What is the definition of Yoga? At the very outset of his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.” That’s the first sutra. What does it mean? “Calming the mind is Yoga.” Often, people think that standing on the head is Yoga, that if you don’t know how to stand on your head, you are not a yogi. But standing on the head is simply the physical part of Yoga—even animals can do that. I would say that it is better to learn to stand on your feet before you learn to stand on your head. The physical side of Yoga is only a very limited part of the whole system
People are not just simple physical beings. We have a mental life; we’re introspective, emotional, and intellectual. In fact, we have to take care of the mind even more than we have to take care of the body. The body will simply follow the mind. That’s why we say, ìas the mind, so the person.î No one ever said, ìas the body, so the person.î The body is only a sort of recreational vehicle. You live in this vehicle, and wherever you go, you take it. And you have everything in it: the office, kitchen and bathroom, everything. You have a computer, a pumping station. So Yoga shouldn’t be one-sided or thought of from one perspective. Yoga is a holistic approach that addresses the whole person.
That’s why in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali doesn’t talk much about the body; he talks about everything. Asana (posture) is mentioned in Book II, Sutra 46: Sthira sukham asanam, which means “asana is a steady, comfortable posture.” Also, Patanjali includes a couple of sutras about pranayama. All the rest is about minding your mind. Why? Because Yoga practices serve to make the mind clean and calm so that you’ll become a really beautiful instrument that reflects your true nature. That is the major aim behind Yoga.
What is the mind after all? A bundle of thoughts. When you are not thinking, it’s as though you don’t have a mind. That’s why, at night, you don’t seem to think of anything when you sleep. You become, more or less, a mindless person. But that’s only a temporary cessation of the activities of the mind. After a certain time, it just wakes up again and begins to think. So that means, in order to take care of the mind, you need to take care of what you think. Mana eva manushyanam: as you think, so you become. That is the very purpose behind all these practices. The real aim of Yoga is to calm the mind. Samatvam Yoga Ucyate: “Equanimity is Yoga,” says the Bhagavad Gita (2.48).
That’s why what we do is called Integral Yoga—because we integrate everything: body, mind and spirit. Asana practice is a good base, but good students of Hatha Yoga should know where the Yoga begins. It begins with yama and niyama, the moral and ethical principles. Without these, none of the practices are going to be beneficial. Let yama and niyama be your foundation. It’s good to do Hatha Yoga practices to eliminate all the toxins that you have put into the body. Take deep breaths in the name of pranayama; you can put more vitality into the system. You can literally charge your batteries with cosmic electricity through your prana. There will be no sluggishness anywhere. You literally oxygenate your body with pranayama. It’s all scientific. Control all your senses, one by one. Have certain limitations or disciplines so that you don’t become a slave of your senses.
Actually, meditation is not something completely different from Yoga. The thoughts are formed by the pranic movement. In order to make the mind strong, we need to focus it. That’s what you call concentration, or dharana. You should select a proper subject, object, or an idea to focus the mind on continuously, so that you can acquire the qualities of that particular thing or quality. Your mind will then absorb the quality of that. When you meditate on a symbol, it’s not just a symbol. The more you think of that quality, the more you become that quality. The meditator becomes the meditated. That’s the reason why we don’t tell you to meditate only on this or only on that. We don’t sell techniques. Instead, we say, choose anything you want. But if you want somebody to choose for you, we will recommend this or that, according to your taste and temperament.
In our Integral Yoga system, we gain self-mastery by working from the grossest expression to the more subtle. We begin by working with the physical movement of the body. Next, we regulate the vital movement by working with the prana. Then, we go to the next subtle level and work on restraining the senses. And, then, we move to the next even more subtle dimension, the mind, and we begin to train it through dharana, or concentration, which leads to meditation, or dhyana. That’s the order in Ashtanga (the eight-limbed Yoga), or Raja Yoga. It is completely scientific. When you become the master of your mind, you are the master of everything. Whomsoever learns to control the mind can control the entire universe. So learn that, and use it for the good of all people, not for your own ego gratification.
The purpose of these practices is to help you to keep the mind balanced, so that you can understand everything clearly. We are looking for mental balance; that’s what you call samadhi, satori, salvation, liberation, moksha or nirvana. You want liberation from any disturbance that will lead to your mind becoming unbalanced. The mind should be freed from the effects of the ups and downs in life, from passing situations. The purpose behind all these practices is to help you keep the mind calm. A waveless, calm and clean mind is Yoga. You should always remember this when you practice Yoga. Ask yourself, ìWhat’s the purpose of my Yoga practice? To keep the mind clean and calm.î Anything that you do to calm the mind, to clean the mind can be called Yoga.
When the mind is calm and clean, you see yourself clearly—your real spirit is reflected. Every thought you have has a color in it. I think modern science even proves it by taking pictures of thoughts. An angry thought is reddish in color; a sad gloomy thought is a cloudy, gray color; a bright, nice thought is shiny and golden. Every thought creates a color, and that color is also transferred to the body. When your face glows, your mind seems to be happy. An unhappy mind creates unhappy thoughts, which are reflected in the face. That means that if you want to keep the mind calm and clean, at least first have clean thoughts that will not disturb the mind.
This means that we have a lot to work on. Yoga practice is not only when you do asana, pranayama, or meditation. You should make it a 24-hour-a-day practice. When you cut your potato, see God in that activity. When you eat, that’s a practice. When you take care of the children, that’s another practice. In that way, your entire life is permeated with the yogic teachings. You should have an aim behind all your practices. Why are you doing all this? To make yourself a perfect instrument so that you can serve. Why do you want a clean body, good vitality and a peaceful mind? To be useful to people. So, the aim behind Yoga is to keep yourself easeful physically, to keep yourself peaceful mentally and then to become useful socially. Easeful, peaceful and useful. Those are the three words that I use to define a yogic life.
Yoga begins with you. Make yourself easeful and peaceful, healthy and happy. We all share this common aim: we want to be happy. But a person will never be happy as long as he or she is selfish. Only a dedicated person, one who is totally free from selfishness, can enjoy peace. The secret of happiness is to lead a dedicated life. Having this purity in our life, in our diet as well as in our behavior, will keep us physically easeful and mentally peaceful.
In simple language, Yoga helps you to find the happiness that is in you, that is you, by helping you to be the master of the instruments that you use in your life: your own body and mind. We constantly use these instruments in our daily life. We need these instruments for our very continuation, and unless we have these instruments under our control, utilizing them in the way that we want, we won’t be able to make our lives smooth. So, whatever approach you choose, whatever path you take, you need to have a well-disciplined mind, senses under control, a pure heart and a dedicated life. Then you can express your own true identity, which is Divine.
By Sri Swami Satchidananda