The essential teaching and goal of Yoga is to make the mind calm. “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha,” says the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. That means that Yoga is the calming of the waves created in the chitta, the mind by keeping the mind balanced under all conditions. In the Bhagavad Gita, we find a similar definition of Yoga: “Samatvam Yoga uchyate,” which means: “Equanimity is Yoga.”
How does Yoga help us to achieve this goal of equanimity? First, by helping us to recognize that, at the outset, it’s hard to handle or control the mind directly. Just imagine that I tell you, “Don’t think of chocolate cake.” What is the first thing your mind will do? Think of chocolate cake! This is the reason why, in Yoga, we take a step-by-step approach. The Yoga Sutras give us an 8-step process. First, we establish an ethical foundation upon which to take each step. Then, we begin going from the grossest level (body) to the most subtle (thoughts).
By stretching and calming the body, we can begin to work with the breath. Have you noticed how the mind is tied to the breath? When the mind is agitated, the breath will become more agitated. When the breath becomes more calm, the mind becomes calmer and it’s easier to regulate the senses, which in turn brings even greater balance to the wandering mind. This is a scientific approach so you don’t have to believe in a particular faith or religion in order to practice Yoga.
With more balance, even if somebody comes and hurts you, insults you, or irritates you, before you immediately react or allow your mind to become disturbed, you will be able to analyze the situation. You might ask yourself, “Do I really have to get irritated?” You will soon find that getting or not getting irritated is completely up to you. In reality, nobody and nothing can irritate you. So, it’s up to us to work with our mind. That is the real Yoga—developing stability of mind, steadiness of mind. In all conditions and under all circumstances you can have a steady mind.
The reason the essential teaching of Yoga is to keep the mind calm is because once the mind is calm and clear it becomes a beautiful mirror that is able to reflect your True Self. If the mirror is not calm and clear you will see a distorted reflection of who you really are. So if you want to see yourself, your original essence, you need to clean up the mirror. If the mental mirror is to cleaned and calmed it becomes a beautiful reflector. Then, you will see yourself in that mirror as you are and that is what is known as Self‑realization.
The Bible also says the same thing in one of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The Yoga teaching would add a few words to the second part of the beatitude: “They shall see themselves as God.” Because if the heart is pure it becomes a beautiful reflector in which you will see yourself as God. What will you see? You won’t see a limited personality, an ego, a sense of being a separate self. No, you will see yourself as God, Brahman, the Self, the One Being or Consciousness—whatever name you use—which is the essential nature of all.