Each of us begins to practice yoga for our own reason, whether it is to restore our health, reduce our stress or perhaps to keep our body fit and flexible. Whatever the case may be, yoga often delivers much more than we originally anticipated. For most of us, we begin the practice of yoga through the physical body. Even after a short period of practicing yogasanas, something about the practice intrigues us and we find ourselves coming back for more.
Although yoga will help us to restore our health, reduce our stress and make our bodies more fit, these are only the side effects of the practice. The aim of yoga is to return the student to Truth. Yoga means union or Oneness. The yogi is joining the individual consciousness with Supreme or Universal Consciousness. It is the joining of Self with other, subject with object, Siva with Shakti, purusha (pure consciousness) with prakriti (Mother Nature or causal matter).
Even if we bring it down to a more practical level, the science of yoga balances the body, emotions and mind thus improving the over all quality of the practitioners’ life. Physiologically, yoga harmonizes all the various organs and systems of the human body. The body becomes more efficient and pleasant to live in as the various systems of the body begin to work together as a whole. For the sincere student, yoga makes the practitioner a kinder more gentle being as the sadhaka (spiritual aspirant) begins to understand his/her interconnectedness with the beings and the world around her/him. This was the ‘something’ that initially intrigued us, but it is subtle and we are not even necessarily conscious that anything is happening to us. We just know that we are feeling better, alive, inspired. Yoga takes the unknowing fragmented being and subtly begins to make the being whole, harmonized, balanced, One.
Generally speaking, human beings are rarely satisfied. We may have moments of contentment, but usually, we are looking for something more to fill us. Perhaps we are hoping for a different job, a new partner, more money, more yoga etc. Once we attain what we desired, it opens the door for countless more desires. We run towards what we like and run away from what disturbs our happiness. Our mind is always changing, fluctuating guided by the insatiable cravings of the senses. Yoga says that beyond this continually changing mind and intellect, there is an unchanging formless Spirit that is unaffected by time, space, cause, name, form and is veiled (maya) in the individual (jiva) according to his/her stage of evolution. Yoga claims that our insatiable appetite for external objects is simply our longing for something that we innately feel is missing. The yogis claim that we are all longing for union, Oneness.
Yoga is an exact science, but the goal is spiritual. Each path, each method leads to the same goal: Oneness. Swami Vishnu-devananda explains in his book, “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga,” that for every one idea that the student comprehends, there will be a hundred that will surface consciously only when the students’ mind is ready to both understand and accept the idea. As a student of yoga, this is very exciting! There is never a dull moment on the path. Every moment is an opportunity for growth and understanding. Every moment, we have the choice to create unity or division with our thoughts, words and actions, therefore, every moment is an opportunity to practice. Yoga is not something that we go to, it is something that we live.