If one is to commence as a student of yoga one should be aware of the general purpose of the science and the sincere aims of the aspirant. Many people begin with only a fraction of understanding of what yoga is all about, all that is offered and all that it demands. It comes as a surprise to learn what a complete system of culture is offered through these teachings stemming from the ancient Vedic philosophy.
Yoga is considered by many to be the oldest natural science, teaching the laws of Nature and how to adapt them to the human art of living. Nature is to be respected and befriended. It is wrong to ever think of conquering Nature. To abide by natural law is to the yogi synonymous with God’s Law. For each to live to the highest potential physically, mentally and spiritually is considered total human maturity and is a valid expectation and goal for all mankind.
Although the origins are obscured in antiquity, the prescribed techniques and guidelines are thought to be as old as mankind’s history and culture upon the earth. It is generally conceded that Yoga as a system was developed in India and it is the Indians who have remained custodians of its wisdom. Although recognition of the Indian source is its due, Yoga teachings however, are not the province of any one culture or race. Being a natural science, it has no boundaries but is universally available to all.
Certain adaptations of the old techniques must be adapted to suit western modern cultural needs but the essence of the teaching remains. It is based upon self discipline and self culture within a framework of ethical and moral codes. It is to be expected that the physical and even psychological programmes of training will evolve and change but the singleness of spiritual purpose must be retained and the techniques for spiritual consciousness also, in order that exponents preserve the purity of the system.
The single spiritual aim is to consciously experience the release from limitations of life as an individual locked in the cell of his self conscious ego and to realise the spiritual limitless of his own source in God or Universal Life. Attuned to this power, he seeks then to live a constructive life of benefit to others.
Patanjali, the sage, was the author of the written yoga precepts which survive after about 2,000 years. Until his time, it is thought that the teachings were largely oral and transmitted without book learning but in an unbroken traditional line from Master to pupil, or from Guru to chela. To these sages of old, we owe our greatest respect as well as to the scholars and wise ones who have assisted us in interpreting and comprehending the ancient wisdom.
Although Yoga is most frequently practised in the framework of Hindu culture it is now commonly understood that there is no connection with any religion. Yoga advises the student to follow religious practises according to the sincere beliefs of the individual whatever religion is the natural to him and his native culture. But the highest aspects of yoga develop a universality which is beyond any one religion and it is usual to find that the yogi is at ease when at worship in worship in the church or temple of all the religions, or in none at all.
The aim of Yoga is to understand both the laws of Nature governing physical matter and the human body as well as those which affect the subtle psyche of man and the spiritual aspect of his being. The word “yoga” implies a union or integration of man with harmony within his whole being, body, emotions, mind and spirit – a state which is then represents “health”. In a higher aspect it refers to the re-union of life of the individual with the Whole.
The healthy student who has successfully applied himself to the rigorous tests and exercises in overcoming his negative self and by controlling, developing, then dedicating his positive talents of his human nature has achieved the first aspect of Union or Yoga. The second phase is uniting his individuality to the Universal Energy Source in order that he may make a constructive and inspired contribution to the world around him.
Conscious understanding of himself, of others, of Nature and of the Universe implies an ever expanding development of his mind and realisation which stretches from the mundane world to infinity. The conscious experience of Universal Energy, the Source, or God is the ultimate spiritual reward.
The Indian sages and spiritual Western saints are known to us to exist both in historic times and in our own time. Some choose to work in retreat as recluses in ashrams and monasteries. Others elect to work directly amongst the people and can be found in the many and various roles played in human civilization. Wherever they function, these individuals act as human channels for energy of a type and quality dependent upon their individual spiritual development and their degree of Universality or wholeness.
In India some choose to reside on the plains and work amongst the people, teaching and healing in the ashrams, as does the priest in western countries. Others have sought mountain tops as their homes where they can transmit, unimpeded by worldly pollution of mind and matter, their highest quality energy to the world and to humanity.
Wherever man resides upon the earth, there are yogis or spiritually awakened ones. They have walked the earth in eastern and western countries and in all times and eras. Their message is always one of a reminder to us of the value of love, truth, beauty, kindness, in the human soul and their reminders are always such as to inspire us to further effort to cultivate these qualities.
Today we are very aware of the need for a return to these values and yet suffer by having few great teachers expounding, or exemplifying these qualities. We have to rely upon our own integrity. However, it is a natural law which allows that when humanity becomes unbalanced in its development and swings away from the spirit into materialism and decadence, a great teacher comes to point the way. Many people are hoping that the new century will bring us such a great teacher. Societies in all countries are showing signs of serious problems which deny peace, love, kindness, beauty and truth to flourish.
Practising the disciplines to maintain good health is our personal responsibility undertaken by those intelligent enough to comprehend it and in the system of yoga, this is known as Hatha Yoga, the commencement of training when the harmonising of the two main energies in the individual is achieved.
Undertaking disciplines to develop healthy emotions is less understood, but equally important so that emotional unease and distortions do not occur to plague us. Development of the love principle of devotion is known as Bhakti Yoga.
Mental disciplines to keep the mind clear of negative thoughts, destructive tendencies so that creative thinking can occur and the mind capable to realising truth is known as Raja Yoga. Mind training is becoming important and many teaching systems exist although there is more attention given to the principle applied to electronic computers than there is given to the human minds who use them.
But yoga reminds us that beyond the mind is the soul. We seldom use the term in everyday life and it takes a poet to help us recall this most vital part of ourselves. The churches remain un-enlightening and have neglected to educate us properly in this regard. For clarification of the term soul we describe the deepest and most profound part of our nature into which we withdraw at times of great distress or at times of great happiness. It is that which is beyond the personality of thinking, feeling and acting.
The spirit is higher again. The yogis call our spark of spiritual energy pure and of the qualities of light, as is our Atma. This spark in each one may not be defiled nor affected by all the other aspects of our nature. It is above our comprehension and our conscious reach except in unusual circumstances.
To live spiritually to the yogi, means to live with body, emotions and mind developed and under control so that one lives as a soul self, with the soul self inspired by the spirit – as one integrated and intelligent wholeness of being. Let us now clarify our terms and accept the aspirant as the Yoga student and reserve the term “Yogi” or “Master ” for the one who has reached the goal of the man made perfect and who has of becoming a pure channel of Light to the world.
Following Yoga techniques can bring the reward of a healthier body, happier emotions, peaceful mental state and a successful life.
Discipline yourself to control the appetites, build a healthy body with natural God-given foods, control the thoughts and develop mental attributes so that the mind may be strong to steer you to your spiritual goal.