By Krishna Chaitanya
Krishna Chaitanya is founder of Yoga Vidya Retreats and a professional yoga trainer and spiritual teacher. His expertise is in the field of meditation, philosophy and psychology of Yoga-Vedanta. He lived and practiced for more than twelve years in some of the best ashrams in India and embraced the monastic life at the age of 19. Krishna has traveled to various teachers and traditions in many parts of the world in order to gain knowledge from his experiences, not just from books or spiritual traditions. You can read more about him in our guest writer post or on the Yoga Vidya Retreats website.
Sadhana: Spiritual Practice in Yoga
Part 2: What is Yoga?
In Part 1 of this series of 3 articles on Sadhana, I introduced Sadhana as the path to self-realization in yoga. Now, we need to have a clear understanding of what yoga is all about and what are we trying to achieve by practicing Sadhana.
Yoga is mostly known around the world as a sort of fitness exercise to achieve total health, including physical and mental well-being. Yes, hatha yoga, one of the many yoga paths, can accomplish this, though this is considered to be a preparation and not the ultimate purpose of yoga or even hatha yoga.
Before understanding Sadhana, the path of Yoga, we need to have a fundamental understanding of what is not yoga and the right directions to take in inner fields of consciousness where yoga is mostly cultivated with love and dedication over years of purity, patience and perseverance.
Yoga is a not an exercise. The focus of exercise is mostly concentrated on the skeletal-muscular system and extremities are the main tools. Hatha yoga deals with all systems and focuses on achieving a healthy state of homeostasis by training the autonomic nervous system (ANS) with conscious central nervous system (CNS) activity which involves a well coordinated activity on physical, mental and psychic levels. There are many other differences between the fitness-oriented exercise and hatha yoga combinations of flows and stillness that you can study in hatha yoga anatomy and physiology classes taught in our teacher trainings and other places around the world.
Yoga is not a religion. All the religions around the world have an origin, founder, holy book and some sort of religious authority or organization like a church or mosque where you have a father, mullah, rabbi or lama sermonizing the devout followers about what needs to be done and not. Religious people follow the holy books as interpreted by their religious heads without question, and also prove their allegiance to the founder of that religion on a regular basis. In yoga, we don’t have a founder, or a holy book, or an organization or authority figure. Though there are some great books, teachers and traditions, a yoga student is not expected to follow them blindly or to stay committed to one teacher or tradition all the time. We just take what is best and leave the rest to the few scholars to philosophize!
Yoga is not a cult or sect. Though there are gods and gurus in some paths of yoga, one is not expected to stick with them forever. They are mostly used as a means which needs to be transcended at some later stage. There are lots of sects or traditions in yoga, but all of them are just a means to achieve yoga. A good yoga practitioner always reserves the freedom to learn and practice with as many traditions or sects or gurus at the same time. There are also many yogis who do not believe in a god or guru and are more rational than a scientist and more emotional than an artist in expressing their feelings . There are yogis who live in caves and some yogis who live in palaces ruling countries and fighting wars. Yogis can work in gardens or factories and do various professions in their normal life. There are also some great female yoginis who are housewives and still achieve high states of spiritual realization. So yoga is not a cult.
Yoga is not a culture or an Indian thing! But many Hindus adopted yoga early in history and still practice it, maybe without the deeper understanding of committed yogis who are always few in number. Buddhists and all the mystics of various religions, such as Islamic Sufism, Christian mysticism, Jewish Kabbalah etc., also practiced yoga, without using this word.
Yoga is not a lifestyle or a philosophy on how to live life. It is life itself. It is a science of how to experience this life here and now. Or to be frank, what is yoga cannot be expressed in words but anybody can experience it. Just like you cannot describe how sugar tastes! You have to put it in your mouth to experience its sweetness. It is an experience beyond words. Similarly, yoga is a pure experience beyond the prism of time-space-cause, which imprisons our consciousness with this body-mind identity of the ‘self’.
By practicing yoga Sadhana,
A Christian can become a better Christian.
A Muslim can become a better Muslim.
A Hindu can become a better Hindu.
A housewife can become a better housewife.
A father can become a better father.
An engineer can become a better engineer.
A scientist can become a better scientist.
A nurse can become a better nurse.
An artist can become a better artist.
This is all about bringing out harmony from within.
This is all about fine-tuning the ‘I’ and ‘You’ within us.
This is all about seeing the reality in this great illusion of life.
This is all about making oneself happy in all circumstances.
This is all about playing the game of life, according to the fair rules of Karma.
This is all about harmony in love, work, relationships, dreams, hopes and aspirations!
This is all about peace – awareness – bliss.
Then, what is yoga?
Literally it means union or harmony. In practical use it is known as a path to self realization or a means to experience Brahman (the ultimate truth), also known as God or Universe. Technically, it is a technique to experience the changeless eternal reality amidst the chaos of changes projected by our own minds. Mystically it means being one with truth, merging our own being with the cosmos! Karmically, it means learning the cosmic dance with Shiva-Parvati and feeling liberated to the very core of our being! Romantically, it means being one with everything!
A true yogi who experiences yoga in his or her super-conscious state of being, doesn’t talk much about what yoga is – because all man made languages and words fail to express what they experience beyond the mind and intellect! You know it when you see pure bliss in the eyes, peace on the face and joy in every action of a yogi. And yogis do not bother preaching or talking about That, because there is nothing else other than That. When there is no I and no you, who teaches whom?
All yogis agree that the truth of yoga cannot be explained in words but can be experienced by anybody by practicing Sadhana. The best words that they could find to describe elevated states of yoga are: Sat-Chit-Ananda. Absolute Existence – Absolute Awareness – Absolute Bliss. The existence, awareness and bliss we experience in daily life is temporary and within the prism of time-space-cause and mostly projected from our mind. When a yogi can be free from the fetters that bind his or her consciousness in maya, he or she can spontaneously experience life in the absolute, timeless ‘being-consciousness-bliss’, which is part of the big picture of the eternal cosmos.
To summarize, yoga Sadhana is basically a practice to experience the truth and reality about ourselves, our true self, not the small self which is made of our identity along with the body, mind and intellect and constantly changing as per the judgments of others in the chaotic flux of human society.
In the next article we will study why we need to know the truth about ourselves and what is life with and without that knowledge of self.
Photos courtesy of Krishna Chaitanya / Yoga Vidya.