What is Yoga?

Continued from: Pranayama. Daily Practice Program

Yoga is a system of living with sense and science, of the realization of ultimate values and altruistic missions of life.

Yoga evolves a harmonious order in mind, matter and man.

Yoga is an absolute departure from basic animal tendencies.

Yoga is a state of aloofness from the artificialities of life and relationship.

Yoga is the culture of tomorrow.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

What is Yoga? Part I

So far in this book we have primarily concerned ourselves with describing the basic rules of asanas, pranayama and relaxation techniques, vet there are many other varied aspects of yoga. The reason behind this was to enable you to practise yoga from the outset. The purpose of this new series of discussions, of which this is the first, is to explain what yoga is all about – how it relates to you, to everyday life, how the structure of yoga is formed, its different paths and how these paths interrelate to achieve the culmination of yoga.

Actually, it is impossible to really appreciate the aims of yoga, at least the higher ones, without personal experience. All we can do is to broadly indicate the direction in which yoga can take you, if not its destination. For example, it is possible to indicate on a map the route to a specific town and even describe the layout of the area. Yet at the same time it is impossible for anyone else to experience the journey or to know the town for you. You must do it for yourself. It is the same with yoga. We can indicate the path, the signposts and make madequate attempts to explain the higher aims, but for the personal experiences you must tread the path yourself. And this is the essence of yoga – neither descriptions, nor theories, nor suppositions, but direct personal experience.

In this topic we will discuss mainly the meaning of yoga, giving an outline of its origin and development through the ages.


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 of the 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.”

Continue to: What is Yoga? Part II

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