Yoga is usually defined as union: union between the limited self (jiva) and the cosmic self (atman). Without trying to confuse things any further, we would like to point out that there is an anomaly in this definition. For there to be an aim or goal of union there must first be a state of separation. And in fact this separation does not exist. At this very moment you are united with the cosmic consciousness.
Even this statement is not true, for you actually are the cosmic consciousness. So the aim of yoga is not really to unite you with anything, for you are already united. It is to make you realize your identity with the greater Self, to make you know and tune in with your existing inner nature. Yoga is so called (i.e. union) because it is seen and defined in terms of everyday normal life, where each person feels separation from, or does not comprehend the possibility of a higher being. In other words, yoga is seen as union from the point of view of personal identity. At a higher level of awareness there is no separation or any distinction between the so-called individual and consciousness. It is our low level of awareness that clouds the issue and prevents us realizing this identification. There is a beautiful and often quoted Indian story illustrating this point. The general theme is that there is a large elephant being held at different parts of its body by a number of blind men. Each of the blind men in turn attempts to describe the elephant. One holds the tail and says: "The elephant is just like a snake." The second man holds one ofthe legs and cries: "No, the elephant is like a large pillar." "You're both wrong," says the third man who was holding one ear, "the elephant is exactly like a big fan." The fourth man, who was running his hands along one of the tusks, shrugged his shoulders declaring: "This elephant doesn't resemble in any way the descriptions you have given; it is like a horn." "You're all crazy," said the fifth man who was pulling the trunk," the best description of an elephant is that it is like the trunk of a banana tree." These five men saw the one elephant in different ways. The elephant itself did not change, and had the blind men been blessed with eyesight they would have seen the reason for the differing descriptions; they would have realized that they were talking about different aspects of the one thing. This is the same conception that most of us have regarding our identity. We see separation; we see ourselves as distinct from our surroundings and other people, because we are really like the blind men, not seeing or knowing ourselves and our environment as they really are.
In review, we can say that yoga is not really union. It is in fact realization of the union already existing. This is the culmination of yoga. At the same time yoga as it is usually known and understood is the method or path which one adopts to attain the realization of yoga, of one's true identity. Thus yoga has a double meaning; it encompasses both the method and the end point. The meaning of yoga can also be denoted by the words unity and oneness; for the practice of yoga aims at rooting out the ego, this being the aspect of our individuality that enhances the sense of separation from our surroundings. Once the ego is transcended, the individual becomes himself and realizes his real, inner nature.
The definition of yoga that we have just given is a purely spiritual one. There are many other definitions which apply to all the levels of existence and awareness. For example, at the physical level most people have a body that is continually in a state of disruption. The functions of the different organs, muscles and nerves no longer harmonize and assist each other. Instead, they often hamper and act in opposition. For instance, the endocrine system becomes irregular; the efficiency of the nervous system decreases with the result that disease manifests in one form or another. Yoga aims at bringing all these different functions into perfect coordination, so that they work for the overall good of the body. So we can say another definition of yoga is physical harmony and health.
Many people suffer mental disturbances in the form of conflicts, neuroses, phobias and so on which make them unhappy and depressed in life. Yoga aims to smooth out and eliminate all mental problems, both large and small, obvious and subtle. Yoga can also be defined as mental balance and mental peace. Yet another definition of yoga is coordination and harmony between mind and body, so that our body responds perfectly to our mental commands, conscious and subconscious. This was very succinctly explained by Swami Sivananda when he said that: "Yoga is integration and harmony between thoughts, words and deeds, or integration between head, heart and hands."
From the harmony of the mental and physical aspects of man (including of course the pranic or bioplasmic body and our emotional nature) are derived other positive virtues as by-products. From these arise many other definitions of yoga. The following are a selection taken from the classical yoga text, the Bhagavad Gita:
Yoga is equanimity in success and failure (2:48) Yoga is skill and efficiency in action (2:50) Yoga is the supreme secret of life (4:3.) Yoga is the giver of untold happiness (5:2) Yoga is serenity (6:3) Yoga is the destroyer of pain. (6:17) Although there are other definitions in the Bhagavad Gita these few are the main ones.
Maharishi Patanjali, writer of the classical yogic text, the Yoga Sutras, defines yoga as: "... complete control over the different patterns or modifications of consciousness." In other words, yoga implies control over the conscious, unconscious and super-conscious realms of our being. One becomes the observer of these different higher states attaining complete knowledge of them.
Yoga can be defined as a science for developing creativity; as the science for unfolding the deeper aspects of the personality; as the science of being; as the science of consciousness. Actually, the definition of yoga will be perhaps a little different for each practitioner, for the individual will relate to yogic experiences and hence explain them in different ways. One thing is certain, whatever definition of yoga is chosen, the implications on one's life are vast, for yoga concerns itself with the very core of our lives: body, mind and consciousness. With this in mind, we leave the reader to work out his own definition of yoga through personal experience.
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