What is Yoga?

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

I tell everybody that a certain state in yoga involves hypnotism and it must because it gives relaxation. When you are trying to withdraw your consciousness, when you are trying to negate your consciousness at that moment there is a certain amount of hypnotism involved and there is no harm in it. But when your consciousness is being withdrawn from outside to inside and when it is just slipping, it is at that moment that you will have to carve some symbol for your consciousness, so that when you go into the subconscious, your awareness does not die, dim and set. Yoga is not hypnotism, yoga is a process of awareness and knowledge. This is how we define yoga.

Defining yoga

First definition is that yoga is an art, through which you have complete mastery over all the patterns of awareness; second, it is an art by which you become a spectator of all the experiences of awareness; the third is that it is a process of de-hypnotism of all the processes of consciousness. Now coming to the literal meaning of yoga, the word in Sanskrit means ‘to join, to act, to meet, to yoke’. When two things separate in Sanskrit, it is called viyoga, de-communion, or separation. And when two objects of the same likeness meet with each other, it is called union, communion and it is yoga.

Now the problem is who meets who and who unites with whom. What we exactly see when we practise yoga is not a practice of union, but it seems almost a process of disunion, because when we practise meditation we are separating ourselves from the external consciousness. It is not union, but separation from the outer consciousness: we fail to see, we fail to hear, we fail to think, we fail to move and to understand. So it is union or is it disunion?

It is said in different books, not only in the Yoga Sutras, but also in the Bhagavad Gita and in the great book on yoga Yoga Vashishtha by Rishi Vashishtha, that when the individual awareness becomes free from the sense experience, from the objective world, it finally becomes one with the cosmic awareness in man. According to Vedanta philosophy, this awareness through which I see and understand, you see me and understand, and this awareness through which we see all that is around us, this awareness through which we experience everything of the past and present, is a small fractional part of the cosmic power, or the cosmic consciousness.


In Vedanta they have used two words which you will kindly understand, the jiva, the individual awareness, and the atma, the cosmic awareness. These two words have been used in Vedanta to indicate this awareness and that awareness. The awareness when it functions through the mind, the intellect, the senses and the medium of the body is known as individual awareness. When you withdraw this consciousness by the process of negation from the mind, from the body, from its associates, and when it is completely free from the association of prakriti, from the associations of the lower mediums and functions without any mediumship, it is called cosmic consciousness.

When consciousness functions through the senses, it is called sense consciousness, when consciousness functions through the body, it is known as body consciousness, when that consciousness functions through the intellect, it is known as intellectual consciousness. When the consciousness functions in a diminished condition, it is called subconscious, when the consciousness functions without any name, without any form, without any knowledge, it is known as unconsciousness.

However, when the consciousness functions without any mediumship of the body, mind, intellect, subconscious or unconsciousness, and when this consciousness functions in its natural way, in its original form, without any filter in between, then it is known as cosmic awareness, divine awareness, or transcendental awareness.

Knowledge is a pattern of consciousness, wrong knowledge is also a pattern of consciousness, and absence of knowledge is also a pattern of consciousness. Right knowledge, wrong knowledge, past knowledge, or absence of knowledge are the lower forms of consciousness and these forms we experience every day, and they are called individual consciousness. You are listening to my speech and your awareness is functioning through the auditory medium, I am looking at you and you are looking at me. My consciousness is functioning through the ocular medium. I am thinking about the subject, my consciousness is functioning through the individual thinking medium. In this way the pure awareness, the formless awareness, the nameless awareness has a name. You know what we call it? We call it ocular awareness, auditory awareness, mental awareness.

Who experiences pain, who experiences pleasure, who understands things, who makes mistakes? The individual awareness, but through the mediums. This consciousness in man is like formless light, in front of which is running a film of perception, feeling, moving, understanding, false knowledge, and we see everything that is taking place in front of us. This life is an experience of expressions, it is an expression of consciousness through the mediums, through the filters. You remove the filters and there is no experience. There is only one experience about which I will tell you later. This consciousness does not die, even if you cannot see, this consciousness does not die, even if you cannot hear. This consciousness does not die, does not cease to exist, even if you cease to exist. Under all conditions, with medium or without, with filter or without, even if you don’t exist your consciousness will exist and your consciousness is existing in spite of the fact that you are not.

Defining once more

Yogis knew this fact, they knew the possibility of existence of consciousness, in spite of our non-existence. They saw perhaps, or they discovered in every man, that there was something that could exist without any mediumship, and they started thinking about creating that state at will and voluntarily. Thus the definition of yoga: yoga is a process by which we can make our consciousness free from its limitations, free from its mediumship of knowledge, and yoga is a process by which consciousness can function with all knowledge, without any mediumship, with all experiences, without any limitations. This is the fourth and I think the highest definition of yoga. Therefore, it has been said in the yogic texts that the super-consciousness which is not subjected to time, not subjected to an object, is infinite and it is everywhere.

Yoga is an art or yoga is a method of wrestling with your own mind; it is a process by which you make your mind free from the limitations; and finally with the help of the freedom, with the help of the state of liberation, you can be known as someone having more peace, more understanding, more concentration and more of infinite joy.

For a man in the world who is being struck by emotions, by frustrations, disappointments and all sorts of mental errors, for him yoga should be a method of balance of mind. For a man who is active in a competitive activity, in a business, or in politics, who has to pass sleepless nights and anxious evenings and mornings, but who must sleep and breathe peace, for him yoga should be a way of relaxation. And for the man who is trying his potential, for him who is trying for self-mastery, self-control, self-discipline – the highest aim should be this. And for one whose devotion is high, yoga should make him more successful in his prayers.

World Tour 1968, Germany