What do people need nowadays? What has happened to our peace of mind? There is an old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. The word interesting, of course, means that there is a lot going on, that life is very complicated because of the turmoil around us. That certainly applies to this era we are going through. There is political and environmental turmoil all around the world, many people have lost their spiritual roots, and our minds cannot keep up with the rapid change. Our emotions also are corrupted by the intake of mental impressions, food and drink; the food we are taking into our bodies is far too high in fat, sugar and impurities. Just when everyone is wondering how we can solve the accelerating human dilemma, the ancient science of yoga comes to the rescue. What is yoga? What benefits can we expect from it? How can we define it?
Swami Niranjan has given a definition of yoga that is a combination of the descriptive and functional. He said the following: Yoga is the ancient system of evolving the whole person, the physical, the vital, the mind and emotions, the psychic quality and the spiritual. According to the yogic tradition, evolution is a systematic process through which we learn to harmonize ourselves. It is a process through which we develop the ability to express our qualities optimally and creatively. In this context, evolution is not self-realization, it is perfection in life, and once we reach that state of perfection, realization is a natural outcome.
This definition emphasizes the way in which yoga is useful in the world, and how it prepares us to take our place in life for the betterment of ourselves, of other people, for the environment around us, and for planet earth itself. He further extends this principle in another very short definition: Yoga is the evolution of head, heart and hands.
This definition emphasizes the ability of yoga to develop our mental and emotional functioning, and our love and compassion, so that we can function in the world in a more effective way. Swami Niranjan went on to describe the five dimensions of human experience, the koshas or sheaths.
He said: Yoga views the process of evolution from five different angles: evolution of the body, evolution of energy, evolution of mind and emotions, evolution of consciousness, and evolution of spirit. In Sanskrit, these five dimensions of human experience are called annamaya kosha (body), pranamaya kosha (energy, vitality), manomaya kosha (mind and emotions), vijnanamaya kosha (wisdom and psychic qualities) and anandamaya kosha (the individual spirit). In addition to this, as we evolve and optimize these dimensions of ourselves, our health and life in general improve in these five ways. Nowadays people speak of yoga therapy. Yoga was not developed as a therapy, but when we practise it, our health improves. In addition, we are reminded that illness frequently involves all dimensions of the individual, including the spiritual, and that the reach of yoga exceeds the scope of conventional treatment by a long way.
The four dimensions of yoga are:
The beauty of yoga is that we can avail ourselves of any or all of these, and discover our rightful place as spiritual beings who can make a contribution to the welfare of all.
For thousands of years, the spiritual adepts have told us that each of us is already at the highest level of consciousness. But we are caught in a lower level of awareness due to ignorance of who we really are. We need to get out of the lower dramas, and become our real potential. However, this is difficult for many reasons, some of which are:
However, from time to time, someone shakes themselves out of it and becomes ready. Then, in the words of the yogis, When the disciple is ready the guru appears. It may be in the form of the actual guru himself, or just a beginning in the form of having yoga available. Then the progress on the path to personal transformation accelerates in a beautiful way.