I am heartened and happy to see that the practice of Yoga has seemingly spread throughout the world. Yoga, in its many forms, is something that I have practiced every day for many, many years, and to know that this quest for enlightenment is being shared by millions of people around the world is a reassuring thought to me.
But I also worry that people don’t realise that going to the gym and ‘doing Yoga’ is not what it’s all about. I find it amusing when people say, “Oh, I’ve just come from yoga.” I think to myself if they realise that what they’re really stating is that they’ve just come from a union with The Supreme Person.
Yoga is almost ageless in its origins. It is a quest for enlightenment and ultimately it is the quest for union with The Supreme Person. Without this quest and purpose, Yoga is no longer Yoga, but rather an exercise routine. Since its introduction to the modern, mainstream world, Yoga has been associated more with ‘Yoga mats’, gymnastic exercise and the fitness of body, more than it has been associated with its true purpose. What many have not realised is that Yoga does not start and end with specific movements of the body and a peacefulness of the mind – that is Hatha Yoga, made up of asanas, or poses. Yoga certainly does include these aspects, but its purpose – as opposed to its action – is much harder to achieve and practice, yet it is the core definition of Yoga.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means ‘union with The Supreme Person’. The closest English word to Yoga is ‘yoke’, such as when you ‘yoke’ two animals together. When you yoke them, you are uniting them. The very nature of that union is not merging, but two distinct entities uniting together as one. Yoga follows this same meaning; it is when two individuals – the practitioner and The Supreme Person – come together in love and in purpose. So, the real meaning of Yoga is union with The Supreme Person, and the very nature of that union refers to a loving devotion and service, called bhakti. This is why true Yogis (those who study Yoga) and true Yoga masters understand that Yoga is a means to an end, but the end as well – it is achieving union with The Supreme Person through the practice of devotion and union with that Supreme Person; through bhakti.
It may come as a surprise to some to know that Yoga can be performed without a defined choreography of physical movement; many forms of Yoga are actually quite far removed from the common association of yoga mats, stretching and breathing that today is commercially synonymous with the modern concept of Yoga (Hatha Yoga). Just one example of this is Jnana Yoga. Jnana in Sanskrit means ‘the path of knowledge’. It is the system of understanding The Supreme Person through the research of scriptures, the understanding of knowledge and the process of learning. The purpose is the same as with any other form of Yoga: to unite with The Supreme Person. However, the way in which this is done is through acquiring knowledge, as opposed to the more commercial notion of Yoga and Yoga mats.
The true beauty of Yoga is that it doesn’t matter if a practitioner realises the depth of meaning, purpose, or desired destination of practicing Yoga. Regardless of whether people realise it or not, even if they are just going to a few Yoga classes a week in an effort to be more ‘fit and healthy’, they won’t be able to help but to start realising that they have to practice mercy, that they have to be clean with their body, mind and soul. They will often drift towards vegetarianism. If they practice even the elementary levels of Yoga properly, it is leading them to the quest of a union with The Supreme Person.
So, even when people are exposed to the preliminary, commercial Yoga, they will reap the benefits. But they should not think, “This is all there is to Yoga”. Just like an ocean, Yoga is almost limitless and it can be almost impossible to understand its depth. But just as we can have a good idea of the ocean and what it is by analysing a drop of it, so too can we peak into the ‘bigger picture’ of Yoga by practicing even the basics.
Group Managing Director