Gaandeevam sramsate hastaat tvak chaiva paridahyate;
Na cha shaknomyavasthaatum bhramateeva cha me manah.
Nimittaani cha pashyaami vipareetaani keshava.

These are the symptoms of depression, for which modern medical science would prescribe medicines. In Sanskrit, depression is called vishada. Therefore, the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is ‘Vishada Yoga’. The practice of yoga begins when the mind is immersed in depression. If your mind was normal, why would you need yoga? You need yoga when the mind is imbalanced. Therefore, the Bhagavad Gita begins with vishada in the first chapter and the subsequent chapters describe other yogas.

So, when we give an explanation of yoga, we should not limit it to hatha yoga. And when we speak of hatha yoga, we must remember that it is not just asana and pranayama. Asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha are parts of hatha yoga, but what it really refers to is the coming together of the two forces of ida and pingala. Ham and tham are bija mantras; together they make the word ‘hatha’, so the union of these two forces is hatha yoga. Ida and pingala are the two principal nadis, energy channels, in the body. They create depression, excitement or passion, and also control the breath. They are also called Ganga and Yamuna, the sun and the moon, and so on. The parallel terms in modern medical science are sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The main purpose of hatha yoga is to balance these two systems. Asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha are all aimed at this. Asana is not the main component of hatha yoga. When you practise asanas you are only practising a part of hatha yoga, and the easiest part at that. Guru Gorakhnath, Sage Gherand, Yajnavalkya – all describe hatha yoga as shatkarma, the six cleansing kriyas.

Nature has created the body in such a way that all its different parts work in perfect coordination. You cannot even hear the brain working. But if any component of the body is not in harmony, diseases manifest and many of them cannot be cured by medicine. Yoga, however, can help you manage them.

Apart from blood, there is another thing that runs everywhere in the body: consciousness. It runs so fast that the instant a mosquito bites your hand, you know it. Consciousness allows the feeling to travel to the respective part of the brain and also causes a reflection of the feeling. Sometimes the flow of consciousness is blocked, sometimes you say something to someone and they respond with: “What did you say?” This happens when the flow of consciousness is blocked somewhere. The aim of hatha yoga is to remove all blocks in the flow of consciousness, oxygen as well as blood. The aim of raja yoga, however, is different.

The aim of raja yoga is to quieten the restless tendencies of the mind. Think about how many times in the day your mind is perturbed. Worry and anxiety follow you everywhere, whether you are reading the newspaper or watching television. Your children, spouse, money or lack of it, everything causes anxiety. Your life is full of anxiety. This means that your consciousness remains dissipated and broken. When the consciousness is dissipated, it keeps on going in and out. The aim of raja yoga is to bring together this dissipated mind and make it one-pointed. This is the greater aim of yoga: to be able to meditate on just one thing for even one minute, to be in a state where there is only one thought in the mind and not a second, to be like Arjuna when he had to shoot the bird’s eye. He did not see the bird’s head, the branch of the tree, or his bow and arrow. He only saw the black spot on the bird’s eye. This is known as one-pointedness. There is only one thing visible before your eyes.

The main achievement of yoga is not attainment of good health. That is only its side effect. The main achievement of yoga is one-pointedness. When the mind is one-pointed, then the individual is oblivious to all events in the environment around. When this happens, a peculiar energy rises within, a special energy flows through the mind. This is yoga.