(Note that the ashram web address forwards to this google page 
so that I can change it anytime from anywhere in the world.)

Throughout this website (and the site) the word "Yoga" is used in its traditional meaning of spiritual realization, rather than the revisionist meaning of Yoga as a physical fitness program.

See also these related articles:
 Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga

Yoga and the words Hindu and Hinduism

Traditionally, Yoga (Sanskrit: union) has referred to the realization through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realization of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti. Yoga is the realization  of union between the microcosm of individuality with the macrocosm of universality.

Yoga is the union of the
- Microcosm of individuality and the
- Macrocosm of universality

Yoga is the union of the
- Atman (Center of consciousness, Self; Vedanta) and
- Brahman (Absolute reality; Vedanta)

Yoga is the union of the
- Jivatman (Soul as consciousness plus traits; Vedanta) and
- Paramatman: (Self/soul as only consciousness; Vedanta)

Yoga is the union of
- Shiva (Static, latent, unchanging, masculine; Tantra) and
- Shakti (Active, manifesting, changing, feminine; Tantra)

Yoga is the dis-union of
- Purusha (Untainted consciousness; Sankyha-Yoga) and
- Prakriti (Primordial, unmanifest matter; Sankyha-Yoga)

FOR MORE INFORMATION, please see these articles:
Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga 
Yoga, Hindu and Hinduism 
Yoga, Vedanta, Tantra 
Shiva and Shakti (including Kundalini) 
Purusha and Prakriti

Om Mantra and Mandukya Upanishad
Non-Dualism (Advaita) in Yoga Vedanta Meditation 
Wisdom to Live By

Yoga means to "unite" or "join" the aspects of ourselves which were never really divided in the first place. It also means to "yoke" or to engage ourselves in a self-training program. Yoga means working with each of the levels or aspects of our being individually, and then unifying all of those into their original whole, or Yoga. Yoga is a Sanskrit word coming from the root "yuj" and relates to both the processes or practices referred to as Yoga and also the goal itself, which is also called Yoga. As the goal, the word Yoga is virtually one and the same with the word Samadhi, the deep, transcendent realization of the highest truth or reality.

Click here to read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Click here to read the Yoga Sutras
Modern Yoga Versus Traditional Yoga

In Yoga Each Level is Trained:
Each of the aspects of our being is individually trained, 
balanced or purified by doing the Yoga practices 
relating to that level:


Yoga: In Yoga each level is trained

Awareness then Recedes to the State of Yoga:
Yoga or "Union" itself is then attained by systematically 
receding inward through those levels, 
so as to experience the state of Yoga:

Yoga: Then Awareness Recedes to the State of Yoga

The Goal of Yoga: The goal of Yoga is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. (more)

Terms for the Goal of Yoga: The goal or destination of Yoga is Yoga itself, union itself, of the little self and the True Self, a process of awakening to the preexisting union that is called Yoga. Yoga has to do with the realization through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realization of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti. Each of these Sanskrit terms relates to the subtleties of Yoga as described in the various paths of Yoga, Vedanta, and Tantra.

Yoga means to "unite" or "join" the aspects of ourselves which were never really divided in the first place. It also means to "yoke" or to engage ourselves in a self-training program. Yoga means working with each of the levels or aspects of our being individually, and then unifying all of those into their original whole, or Yoga.

Blending Traditional Approaches to Yoga: There are four traditional schools of Yoga, and these are: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga. While a Yogi or Yogini may focus exclusively on one of these approaches to Yoga, that is quite uncommon. For the vast majority of practitioners of Yoga, a blending of the four traditional types of Yoga is most appropriate. One follows his or her own predisposition in balancing these different forms of Yoga. (more)

Jnana Yoga: Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom,  introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.

Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine.

Karma Yoga: Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.

Raja Yoga: Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.

Yoga Texts: The methods of Yoga are described in many texts, but are particularly explained in the Yoga Sutras, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Notable among these is the Yoga Sutras, as it is a succinct, yet thorough outline of the entire process of Yoga leading to the goal called Yoga. (more on Upanishads; more on Yoga Sutras; more on Hatha Yoga Pradipika)

Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Yoga Meditation: The phrases Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced are being used here solely because we are all familiar with this language. The six subcategories presented are very broad, applying to virtually any system of meditation, though it draws upon Yoga meditation of the Himalayan masters. This outline attempts to capture the entire process of Yoga meditation, from beginning to the height of direct experience. By understanding this general process, it is much easier to learn and do the practices themselves. (more)

Art and Science of Yoga Meditation: Yoga Meditation is the art and science of systematically observing, accepting, understanding, and training each of the levels of our being, such that we may coordinate and integrate those aspects of ourselves, and dwell in the direct experience of the center of consciousness. There is a 16-page description of traditional Yoga Meditation, which explains the process in practical terms, and simple language. (more)

Yoga Sutra 1.2 Defines Yoga: Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field. (more)

Yoga and Six Schools of Indian Philosophy: To understand the true nature of Yoga as a path of spiritual realization, it is necessary to have some small understanding of the six classical schools or systems of Indian philosophy, of which Yoga is one. By understanding Yoga in that context, it is easier to more fully delve into Yoga as the enlightenment practice that it actually is, rather than the mere physical fitness program it has come to be known as. (more)

Funk & Wagnalls Definition of Yoga: (Skt. yuga, “yoke”), one of the six classic systems of Hindu philosophy, distinguished from the others by the marvels of bodily control and the magical powers ascribed to its advanced devotees. Yoga affirms the doctrine that through the practice of certain disciplines one may achieve liberation from the limitations of flesh, the delusions of sense, and the pitfalls of thought and thus attain union with the object of knowledge. Such union, according to the doctrine, is the only true way of knowing. For most Yogi (those who practice Yoga), the object of knowledge is the universal spirit Brahma. A minority of atheistic Yogi seek perfect self-knowledge instead of knowledge of God. In any case, it is knowledge and not, as is commonly supposed, feats of asceticism, clairvoyance, or the working of miracles, that is the ideal goal of all Yoga practices. Indeed, Yoga doctrine does not approve of painful asceticism; it insists that physical and mental training is not to be used for display but only as a means to spiritual ends. (more)

Tradition of the Himalayan Yoga Masters: The systematic practice of Yoga Meditation comes from the ancient cave monasteries of the Himalayas, the source of the mystical Shangrila or Shambala. This lineage of teachers is at least 5,000 years old, though eternal in nature. (more)

Sankhya and Yoga: The process of Self-realization is one of attention reversing the process of manifestation, of retracing consciousness back through the levels of manifestation to its source. To have a general understanding of this process is extremely useful, if not essential in the practice of Yoga. What we now call "Yoga" or "Raja Yoga" has also been called "Sankhya-Yoga," since the practical Yoga methods rest on the philosophical foundation of Sankhya. (more)

Yoga Darshana: Yoga darshana is one of the most ancient darshanas. The word darshana comes from the root drishyate anena which means, “that through which you can see.” That particular system through which you can see Reality is called darshana. Just as you can see yourself in the mirror, so also, through Yoga darshana, the Yoga Sutras, can you see the Self. Darshana is not the same thing as philosophy. Philosophy is a compound word meaning “love for knowledge.” Darshana is not a mere love for knowledge. This is one difference between oriental and occidental philosophy: the ultimate goal of darshana is to see Reality. Yoga science is based on Samkhya philosophy, which is the very basis of all sciences. Samkhya (samyag akhyate) means, “that which explains the whole.” Samkhya embraces the whole universe—how the universe came into existence, and all relationships within the universe. (more)

Upanishads and Yoga: Upanishad is the subtler, mystical or yogic teachings of the philosophy and practices leading to the direct experience of the center of consciousness, the absolute reality. "Upa" means "near;" "ni" means "down;" "shad" means "to sit." Thus, Upanishad is to sit down near the teacher to discuss, learn, practice and experience the means and goals of Yoga sadhana or practices. The Upanishads are also known as Vedanta, which means the end or culmination of the Vedas. (more)

Yoga: The three "cities" or Tripura

Tantra and Yoga: Tantra is one of the three streams of the triad of Yoga-Vedanta-Tantra. Tantra Yoga considers the universe to be a manifestation of pure consciousness. Through this process of manifesting, consciousness divides itself into two parts, which cannot exist without one another (thoughappearing to divide, they actually remain one and the same). One aspect remains as a static, formless quality (shiva), while the other is a dynamic, creative aspect (shakti). The two eternally coexist, like ink and the written word, which, though one and the same, are different. The journey of Tantra Yoga is to know them both, at once, as one. (more)

Two Detours from the Path of Yoga. One detour is thinking Yoga is mere physical fitness. The other detour of Yoga is as institutional religion.

Modern Yoga and Traditional Yoga: There has been a significant shift in the public perception of Yoga in recent years, whereby the approaches and goals of traditional Yoga are virtually ignored, and replaced with mere physical fitness programs. (more)

Yoga and Institutional Religion: Unlike religions, Yoga itself has no deity, worship services, rituals, sacred icons, creed, confession, clergy, institutions, congregation, membership procedure, or system of temples or churches. The word “Yoga” means “union” referring to the direct experience of the wholeness of ourselves at all levels. While the word “Yoga” comes from traditional Sanskrit language, that union is a universal process. The inner calling for that wholeness has also been called the “mystic” longing. (more)

Is Yoga a Religion? Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga. While Yoga may be in Religions, the many Yoga practices with body, breath and mind, along with their transcendent goal of direct experience, are generally neither characteristic of Religions, nor typically practiced by the adherents of Religions. (more)

Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion: Mysticism and Yoga can be practiced either within the context or religion, or outside of it. Yoga and Mysticism are on the esoteric end of the the esoteric-exoteric polarity. (more)

Yoga Meditation is a Systematic Process: Yoga meditation is a systematic process, in which you work with the grosser, or more external aspects of your being, and then move inward, doing the more subtle practices, which gently brings you to meditation. (more)

Yoga Meditation Visualized:

1) Awareness Manifests Outward to the World

Yoga, Sankhya, Vedanta, and Tantra view the human as manifesting outward step-by-step, whereby the subtler consciousness projects evermore outward, and then gradually forgets those subtler levels. Genesis also explains this outward movement when seen through the eye of the Yogi or mystic. (SankhyaVedanta,TantraAdhyasa)

Yoga Meditation: 1) Awareness Manifests Outward to the World

2) In Yoga Each Aspect is Trained

Yoga is complete unto itself. In Yoga, each level of our being is trained independently, while also being trained to flow together. The systematic processes deal one-by-one with our actions in the world, senses, body, breath, and and both the conscious and unconscious aspects of mind.

Yoga Meditation: 2) In Yoga Each Aspect is Trained

3) Awareness Recedes to the State of Yoga

Yoga or "Union" is attained by first training, balancing, and purifying each of the aspects of our being individually, and then systematically receding attention inward through those levels, expanding so as to experience the state of Union, Yoga, Samadhi, or Turiya.

Yoga Meditation: 3) Awareness Recedes to the State of Yoga

Body and Breath

The Yoga practices with Body and Breath bring health benefits and balance in life. However, many people stop at the Breath, and are unwilling to explore or train the Mind. It is like building a wall between the Yogic stages of Breath and Mind. Some sincere seekers delay out of fear. Others incorrectly believe that Yoga is only about physical fitness. The key for the sincere seeker of the highest joy of Yoga is to be gentle and loving towards yourself, and persist with all levels of Yoga, including directly dealing with the Mind itself.

Yoga: Body and Breath

 Conscious Mind

Mindfulness of the emotional and mental processes of the Conscious mind is very stabilizing. In Yoga, this includes meditation and contemplation on attitudes of friendliness, lovingness, compassion, and acceptance. It includes cultivating non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, remembering of truth, and non-possessiveness. However,  many stop at this level of mind, and effectively build a wall between the Conscious and Unconscious, not willing to explore the depths of the Unconscious. Many get stuck here by thinking the goal of meditation is only a calm mind. For Union, Yoga, Samadhi, or Turiya, the streams of thoughts in the Active Unconscious mind need to be encountered, explored, and only then transcended.

Yoga: Conscious Mind

Active Unconscious

By allowing the Active Unconscious to come forward and be witnessed in a neutral way, the thought patterns colored with intense attraction and aversion gradually weaken, allowing a greater peace and freedom of mind. This is one of the most direct ways to deal with the purifying, centering, or balancing of troublesome thoughts. However, few go beyond the boundary between the Active Unconscious and the Latent Unconscious. The Active Unconscious has alluring visions and sounds. Only the most dedicated Yogis are willing to completely transcend sensory experience of both external and internal objects, and to pursue the formless Latent level out of which the Active arises.

Yoga: Active Unconscious Mind

Latent Unconscious

To be fully aware of the Latent Unconscious is a very deep state, and an aspect of advanced meditation (Authentic Yoga Nidra reaches this Latent Unconscious level with practice). It is underneath, beyond, or prior to the pictures and words of the Active Unconscious. It is the ground out of which those emerge. All sensory experiences such as sights and sounds have been left behind, whether of external worldly objects or inner images. To consciously rest in the awareness of the Latent Unconscious is to be filled with bliss. However, there comes a point where individuation itself is the final wall, and even the bliss needs to be transcended. Even for the experienced practitioner this can be a great obstacle. It is beyond the mind in the conventional sense of mind, so the mind can no longer be an aid. Body and breath cannot help. It is only surrender that finally helps.

Yoga: Latent Unconscious Mind


Whether you call it Grace, God, Guru, Shaktipat, or some other name, the greatest help of all finally comes from within to remove the final barrier of ignorance (Avidya). This final stage is a process that has been called piercing the pearl of wisdom (Bindu). A Yogi does not debate whether the Realization is called Yoga, Self, Atman, Soul, or God, etc., but rather, lives "in" the world while not being "of" the world.

Yoga: Realization of the Self

"In" the World -- Not "of" the World

The Realized Yogi lives like a lotus flower. The lotus is both "in" the world, yet not "of" the world. It grows in the soil and water of the world, yet rises above it at the same time. It goes outward (Adhyasa), but is not blinded by Avidya or Ignorance of its true nature. (Avidya-Adhyasa)

Yoga Meditation: Like a lotus flower, be "in" the world but not "of" the world.

Avidya and Adhyasa, Veiling and Projecting: Avidya and Adhyasa are two processes in Yoga that are extremely useful to understand. These two work as a pair so as to take us evermore out into the external world. Receding back through these two leads us inward to the direct experience of Samadhi, Turiya, or Self-Realization. Once the basic principles of Avidya (Veiling, Ignorance) are understood, as well has how they progressively move awareness outward through Adhyasa (Projecting, Superimposition), it is easier to see the way in which these two are systematically reversed so as to attain the highest goals of traditional Yoga. (more)

Avidya and Adhyasa are two processes in Yoga that are extremely useful to understand. These two work as a pair so as to take us evermore out into the external world. Receding back through these two leads us inward to the direct experience of Samadhi, Turiya, or Self-Realization.

Diaphragmatic Breathing is Essential to Yoga: Conscious diaphragmatic breathing is extremely relaxing to the autonomic nervous system and is essential preparation for deep Yoga meditation. Of particular importance is the practice of consciously, mindfully making the transitions between breaths very smooth, eliminating the pause between exhalation and inhalation, and between inhalation and exhalation. (more)

Yoga Nidra: Yoga Nidra means yogic sleep, a state of conscious deep sleep for extreme relaxation and subtler spiritual exploration. (more)

Witnessing Your Thoughts and Yoga: Yoga science maps out many aspects of the mental process so that the student of Yoga meditation can encounter, deal with, and eventually go beyond the entire thought process to the joy of the center of consciousness. (more)

Om Mantra and Yoga: One of the finest roadmaps of Yoga is the process outlined in Om Mantra. There are four main levels of consciousness outlined in the OM Mantra, along with three transition levels, which is a total of seven levels. Each of these is experienced on the inner journey of Yoga meditation and contemplation. (more)

Yoga Mediation: AUM Mantra and the levels of consciousness

Yoga is a Science: Yoga science does not tell you what to do and what not to do, but teaches you how to be. Yoga science is a science of life that helps you to know the known and unknown parts of life, that helps you to liberate yourself from pains and miseries, and that helps you to attain that state which is free from pains and miseries. (more)

Yoga, Vedanta, and Tantra: In the tradition of the Himalayan masters, Yoga, Vedanta, and Tantra complement one another, leading one systematically along the path to Self-realization. The aspirant clears the mind through the practice of Yoga meditation as codified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, does self-enquiry of Vedanta, and then breaks through the final barrier with Tantra, experiencing the heights of kundalini awakening. (more)

Steps in Yoga Meditation: Yoga meditation is a systematic process, in which you work with the grosser, or more external aspects of your being, and then move inward, doing the more subtle practices, which gently brings you to meditation. The amount of time spent with each of the practices may vary, depending on your own training and predispositions. The total length of practice (all four) may also vary (more)

Flexibility in Yoga Meditation: Students of Yoga Meditation have different inclinations towards the practice stages of preparation, hatha Yoga or stretches, relaxation, breathing, and meditation. Some may like to spend a long time with the body, while others prefer breathing exercises, and still others seek the stillness of meditation. Each of these stages work together, one leading into the next. There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all formula in Yoga Meditation. It is best to spend the amount of time with each stage that is just right for you. (more)

Who Benefits from Yoga Meditation? Yoga Meditation systematically deals with all levels of your being, including your relationship with the world and with yourself. It deals with the senses, body, breath, all the levels of mind, and that which is beyond your mind, often called spirit, soul, consciousness, or Self. Who benefits from Yoga Meditation? Ask these few, simple questions.... (more)

Time and Place for Yoga Meditation: The time you choose should be comfortable for you, and should fit in with your daily schedule and the schedule of others. Ideally, the better times for meditation are early morning or late evening. The ancient teachers of Yoga meditation say that the ideal time is about 3:00 or 4:00 am. The times just around sunrise and sunset are also particularly nice for meditation. Although such times may be theoretically better than other times, they may not be right for you personally if they do not match your schedule, your current predisposition for meditation, or the people with whom you live. The real key to regularity of meditation is to choose a time that works for you. (more)

Seven Skills for Yoga Meditation: There are many Yoga techniques that can be learned. In pursuing those techniques, one can be left with a bewildering sense of uncertainty about "why" all of the methods are being learned, aside from a general idea that the methods are for "Self-Realization" or "Enlightenment".... In the link are seven skills to cultivate for Meditation. It is the skill we want to learn, not merely techniques (though, again, the techniques are quite useful). For example, we want to gain the ability to directly relax the body, smoothen the breath, and quiet the mind in a moment, with no technique needed to do it. (more)

Four Functions of Mind Explored in Yoga: This is one of the most profound self-awareness practices of the Yoga of the ancient Himalayan sages. This Yoga practice is just as profoundly useful today as it was thousands of years ago. The process is one of self-observation, and gradually discriminating between these four aspects of the inner instrument, so as to attain the direct experience of the Center of Consciousness from which all of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences arise on various degrees and grades. The Four Functions of mind in Yoga are: 1) Manas: sensory, processing mind, 2) Chitta: storage of impressions, 3) Ahamkara: "I-maker" or Ego, 4) Buddhi: knows, decides, judges, and discriminates. (more)

Yoga and the Chariot Metaphor: The chariot is used by the ancient Yoga sages as a symbol for how to train your mind and senses. Though most of us do not use horse drawn chariots, the lesson is as practical today for Yoga as it was thousands of years ago. Allow your mind to visualize this image, and it will become a wonderful tool in your Yoga practices and daily spiritual life. (more)

Clearing the Clouded Mind through Yoga: Three of the problems that are frequently mentioned in the teachings of the ancient sages of Yoga when speaking of finding the Truth or Absolute Reality: 1) The external world keeps changing, 2) The senses are unreliable, 3) The mind is clouded Clearing the clouded mind (more)

Maslow and Yoga Psychology: Abraham Maslow introduced a model of developmental psychology that has become extremely well known not only in the field of psychology, but also in management and other human sciences. It describes five developmental stages, which are based on what Maslow calls human needs. Thus, his model is known as Maslow's Needs Hierarchy. In his later years, he expanded his model to include the higher levels of human experience.
 The comparison of the stages of Yoga Psychology to the stages of Maslow's Needs Hierarchy is being presented here as a way of explaining the nature of Yoga as a process of developmental self-awareness or unfoldment, which reaches still higher levels of human development or experience. Yoga Psychology deals with living in the world and also with transcendence into and through the higher reaches of human consciousness. (more)

Kundalini Awakening and Yoga: At the base of the spine, subtler than the physical body, lies the Kundalini energy, or spiritual energy, in a latent form. Regardless of what religious, spiritual, or meditation tradition one follows, the awakening of this energy, by whatever name you call it, is a most innate and essential part of spiritual advancement, unfoldment, or realization. While some use a specific terminology "Kundalini Yoga" for certain practices, all of Yoga actually leads to the activation of Kundalini. Thus, in a sense, all of Yoga is Kundalini Yoga, regardless of whether you use that specific name. (more)

Five Sheaths or Koshas of Yoga Vedanta: We humans are like a lamp that has five lampshades over our light. Each of the lampshades is a different color and density. As the light shines through the lampshades, it is progressively changed in color and nature. It is a bitter-sweet coloring. On the one hand, the shades provide the individualized beauty of each lamp. Yet, the lampshades also obscure the pure light. The Yoga path of Self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, through each of those lampshades, so as to experience the purity at the eternal center of consciousness, while at the same time allowing that purity to animate through our individuality. These five levels are called koshas, which literally means sheaths. (more)

Witnessing Thoughts in Yoga Practice: Witnessing your thoughts is a most important aspect of Yoga practice. Witnessing the thought process means to be able to observe the natural flow of the mind, while not being disturbed or distracted. This brings a peaceful state of mind, which allows the deeper aspects of meditation and samadhi to unfold, revealing that which is beyond, which is Yoga or Unity. (more)

Money, Sex, Fame, Health and Yoga: Everybody wants happiness. However, we usually seek it in ways that are dependent on external stimulus, as if an outer cause leads to an inner effect of happiness. Surely this process of stimulus-response works to some degree; we have all experienced this in different ways, where getting what we want seems to make us feel good, and not getting what we want seems to make us feel bad. However, what if we knew how to be happy without any stimulus whatsoever? What if you could just rest in the deepest feeling of joy, regardless of the external circumstances? (more)

Four Levels and Three Domains in Yoga: The three states of consciousness in Yoga are 1) Waking, 2) Dreaming, and 3) Deep Sleep. The three states of mind in Yoga are 1) Conscious, 2) Unconscious, and 3) Subconscious. The three states of manifestation in Yoga are 1) Gross, 2) Subtle, and Causal. (more)

Great Contemplations of Yoga Vedanta: The Mahavakyas are the Great Sentences of Advaita Vedanta and Jnana Yoga, and are contained in the Upanishads. Maha is Great, and Vakyas are sentences, or utterances for contemplation. They provide perspective and insights that tie the texts together in a cohesive whole. The contemplations on the Mahavakyas also blend well with the practices of Yoga meditation, prayer, and mantra, which are companion practices in Yoga. (more)

Mandukya Upanishad and Yoga: The pinnacle of the wisdom and practices of the ancient sages of Yoga is contained in the terse twelve verses of the Mandukya Upanishad, which outlines the philosophy and practices of the OM mantra. It has been said that the juice of the Vedas is in the Upanishads, and the juice of the Upanishads is in the Mandukya Upanishad. OM Mantra is also suggested as a direct route to samadhi in the Yoga Sutras. (more)

Mantra Yoga: Mantra practice is a central aspect of traditional Yoga. Mantra japa (repeating or remembering mantra) can seem a bit complex when we ask what one should or should not do, or what is right versus wrong to do. Actually, two seemingly opposite practices can both be useful, with one simply being subtler than the other, or having a greater tendency to lead attention inward. One method may be a starting place that naturally evolves into the other. (more)

Ten Senses or Indriyas in Traditional Yoga: In traditional Yoga philosophy and practice, the human being is seen as being like a building with ten doors. Five are entrance doors, and five are exit doors. Consciously, actively and intentionally witnessing these ten senses as they function is an important part of Yoga meditation, and meditation in action. (more)

Integrating 50+ Methods of Yoga Meditation: The sages of the Himalayas practice a variety of methods, systematically moving inward, from gross to subtle, to subtler, and subtle most. The Yoga meditation of the Himalayan tradition is a complete meditation system, dealing with all the levels of your being. Exploring all of those levels involves meditation in Yoga, tantra, and vedanta. Eventually it leads to the direct experience of the Absolute reality, the Self, that is not subject to death, decay, or decomposition. (more)

Meaning and Purpose of Yoga: Like many arts and sciences that are profound, beautiful, and powerful, Yoga has suffered from the spiritual poverty of the modern world--it has been trivialized, watered down, or reduced to cliches. The deep and eternal essence of Yoga has been misrepresented and packaged for personal profit by clever people. At the hands of some, Yoga has been reduced to the status of just another exercise program available on videotape. In other contexts, Yoga has been presented as a cult religion, aimed at attracting "devotees." Such a haze of confusion has been created around the clear and pure concept of Yoga that it is now necessary to redefine Yoga and clarify its meaning and purpose. Yoga defines itself as a science--that is, as a practical, methodical, and systematic discipline or set of techniques that have the lofty goal of helping human beings to become aware of their deepest nature. The goal of seeking to experience this deepest potential is not part of a religious process, but an experiential science of self-study. (more)

Yoga and the Stages of Life: In the ancient Indian tradition, one planned the years of life in four ashrams or stages, with the style of Yoga practiced in each stage chosen to match the circumstances of that stage. A life of 84+ years was sought, with each of the four stages being 21 years. Some have revised these into four stages of 25 years, seeking a life of 100+ years. The purpose for this life planning is to attain the direct experience of Self-realization, Yoga or enlightenment here, in this world, in this very life. While our lifestyles may have changed since then, the basic idea of these four stages is as sound today as it was then. (more)

Bindu, the Convergence of Yoga, Vedanta and Tantra: Bindu means Pointor Dot, is sometimes likened to a Pearl, and is often related to the principle of a Seed. This is not just a poetic choice of words or philosophy. There literally is a stage of Yoga Meditation in which all experiences collapse, so to speak, into a point from which all experiences arose in the first place. The experience of Bindu is an actual, internally experienced reality, which is the convergence point of the highest principles and practices of Yoga, Vedanta, and Tantra. Seeking to experience and then transcend the Bindu serves as an organizing principle and focal point for all of those spiritual or yogic practices that are intended to lead one to direct experience. (more)

Centripetal and Centrifugal - Two Forces in Yoga: There is a principle in physics that is also applicable to human beings, and which is extremely useful to understand and put into practical use. That is, there are two forces at play; one is moving outward, while the other is moving inward. To have only one, without the other, can lead to being out of balance, to either being lost in the world or to living a life of escapism. To fully experience them both, and to have them in a harmonious balance is a very high way of living in Yoga. (more)

Karma and the Sources of Actions, Speech, and Thoughts: The wordKarma literally means action. It may appear that Karma is happening to us, as if some outside force is causing good things or bad things to come to us. However, it is really our own inner conditionings and processes that are leading us to experience outer effects or consequences in relation to our ownactions. To understand the meaning of Karma, and to reduce it's control through Yoga, one needs to understand another term, and that is Samskara.Karma literally means actions, and those actions come from the deep impressions of habit that are called Samskaras. To purify or attenuate theSamskaras while one is doing actions in the world is the Yoga known asKarma Yoga. This involves being aware or mindful of our actions and speech, and seeing their sources in emotions and the subtler processes of the mind. Karma Yoga also involves doing our actions in ways, which are of benefit to others (service or seva), freeing ourselves from the cycles of feeding egotism. (more)

Three Kinds of Karma in Yoga Sadhana: In Yoga Meditation, Karma is of three kinds: Sanchita, Kriyamana, and Prarabhda, using a metaphor of three kinds of arrows in archery. Karma Yoga is the Yoga that emphasizes doing Yoga while also doing actions in the world, or Meditation in action. (more)

Uncoloring Colored Thoughts through Yoga: thought patterns in the mind field can be colored with fear, aversion, attachment, egoism, or ignorance of our true nature (the five kleshas described by Yoga; Yoga Sutra 1.5, 2.3). These colored thoughts (vrittis) are the obstacles blocking the light, peace, and joy of the core of our spiritual being. Reducing the coloring is the key to non-attachment (vairagya) and freedom. (more)

Breathing and Pranayama in Yoga: In Yoga Meditation, breath training is essential preparation for deep meditation and samadhi, on the path to Self-Realization. Breath is the bridge between the body and the mind. Regulate breath, and the body and mind will follow. (more)

Yoga Practice and Non-Attachment: Practice (abhyasa, Yoga Sutra 1.13) and non-attachment (vairagya, Yoga Sutra 1.15) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests (Yoga Sutra 1.12). It is through the cultivation of these two that the other practices evolve, by which mastery over the mind field occurs (Yoga Sutra 1.2), and allows the realization of the true Self (Yoga Sutra 1.3). (more)

Types of Concentration in Yoga: Building upon practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya) (Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16), the meditator systematically moves inward, through four levels or stages of concentration on an object (Yoga Sutra 1.17), and then progresses to the stage of objectless concentration (Yoga Sutra 1.18). (more)

Five Efforts and Commitments in Yoga: There are five foundations for the practitioner of Yoga meditation outlined in Yoga Sutra 1.20. Shraddha is developing the faith that you are going in the right direction. Virya is committing the energy to go there. Smriti is cultivating memory and mindfulness. Samadhi is seeking the states of deep absorption. Prajna is pursuing the higher wisdom. Yoga rests on these foundations. (more)

Direct Route of Yoga through AUM Mantra: The direct route to the final union of Yoga is through AUM, which is outlined in Yoga Sutras 1.23-1.29. This practice takes one on a direct route inward, systematically piercing the levels of consciousness. It is done with sincerity and dedication (Yoga Sutra 1.23) towards the untainted creative source or pure consciousness (Yoga Sutra 1.24), which AUM represents (Yoga Sutra 1.27). That consciousness contains the seed of omniscience (Yoga Sutra 1.25), which is the source of the teachings of all the ancient sages (Yoga Sutra 1.26). (more)

Obstacles to Yoga and the Solution for them: There are a number of predictable obstacles (Yoga Sutra 1.30) that arise on the inner journey of Yoga, along with several consequences (Yoga SUtra 1.31) that grow out of them. While these can be a challenge, there is a certain comfort in knowing that they are a natural, predictable part of the process of Yoga. Knowing this can help to maintain the faith and conviction that were previously discussed as essential (Yoga Sutra 1.20). (more)

Stabilizing and Clearing the Mind in Yoga: Stability and clarity of mind are necessary before being able to experience the subtler practices of Yoga. The specialized training of an olympic athlete rests on a solid foundation of generalized physical fitness. Similarly, generalized training in one-pointedness is necessary so that Yoga meditation practices can advance. Five specific suggestions of objects for focus of attention are given in Yoga , including breath awareness, sensation, inner luminosity, contemplation on a stable mind, and focusing on the stream of the mind (Yoga Sutras 1.34-1.38). (more)

Four Attitudes in Yoga: There are four basic attitude meditations of Yoga. The mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil. In Yoga these are practiced both at the time of seated meditation and during daily life, or meditation in action, part of Karma Yoga. (more)

Kriya Yoga: In the first few sutras of Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras, specific methods are introduced on how to minimize the gross colorings (kleshas) of the mental obstacles, which veil the true Self. (The later sutras of this chapter deal with the the subtle colorings of mental obstacles). The first part of the process of minimizing the gross coloring is called Kriya Yoga, and leads one in the direction of samadhi. Kriya Yoga involves three parts (Yoga Sutras 2.1-2.2): 1) Training the senses, 2) Studying yourself in the context of teachings, 3) Surrender of klishta (colored) thought impressions. (more)

Dealing with Subtle Thoughts through Yoga: Once the gross coloring has been minimized through Kriya Yoga (Yoga Sutras 2.1-2.2), and the intensity of the colorings have been attenuated (Yoga Sutra 2.4), the thought patterns are brought back to the seed, or latent form by the process of Yoga meditation (Yoga Sutra 2.11). (more)

Breaking the Alliance of Karma through Yoga: The key to breaking the cycle of karma is that the connection between "seer" and that which is "seen" is set aside (Yoga Sutra 2.17). This allows one to avoid even the future karmas that have not yet manifested (Yoga Sutra 2.16). Ignorance, or avidya (Yoga Sutra 2.5), is the cause of this alliance (Yoga Sutra 2.24), and eliminating this ignorance is the means of ending the alliance (Yoga Sutra 2.25). This, in turn, breaks the cycle of karma. (more)

Purpose of Eight Rungs of Yoga is Discrimination: The reason for practicing the eight rungs of Yoga (Yoga Sutra 2.29) is to develop attention as the tool for discriminative knowledge, which is the means to discriminative enlightenment and liberation. It means using razor-like attention (Yoga Sutras 3.4-3.6) to separate the seer and the seen (Yoga Sutra 2.17), so as to break the alliance of karma (Yoga Sutras 2.12-2.25), and to get past the four mistakes of ignorance, or avidya (Yoga Sutras 2.24-2.25), which are: 1) confusing the temporary for the eternal, 2) the impure for the pure, 3) misery for happiness, and 4) the false self for the true Self (Yoga Sutra 2.5). Resulting from this systematic discrimination, the seer or Self is eventually experienced in its true nature (Yoga Sutra 1.3). (more)

Self-Regulation and Self-Training in Yoga: Non-injury or non-harming (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), abstention from stealing (asteya), walking in awareness of the highest reality (brahmacharya), and non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha) are the five yamas, or codes of self-regulation or restraint, and are the first of the eight steps of Yoga. Cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), an attitude of contentment (santosha), ascesis or training of the senses (tapas), self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), and an attitude of letting go into one's source (ishvarapranidhana) are the observances or practices of self-training (niyamas), and are the second rung on the ladder of Yoga. (more)

Benefits of Yamas and Niyamas of Yoga: As one practices the Yamas and Niyamas, it appears that some secondary ability or benefit comes. This process is described as attainment, fruits, acquisition, etc.. However, it is important to note that, while these are attainments in one sense, they really result from the unfoldment of what is already there, by the removal of obstacles. At the beginning of the Yoga Sutras this was described as disidentifying with the modifications of the mind field (Yoga Sutra 1.2). In a later sutra this process is described as being like a farmer opening a sluice gate to allow the water to naturally flow, so as to irrigate a field (Yoga Sutra 4.3). (more)

Asana or Posture in Yoga: The third of the eight rungs (Yoga Sutra 2.29) of Yoga is Asana, or sitting posture for the later rungs. The word Asana comes from the root ~as, which means "to sit". Yoga has been defined as the mastery of the thought patterns of mind field (Yoga Sutra 1.2), so that Self-realization can be experienced (Yoga Sutra 1.3). To be able to do the meditation practices that allow this, it is essential that the posture be (Yoga Sutra 2.46) steady and comfortable. (more)

Pranayama and Yoga: The fourth of the eight rungs (Yoga Sutra 2.29) of Yoga is Pranayama, which is regulating the breath so as to make it slow and subtle (Yoga Sutra 2.50), leading to the experience of the steady flow of energy (prana), which is beyond or underneath exhalation, inhalation, and the transitions between them (Yoga Sutra 2.51). The three pranayamas are exhalation, inhalation, and the transition (Yoga Sutra 2.50). However, the fourth pranayama is that continuous prana which surpasses, is beyond, or behind the others (Yoga Sutra 2.51).  The experience and repeated practice of this fourth pranayama thins the veil of karma, which usually clouds the inner light, allowing that to come shining through (Yoga Sutra 2.52).  To successfully practice and attain the full benefits of breath control and pranayama, it is necessary that it be built on the solid foundation of a steady and comfortable sitting posture (Yoga Sutras 2.46-2.48).  Through these practices and processes of pranayama the mind acquires or develops the fitness, qualification, or capability for concentration (dharana), which is the sixth rung (Yoga Sutras 3.1-3.3). (more)

Pratyahara and Yoga:  Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses (indriyas) of cognition and action from both the external world and the images or impressions in the mind field (2.54). The senses are said to follow the mind in the same way the hive of bees follows the queen bee. Wherever she goes, they will follow. Similarly, if the mind truly goes inward, the senses will come racing behind. Pratyahara is rung five of the eight rungs. (more)

Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi, and Yoga: The last three rungs of Yoga are Dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi. Dharana is concentration, the process of holding or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place (Yoga Sutra 3.1). Dhyana is meditation, sustained concentration, whereby the attention continues to hold or repeat the same object or place (Yoga Sutra 3.2). Samadhi is the deep absorption, wherein only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if the mind were devoid even of its own form (Yoga Sutra 3.3). (more)

Samyama is the Finer Tool of Yoga: Samyama is the collective practice of concentration, meditation, and samadhi, which are the sixth, seventh, and eighth of the eight rungs of Yoga. The primary purpose of all the preparation work and the first five rungs of Yoga is to build this tool called Samyama. This tool is the means of reaching the ever subtler levels of non-attachment, which was introduced near the beginning of the Yoga Sutras as one of the primary practices (Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16). Samyama is applied to numerous objects, which are outlined throughout the remaining sutras of Chapter 3. Samyama is like the surgeon's scalpel, the razor sharp tool of discrimination (Yoga Sutras 2.26-2.29) that is used for the deep introspection, which eventually uncovers the jewel of the Self, in the core of our being. Once the inner light dawns through Samyama, it is used to examine the stages of subtle objects, whether normally veiled or far away (Yoga Sutra 3.26). The finest discrimination finally leads to liberation (Yoga Sutra 4.26). This process of discrimination allows the yogi to gradually move past the many forms of the four types of ignorance or avidya, which are: (1) regarding that which is transient as eternal, 2) mistaking the impure for pure, 3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness, and 4) taking that which is not-self to be self (Yoga Sutra 2.5). (more)

Witnessing Subtle Transitions in Yoga: You become witness not only to thoughts as we normally think of thoughts, but also to the transition process of how they are coming, being, and going. Nirodhah: You become witness to the process of transitioning into mastery over thought patterns (nirodhah-parinamah), since that transition is an object. Samadhi: You become witness to the process of transitioning into the higher state of meditation (samadhi-parinamah), since that transition is an object. Ekagra: You become witness to the process of transitioning into one-pointedness of mind (ekagra-parinamah), since that transition is an object. (more)

Subtle Experiences in Yoga: From the perspective of the typical in-the-world mind, all of these subtle experiences of Yoga coming from Samyama appear to be attainments, powers, or psychic abilities to be pursued. From the perspective of samadhi and Self-realization, these subtle experiences of Yoga are considered to be obstacles (Yoga Sutra 1.4), except in the sense that they reflect steps along the way. (more)

Higher Discrimination of Yoga: Knowledge of the distinction between the purest aspect of mind (sattvic buddhi) and consciousness itself (purusha) brings supremacy over all forms or states of existence, as well as over all forms of knowing. However, that discrimination between that purest aspect of mind (sattvic buddhi) and consciousness itself (purusha) will bring them to a point of equality. This brings absolute liberation, independence, or freedom (kaivalya), which is the goal of Yoga. (more)

The Three Gunas of Yoga: All of the subconscious mental impressions are made of the same stuff. There is no more straightforward, simple English way to say it. All of these subconscious mental impressions manifest from the three primal elements or gunas. The three gunas all manifest together, and the result is the appearance of a single object, rather than seeing the parts which make up the whole. Only the composite is seen, not the components. The subconscious impressions (which are all constructed from these three gunas) are all witnessed by pure consciousness or purusha (Yoga Sutra 4.18). In these extremely subtle experiences or realizations, one comes to see that there is really very little to know (Yoga Sutra 4.31), and gradually the three gunas recede back into the prakriti from which they arose, along with the realization of liberation or kaivalya (Yoga Sutra 4.34). (more)

The Resolution of Questions through Yoga: For one who has experienced this distinction between seer and this subtlest mind, the false identities and even the curiosity about the nature of one's own self come to an end. All of the questions of life eventually boil down to only a few, such as: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? After the yogi has explored the many currents and cross currents of the gross and subtle mind, there comes the realization of the separateness from all of these levels and pure consciousness. It is then, that all of these questions cease. It is not a case that they are analytically answered in logical words. Rather, the questions are resolved; they simply evaporate in understanding. (more)

Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga

by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 

The typical public perception of Yoga has shifted significantly in recent years. This article addresses the nature of those shifts, comparing traditional Yoga of the ancient sages to the modern revisions. The article also includes quotes from nine different teachers whose names are well known.

To be a miner of diamonds, 
take care of your picks and shovels. 
To be a miner of your spiritual Self, 
take care of your body, breath, and mind. 
But don't confuse the tools and the goals.
The goal of Yoga (union) is Yoga (union), period.

Click here to read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Click here to read the Yoga Sutras

Click here for relation of Hatha and Raja Yoga

 of this web page: 
Juice Box - On Yoga
Two perceptions of Yoga 
6 schools of Indian philosophy 
Confusion of goals and instruments 
Fallacy of Composition 
Reversing the words
The whole and the parts 
Hatha Yoga Pradipika 
Yoga and Medicine 
Yoga and Money 
Yoga and Fitness Programs 
Seekers of the spiritual
Turning away from Yoga as spiritual 
Teacher Training programs 
Names and Modern styles of Yoga 
What kind of Yoga do you do? 
When is Yoga no longer Yoga?
"But it's useful! It helped me!" 
Opponents are providing support 
What to do 

 on this page:
Swami Satyananda
Swami Rama 
B.K.S. Iyengar 
Swami Chidananda 
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Bikram Choudhury 
David Frawley 
Georg Feuerstein 
Paramahansa Yogananda 
Quotes: LINKS

See also these pages: 
Yoga Day Distortion of Yoga 
Meaning and Purpose of Yoga
Mysticism, Yoga, Religion
Is Yoga a Religion? 
Yoga & Institutional Religion
Philosophy, Not Religion 
Choosing the Highest "T" 
Vedantic Meditation 

Traditional View of Yoga and postures (asanas)

Traditional view: To the ancients, Yoga is a complete system, of which the postures are a small, though quite useful part. The word "Yoga" referred to the whole, not merely onepart, which is the postures, or Asanas. The entire purpose of Yoga is spiritual in nature, according to the ancient sages.

History of Yoga: The history of Yoga can conveniently be divided into the following four broad categories: Vedic Yoga, Preclassical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Postclassical Yoga. (see whole article)

Modern View of Yoga and postures (asanas)

Modern view: In modern times, the relative position of the postures has been elevated, so as to lead people to believe that the word "Yoga" refers to physical postures or Asanas, and that the goal of these is physical fitness. The whole and the part have been reversed, terribly misleading and confusing people about the true nature of authentic Yoga.

Telling Lies that are so big people will believe them

The Big Lie (German: Große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf for a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously".

Black is black and white is white. However, if enough people say that black is white and that white is black, it will be believed and staunchly defended by the followers of that delusion.

This is also the case with Yoga. We now have millions of people who totally believe in the Big Lie that Yoga is an exercise or physical fitness program. The lie is so believed that I routinely receive emails attacking me about revealing or highlighting the true nature of Yoga through this and other articles.

Asana classes and asana studios: It is so unfortunate that the word "Yoga" has so often been used in place of the word "asana" or "posture" in recent years. We would not call a brick a "house" even though it is part of the construction. Yet, this is what is often done with Yoga. The first word of Yoga Sutras is "atha" which means "now," implying a prior preparation. One may do postures for years and finally be ready for Yoga. To call it "Yoga" before that time is a misnomer. If we had "asana classes" and "asana studios" that would be a great service to people. Then the word "Yoga" could be appropriately used for the journey that one begins when truly understanding the history and nature of authentic, traditional Yoga.

Yoga "On" and "Off" the Mat:

Within the past few decades there has been a new invention, that of the yoga "mat", which is made of some sort of synthetic rubber or plastic material. This has lead to the idea that "yoga" is practiced "on" such a mat. Since the mat is designed to be used for physical postures or asanas, its invention has even further led to the distortion of yoga. Along with the invention of yoga "on the mat", there has been a subsequent invention of yoga "off the mat" to describe the "other" form of yoga. Google presently reveals 82,300 results for a search of "yoga off the map". While it is good that people are doing other such practices, the mere fact that "yoga off the mat" has come into vogue implies that the default position of real yoga is "on" some synthetic "mat". This is just one more example of setting aside the ancient tradition of authentic yoga for the sake of promoting the modern distorted yoga through all of the yoga business channels.


An oxymoron is a phrase that combines two opposite meanings which do not really go together, often having a humorous effect.
Yoga is an inner experience of the union of the individual self and the universal Self, and thus "yoga studio" and "yoga class" are oxymorons. The list below includes some other phrases often considered to be oxymorons:

Yoga Class
Yoga Studio
 Absolutely unsure
Artificial intelligence
Authentic replica
Balding hair
Big minority
Business ethics
Civil unrest
Clearly confusing
Confirmed rumor
Deafening silence
Dry lake
Honest politician
Ill health
Military intelligence
Open secret
Precise estimate

Yoga Day USA and the 
Distortion of Yoga in America

Truth about 10 Reasons for Yoga
according to Yoga Day USA

The goal of Yoga is Yoga: The goal or destination of Yoga is Yoga itself, union itself, of the little self and the True Self, a process of awakening to the preexisting union that is called Yoga. While it is not the intent of this article to give a final or conclusive definition of the term Yoga--which can be described in different ways--it has to do with the realization through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realization of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti. The mere fact that one might do a few stretches with the physical body does not in itself mean that one is headed towards that high union referred to as Yoga.

History of Yoga: The history of Yoga can conveniently be divided into the following four broad categories: Vedic Yoga, Preclassical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Postclassical Yoga. (see whole article)


Yoga Meditation Visualized - Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 
(More YouTube videos by Swami J)

A personal note:

A small percentage of people find the kind of information in this article of interest. Some even find it offensive. It is very clear that virtually nobody is going to be swayed from their misdirected opinions about the nature of Yoga simply by reading this, as minds tend to hold their course until some life situation forces them to change.

So why is this article here? It is here to serve that small number of you who have come to see that Yoga is far more than we generally see these days. You may feel completely outnumbered by the current wave of distortion and devolution of Yoga. I say this because people sometimes tell me such things. You may feel misled, confused, and alone because your personal perspective and journey seem out of alignment with your peers and the popular so-called teachers and styles of Yoga. I hope this article serves as validation for you, and also provides some explanations and quotes that you can use for yourself to stay focused in a Yoga world where you are in a minority.

If you are a sincere seeker of the higher, authentic goals of Yoga, you are on a sometimes exasperating journey that is filled with joy. It is infinitely worth the challenges along the way.

In loving service,

Swami Jnaneshvara

See also Philosophy, Not Religion 

See also Yoga and Institutional Religion 
Yoga, Hindu and Hinduism 
Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion

Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia

Respected Western publishers acknowledge authentic, traditional Yoga, quite unlike many so-called yoga teachers and yoga teacher training schools. The following is excerpted from Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia:

YOGA (Skt. yuga, “yoke”), one of the six classic systems of Hindu philosophy, distinguished from the others by the marvels of bodily control and the magical powers ascribed to its advanced devotees. Yoga affirms the doctrine that through the practice of certain disciplines one may achieve liberationfrom the limitations of flesh, the delusions of sense, and the pitfalls of thought and thus attain union with the object of knowledge. Such union, according to the doctrine, is the only true way of knowing. For most Yogi (those who practice Yoga), the object of knowledge is the universal spirit Brahma. A minority of atheistic Yogi seek perfect self-knowledge instead of knowledge of God....

The final stage, in Yoga doctrine, rarely can be attained in one lifetime. Usually, several births are required to achieve liberation, first from the world of phenomena, then from thoughts of self, and finally from the spirit’s entanglement with matter. The separation of spirit from matter is Kāivalya, or true liberation.... (more)


Two perceptions of Yoga

Perception has recently shifted: The typical perception of Yoga has shifted a great deal in the past century, particularly the past couple decades. Most of this is due to changes made in the West, particularly in the United States, though it is not solely an American phenomenon. (Similar shifts have happened with Tantraas well.)

Gist of the two perspectives: The gist of the shift can be summarized in two perspectives, one of which is modern and false, and the other of which is ancientand true.

  • False: Yoga is a physical system with a spiritual component.

  • True: Yoga is a spiritual system with a physical component.

The false view spreads: Unfortunately, the view that Yoga is a physical exercise program is the dominant viewpoint. The false view then spreads through many institutions, classes, teachers, books, magazines, and millions of students of modern Yoga, who have little or no knowledge or interest in the spiritual goals of ancient, authentic, traditional Yoga and Yoga Meditation.

To understand the recent devolution that 
Yoga is only a physical exercise program 
is one of the most essential steps for
the modern seeker of authentic Yoga.

Yoga and Christianity: To say that Yoga is merely physical fitness, as have many Christians, is like saying that Christian communion is merely drinking wine and eating bread with a meal, and that baptism is nothing more than taking a shower or bath. The goal of Yoga is Yoga.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 
Sixth Edition. 2001-07


(y´g) (KEY) [Skt.,=union], general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism, Buddhism, and throughout S Asia that are directed toward attaining higher consciousness and liberation from ignorance, suffering, and rebirth. More specifically it is also the name of one of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy. Both Vedic and Buddhist literature discuss the doctrines of wandering ascetics in ancient India who practiced various kinds of austerities and meditation. The basic text of the Yoga philosophical school, the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (2d cent. B.C.), is a systematization of one of these older traditions.

Six schools of Indian philosophy

Yoga is a classical philosophy: Yoga is one of six schools of Indian philosophy. These are Nyaya, Visheshika, Mimasa, Sankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta. A brief review of those six schools or systems will easily clarify the true nature of authentic Yoga being a system of spiritual pursuit. (While there is not universal agreement, some consider the teachings of Buddha to be a seventh system or school of Indian philosophy, rather than a separate system, in that his methods come from the same root. In addition, some consider these divisions inaccurate, stating that the only valid Yoga is directly from the ancient texts, the Vedas.)

The Meaning and Purpose of Yoga: Like many arts and sciences that are profound, beautiful, and powerful, Yoga has suffered from the spiritual poverty of the modern world--it has been trivialized, watered down, or reduced to clichés. The deep and eternal essence of Yoga has been misrepresented and packaged for personal profit by clever people. At the hands of some, Yoga has been reduced to the status of just another exercise program available on videotape. In other contexts, Yoga has been presented as a cult religion, aimed at attracting "devotees." Such a haze of confusion has been created around the clear and pure concept of Yoga that it is now necessary to redefine Yoga and clarify its meaning and purpose. (more)

Yoga Vedanta: David Frawley writes about the nature of Yoga and its relationship to Vedanta in his book Vedantic Meditation, from which the following is excerpted (see more):

"The first teachers who brought Yoga to the West came with the profound teachings of Vedanta as their greatest treasure to share with the world. They presented Vedanta as the philosophy of Self-realization and Yoga as the methodology by which to achieve it. Such great masters began with Swami Vivekananda at the end of the nineteenth century and continued with Swami Rama Tirtha, Paramahansa Yogananda, and the many disciples of Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh. They called their teaching Yoga-Vedanta, which they viewed as a complete science of spiritual growth.

"However, in the course of time asana or Yoga postures gained more popularity in the physically-minded West, and the Vedantic aspect of the teachings fell to the sidelines, particularly over the last twenty years. The result is that today few American Yoga teachers know what Vedanta is or can explain it to others. If they have an interest in meditation they generally look to Zen or Vipassana, not knowing that meditation is the very foundation of classical Yoga and its related traditions.

"Even students of related disciplines like Ayurveda or Vedic astrology may know little about Vedanta, the path of self-knowledge that is the spiritual support and goal of these systems. Meanwhile, those who study the great Vedantic gurus of modern India, like Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj, generally look at the particular teacher as the source of the teachings, and they may fail to understand the tradition that they are part of. In this way the heart teachings of India's great sages have become progressively lost even to those who claim to follow their teachings in the West.

"The great sages of modern India were all Vedantins. Most notable is Ramana Maharshi, who emphasized the non-dualistic form of Vedanta and lived a life of direct Self-realization. Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, Anandamayi Ma, Nityananda, and Neem Karoli Baba, to mention but a few, were Vedantins, using the Vedantic terminology of Self-realization and God-realization. Vedantic traditions remain strong throughout India today, including many great teachers—for example, the different Shankaracharyas, who have never come to the West and are almost unknown here.

"Current major teachers from India like Ma Amritanandamayi (Ammachi) and Satya Sai Baba similarly use the language of Vedanta and its emphasis on the Self. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation follows a Vedantic view of consciousness and cosmic evolution. Swami Rama, the founder of the Himalayan Institute, was another important Vedantic teacher in America. The main Hatha Yoga teachers in recent times, like Krishnamacharya of Madras or B.K.S. Iyengar, follow Vedantic teachings for the higher aspects of Yoga. Devotional approaches like the Hari Krishna movement reflect Vedantic devotional teachings. Without an understanding of Vedanta, therefore, it is difficult to understand these great teachers or their words to us.

Swami Rama explains that the word Yoga has been unfortunately misused. So people think Yoga means physical exercise for remaining young. It's the science that deals with body, breath, mind and soul, and ultimately to the Universal Self.

Swami Rama briefly explains the meaning of Yoga in this video.


Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of Bihar School of Yoga, Bihar, India, describes the modern situation of Yoga quite well in the Introduction of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati, where he writes:

"In ancient times hatha Yoga was practiced for many years as a preparation for higher states of consciousness. Now however, the real purpose of this great science is being altogether forgotten . The hatha Yoga practices which were designed by the rishis and sages of old, for the evolution of mankind, are now being understood and utilized in a very limited sense. Often we hear people say, 'Oh, I don't practice meditation, I only practice physical Yoga, hatha Yoga.' Now the time has come to correct this view point. Hatha Yoga is a very important science for man today....

"The main objective of hatha Yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy. When this balance is created, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to the central force (sushumna nadi) which is responsible for the evolution of human consciousness. If hatha Yoga is not used for this purpose, its true objective is lost ."


Confusion of goals and instruments

The body is not the goal: The human body is a beautiful instrument, and should be taken care of. However, the body is an instrument, and is not itself the goalof traditional Yoga. In the science and practice of medicine, a pill is an instrument, but the pill itself is not the goal. In the science and practice of authentic Yoga, the body is an instrument, but the body itself is not the goal.

Confusing goals and tools: This can sound like an anti-body perspective, but this is not the case. It is not a conflict between philosophies. Rather, there is a misunderstanding of goals and tools.

The goal of Yoga is Yoga, period.

None of the lower levels is the goal: In traditional Yoga, the aspirant works with and trains all levels of the being, including relationships, self-exploration, senses, body, breath, and mind. However, none of these are themselves the goal of Yoga.

On an authentic path: The aspirant following a path of authentic Yoga:

  • Relationships: The aspirant builds relationship with the world through practices such as non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, remembering truth, and non-possessiveness. However, building better relationships with the world is not itself the goal of traditional Yoga.

  • Senses: The aspirant trains the senses so as to be able to consciously regulate them in positive ways, although working with the senses is not itself the goal of traditional Yoga.

  • Body: The aspirant works with the body so as to make it flexible, strong, and steady, but working with the body is not itself the goal of authentic Yoga.

  • Breath: The aspirant trains the breath so as to make it smooth, slow, and serene, but training the breath is not itself the goal of traditional Yoga.

  • Mind: The aspirant deals with the mind at all of it's levels, although exploring and dealing with the mind is not itself the goal of authentic Yoga.

The goal of Yoga is beyond these: The single goal of Yoga is beyond all of these, while these are the veils that block the realization of the Self, Truth, or Reality that is being sought. Because they are the obstacles, they are emphasized in practice so that they may cease to cover the eternal center of consciousness.

Swami Rama writes about the situation of traditional Yoga and modern Yoga in his text, Path of Fire and Light:

"The majority of people view Yoga as a system of physical culture.Very few understand that Yoga science is complete in itself , and deals systematically with body, breath, mind, and spirit.

"When one understands that a human being is not only a physical being, but a breathing being and a thinking being too, then his researchdoes not limit itself to the body and breath only.

"For him, gaining control over the mind and its modifications, and the feelings and emotions, become more important than practicing a few postures or breathing exercises . Meditation and contemplation alone can help the aspirant in understanding, controlling, and directing the mind."

In the opening paragraph of Lectures on Yoga, Swami Rama explains:

The word Yoga is much used and much misunderstood these days, for our present age is one of faddism, and Yoga has often been reduced to the status of a fad. Many false and incomplete teachings have been propagated in its name, it has been subject to commercial exploitation, and one small aspect of Yoga is often taken to be all of Yoga. For instance, many people in the West think it is a physical and beauty cult, while others think it is a religion. All of this has obscured the real meaning of Yoga.

In the second volume of Path of Fire and Light, Swami Rama goes even further, where he flatly declares:

"The word 'Yoga' has been vulgarized and does not mean anything now ."

Confusing Vehicles and Destinations: If you are going to the Himalayas, you may first ride in an airplane or car. However, the fact that you are riding in an airplane or car does not mean that you will necessarily end up in the Himalayas. Everyday there are many millions of people who travel in both airplanes and cars, but will not mysteriously or accidentally end up in the Himalayas without that being their goal or destination.

The goal or destination of Yoga is Yoga itself, union itself, of the little self and the True Self (While it is not the intent of this article to give a final or conclusive definition of the term Yoga--which can be described in different ways--it has to do with the realization through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realization of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti). The mere fact that one might do a few stretches with the physical body does not in itself mean that one is headed towards that high union, referred to as Yoga.


Below is an example of the unfortunate distortion 
of Yoga terminology and practices.

The website describes Ashtanga Yoga as a breath and postures practice of Pattabhi Jois (1915- ):

"Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind."

Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963), founder of Divine Life Society of Rishikesh, India writes of Ashtanga Yoga:

"It is said that the original propounder of classical Yoga was Hiranyagarbha Himself. It is Patanjali Maharishi who formulated this science into a definite system under the name of Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga. This forms one of the Shad-Darsananas or Classical Systems of Philosophy.... Patanjali's Raja Yoga is generally termed the Ashtanga Yoga or the Yoga of Eight Limbs, through the practice of which freedom is achieved."


Many people work with diet, exercise and interpersonal relationships. This may include physical fitness classes, food or cooking seminars, or many forms of personality work, including support groups, psychotherapy, or confiding with friends. When done alone, these are not necessarily aimed towards Yoga, and are therefore not Yoga, however beneficial they may be.

Yet, work with body, food, and relationships may very much fall under the domain of Yoga, when Yoga is the goal. The key is the goal or destination one holds in the heart, mind, and conviction. Without that being directed towards the state of Yoga, the methods can hardly be called Yoga.

Yogis are here for the true seekers of Yoga

For the vast majority who seek functional training or functional exercise programs, there will continue be an abundance of functional trainers. For the tiny percent who seek Yoga, there will continue to be a tiny number of Yogis to help. This is how it works. There will continue to be a majority rule phenomenon. If enough people say that Yoga is fitness or medical treatment, it will be so, at least in the minds of the majority, as it has happened in recent years.

Yoga deals with body, breath, and mind, but is aimed at that beyond mind. However:

  • If, one day, the physical therapists and occupational therapists, who deal with the body, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.

  • If, one day, the respiratory therapists, who deal with the breath, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.

  • If, one day, the psychotherapists, who deal with the mind, will collectively call their work Yoga, it will appear to be so, in the minds of the majority.

Still, with all of that majority rule, there will be a tiny handful of Yogis available, mostly out of public view, to help people who seek Yoga asYoga. This is how it works.


Fallacy of Composition

The misuse of the word Yoga often involves what logicians call the Fallacy of Composition. One version of the Fallacy of Composition is projecting a characteristic assumed by a part to be the characteristic assumed by the wholeor by others. It may lead to false conclusion that whenever a person is doing some action that is included in Yoga, that person is necessarily doing Yoga.

Some of the examples below might sound silly, but this Fallacy of Composition is what happens when saying that Yoga is physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. The goal of Yoga is Yoga, which has to do with the realization in direct experience of the highest unity of our being, out of which the only apparent individuation and multiplicity have emerged. Practices that are not done for that purpose are simply NOT Yoga.

Here are some obviously unreasonable and false arguments about the nature of Yoga. These are given as examples of the absurdity of the fallacy of composition.

  • Body flexing is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who flexes the body is practicing Yoga.

  • Breath regulation is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who intentionally breathes smoothly and slowly is practicing Yoga.

  • Contracting the anal sphincter muscles is a lock, which is part of Yoga; therefore anybody contracting those muscles is doing Yoga.

  • Cleansing the body is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody cleansing the body is practicing Yoga.

  • Purging the gastrointestinal system is a practice of Yoga; therefore, anybody taking an enema is practicing Yoga.

  • Concentrating the mind is part of Yoga; therefore anybody who concentrates is practicing Yoga.

  • Talking to yourself in a contemplative way is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody talking to himself or herself is practicing Yoga.

  • Lovingness is part of Yoga; therefore all people who love their family and friends are practicing Yoga.

  • Honesty is a part of Yoga; therefore, any honest person is practicing Yoga.

  • Contentment is a foundation of Yoga; therefore, anyone who is content is practicing Yoga.

  • Eating healthy food is a part of Yoga; therefore, anyone eating fresh vegetables is practicing Yoga.

  • Attenuating attractions and aversions is part of Yoga; therefore, anyone reducing their habitual thoughts and emotions is practicing Yoga.

  • Sitting still is a part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who is sitting still is practicing Yoga.

Here are some other false statements about Yoga, which have unfortunately come to be widely accepted as true.

  • Since Yoga is beneficial to the body, Yoga is a physical fitness program. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)

  • Since Yoga reduces stress, Yoga is a stress management method. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)

  • Since Yoga has an effect on physical health, Yoga is a medical treatment. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)

By understanding the Fallacy of Composition, and reflecting on simple examples such as above, it is easier to see through the arguments and widespread misperception that Yoga is about physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. In fact, Yoga is ONLY about the higher union having to do with pure consciousness, soul, spirit, purusha, atman, or other such words. Other efforts for lesser purposes may be quite useful, but they are NOT part of Yogaunless these higher goals are the underlying motive for the practices.

The Sivananda Yoga Om Page website explains on its homepage:

Yoga means Union: "Although many people think this term refers to union between body and mind or body, mind and spirit, the traditional acceptance is union between the Jivatman and Paramatman that is between one's individual consciousness and the Universal Consciousness. Therefore Yoga refers to a certain state of consciousness as well as to methods that help one reach that goal or state of union with the divine."


Reversing the words

Hatha was a part - Yoga was the whole: In ancient times, Hatha Yoga was considered to be a part, or aspect of the greater whole, which was called Yoga. The word Yoga applied to the encompassing, or umbrella principles and practices of wholeness.

Postures were only a part of the part: In fact, Hatha Yoga itself only partiallydealt with the practice of postures, called Asanas. Thus, the postures or Asanaswere a part of Hatha Yoga, which, in turn led to Raja Yoga.

The word Yoga previously 
referred to the whole
now it refers to a part, the postures.

Meaning of the word Yoga: All of this has changed in the past few decades. In this time of modern Yoga, when you hear the word Yoga, or see it written, it seldom is used to refer to the whole of Yoga. Rather, the single word Yoga is now used to refer to physical Yoga.

  • The two words Hatha Yoga: In the 13th century text entitled Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the first verse states that the text is for Hatha Yoga. It does not use the single word Yoga, but instead uses the term Hatha Yoga. The text clearly states that this is in preparation for Raja Yoga. In other words,Hatha Yoga is underneath, a part of, or preparation for Raja Yoga (Raja Yoga refers to both the state of samadhi and practices to attain that state.

  • The single word Yoga: The Yoga Sutras, codified at least a thousand years earlier, is a text outlining Raja Yoga. The first verse of the text uses the single word Yoga, stating that now begins the process of Yoga. It clearly uses the single word Yoga to refer to practices that bring spiritual awakening.

Not merely semantics: This is not merely semantics; it means that when one is trying to refer to, or to follow the whole of Yoga, there is no longer a word, terminology, or name to go with that whole, the higher Yoga, which is the umbrella for the parts. If you say, "I do Yoga," it is automatically taken to mean that you do physical postures alone. While modern Yoga focuses on the physical, it is, in fact, not even necessary to do the physical postures for one to practice authentic Yoga.

The typical Yoga class
is an Asana (postures) class,
not a Yoga class.

No alternative word for Yoga: Rather than simply using the term Yoga when referring to the original, broader, higher meaning of Yoga, one now has to use an alternative word. However, there is no alternative word for the whole of Yoga.

Reason for misunderstanding: This use of the term Yoga rather than Hatha Yoga (or, more accurately, Asana) has been a major reason for the misunderstanding that Yoga is a physical program with a spiritual component, rather than a spiritual program with a physical component.

Who benefits from the removal of the spiritual: Some students and teachers of modern Yoga want to remove or ignore the spiritual orientation of Yoga, for a variety of reasons. Because of this, such people actually benefit by dropping the word Hatha from the term Hatha Yoga. By dropping the word Hatha, and calling it only Yoga, they can more easily avoid the fact that the ancient texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, so clearly state the spiritual priority of traditional Yoga. They can escape the fact that Ha and tha refer to the subtle energies of Ida and Pingala, the process of Kundalini Awakening, and attaining Samadhi.

It is not even necessary 
for one to do the physical postures 
to be a practitioner of authentic Yoga.


The Whole and the Parts

The "whole" is "Yoga": Not only has there been a reversal of Hatha Yoga and Yoga, whereby Hatha Yoga (the "part") has been labeled as "Yoga" (the "whole"), but the whole process and scope of Yoga as been effected in our collective perceptions of Yoga. One way of seeing this clearly is to remember that:

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Bhakti Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Hatha Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Jnana Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Karma Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Kundalini Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Laya Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Mantra Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Nada Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Raja Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which Tantra Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which _______ Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which _______ Yoga is a part.

  • Yoga is the whole, of which _______ Yoga is a part.

B. K. S. Iyengar, a well known teacher and author writes in his discussions on the Yoga Sutras:

"... Through the discipline of Yoga, both actions and intelligence go beyond these qualities [gunas] and the seer comes to experience his own soul with crystal clarity, free from the relative attributes of nature and actions. This state of purity is samadhi. Yoga is thus both the means and the goal. Yoga is samadhi and samadhi is Yoga...."

"... Usually the mind is closer to the body and to the gross organs of action and perception than to the soul. As asanas are refined they automatically become meditative as the intelligence is made topenetrate towards the core of being. Each asana has five functions to perform. These are conative, cognitive, mental, intellectual andspiritual...."


Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The entire purpose is spiritual: The entire purpose of ancient, authentic, traditional Yoga, including Hatha Yoga, is spiritual in nature. Following are a few points from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 13th century text outlining the practice of Hatha Yoga. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is possibly the best known and most authoritative text on authentic Hatha Yoga. These few references should make the true nature of Hatha Yoga clear.

Click here to read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The last chapter is entitled Samadhi: It is significant to note that of the four chapters of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the last chapter is entitled Samadhi, the higher state of consciousness.

The focus of Yoga is Samadhi.

References from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: The following references are from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (sutra numbers are in parenthesis). Note how the emphasis shifts away from postures to breath, kundalini, raja Yoga, and samadhi.

Chapter 1:

  • The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to be a stairway to Raja Yoga, the higher Yoga (1.1-2)
  • Postures are the first part of Hatha Yoga (1.77)
Chapter 2:
  • After postures, one should practice with breath (2.1)
Chapter 3:
Chapter 4:
  • Samadhi leads one to the eternal and highest bliss (4.2)
  • Mind and the eternal merge like salt and the sea (4.5)
  • Those who do only Hatha Yoga without realization of Raja Yogaderive no fruits for their efforts (4.79) [It does not mean that no physical benefits are derived; rather, since the goal of Yoga is spiritual in nature, when only the lower practices are performed, the intended goal is completely missed, yielding no fruits.]
  • All of the practices of Hatha Yoga and Laya Yoga are meansto Raja Yoga, samadhi (4.103)

Swami Chidananda Saraswati, head of the internationally known Sivananda Ashram (Divine Life Society) in Rishikesh, India explains that:

"Yoga is not mere acrobatics . Some people suppose that Yoga is primarily concerned with the manipulation of the body into various queer positions, standing on the head, for instance, or twisting about the spine, or assuming any of the numerous odd poses which are demonstrated in the text-books on Yoga. These techniques are correctly employed in one distinct type of Yoga practice, but they do not form an integral part of the most essential type. Physical posture serve at best as an auxiliary, or a minor form of Yoga."


Yoga and Medicine

What constitutes success with Yoga: There are many implications to the shift from traditional to modern perspectives on the nature of Yoga. For example, in relation to the success of modern Yoga and traditional Yoga, there are also two perspectives:

  • Modern view of success with Yoga: According to the modern view, the success of Yoga is evidenced by the state of the physical body and the reduction of physical disease.

  • Traditional view of success with Yoga: According to the ancient view, the success of Yoga is evidenced by the degree to which one experiences realization of the eternal Self, which is beyond the physical body, its maladies, and its inevitable demise.

Tell a big enough lie often enough
and people will believe it:
"Yoga is medical treatment".
"Yoga is physical therapy".

Yoga redefined as a medical treatment: Yoga is now seen as a medical treatment, as if it was a mere physical therapy program. There are even efforts to have modern Yoga covered by insurance programs, as treatment for specific diseases. While this is good for the physical health of people, it further convinces people that Yoga is only a physical program.

Therapies are useful: Treatment modalities such as Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy are very useful and needed professions. However, designing such treatment methods and calling them "Yoga" is a tremendous disservice to both those professions and Yoga.

Hijacking: To distort the use of the name "Yoga" in such ways is tantamount to hijacking the name "Yoga".

The sole purpose of Yoga 
is spiritual in nature.

The sole purpose of Yoga is spiritual: Yoga is a systematic program whose sole purpose is spiritual, whether you call it enlightenment, Self-realization, or other similar terms. The purpose for working with the physical body is so that the body is not an obstacle in practices such as Yoga meditation, contemplation, and prayer. Obstacles to these spiritual practices are naturally minimized or completely removed in the process of following Yoga.

Yoga is now prescribed for its side-effects: What happens is a confusion of goals. The goal of traditional Yoga is spiritual in nature, and the side effectsinclude physical healing. It is like a physician prescribing a medication for a particular malady, and that drug also having side effects. With a medication, a pill, the drug is prescribed for it's immediate benefit, not for the side-effects. In modern times, Yoga is being prescribed for its side-effect, while its real goal is usually being ignored.

This is not to say that people should not benefit from Yoga, even if only a small part is being taught, and even if that small part is being changed, so as to no longer actually be Yoga. Some of the physical therapies being developed in the name of Yoga might be very beneficial to physical health.

The truer meaning of Yoga is lost: However, by developing physical therapy programs and labeling them Yoga, and by focusing on one small aspect of Yoga (the physical), we find that the whole, greater, truer meaning of Yoga is lost to those who would seek the higher ground.

One of the possible alternatives:

It would be soooooo..... much more clear if classes that are predominantly about asanas were called asana classes instead ofYoga classes, though this isn't likely to happen.

Imagine for a moment that you were to go to a lecture by a Yoga scholar about this or that, but that the advertisement said only that he was going to teach a Yoga class. People would show up with their mats and other paraphernalia. He might be giving a lecture on yogic contemplation, or jnana Yoga, for example, but it really would be aYoga class. Would one really teach such a class and only call it aYoga class? Of course not.

What if the ad said it was a Yoga class and people showed up to find it was a two hour religious ritual led by a Hindu pandit or a Buddhist priest, rather than a class about asanas. It really would be Yoga, even though the ad didn't mention that it was about this or that form of bhakti Yoga. Would a priest or pandit really have such a ritual and only call it a Yoga class? Of course not.

So why is it that this small part of Yoga called asanas gets elevated to the status of using the whole, or encompassing name Yoga. It really would be soooooo..... much more clear if classes that are predominantly about asanas were called asana classes instead ofYoga classes, though, again, this isn't likely to happen.


Yoga and Money

Seminars on making money with Yoga: As if calling Yoga a fitness program, physical therapy or medical treatment were not enough, it has also become common to promote Yoga seminars and books in the name of Yoga being a money making technique. The promoters sometimes don't openly say that it is for money, but instead use the terms like prosperitysuccessabundance oraffluence.

This is not talking about teachers making money by teaching classes; that is an entirely different matter. This is talking about intentionally using the subtle methods and powers of Yoga to cause monetary wealth to come your way. Fruits naturally come to practitioners as a byproduct of Yoga, but to teach seminars on how to direct your conviction and practices into producing financial wealth is a very different matter.

Tell a big enough lie often enough
and people will believe it:
"Yoga is a moneymaking technique".

Reframe of attachment, hedonism, and greed: It doesn't take a great deal of reflection to see that these are reframes of attachmenthedonism or greed, which have generally been seen as obstacles to attenuate, rather than goals to be attained.

It is sometimes said that teachers must meet students where they are. This is the epitome of that process, whereby greedy teachers provide well packaged and marketed seminars to the greedy students. In this way, the seekers receive a form of pseudo-validation for their inner longings of external pleasure. To suggest here that Yoga has nothing to do with moneymaking propositions is not to say that people should live in poverty. It is simply a matter of confusing goals and methods. Yoga is not a moneymaking technique, and any use of Yoga for such a purpose is a devolution of Yoga.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, head of the Himalayan Institute of the USA writes in an article entitled Real Yoga that:

"Yoga has become the health and fitness system of choice. This is odd because it is the mind - not the body - that is the main target of all genuine Yoga practices .... To regard Yoga primarily as a set of practices for increasing strength and flexibility while calming the nervous system is to mistake the husk for the kernel ."


Yoga and fitness programs

Commingling of methods: The word Yoga has come into popularity of late. Many other styles of exercise, ranging from aerobics to calisthenics to jazzercise to kick boxing have come to be associated with Yoga (Believe it or not, somebody has even come up with Yoga for dogs!).

Two results have come as a result of this commingling of methods:

  • First, participants come to believe that these practices are a part of Yoga, which they are not.

  • Second, the authentic Yoga is left even further out of view and unavailable.

Tell a big enough lie often enough
and people will believe it:
"Yoga is a physical fitness program".

Admiring those who keep the names separate: Some providers of exercise programs have integrated Yoga postures into their teachings, but have not used the word Yoga. These people are to be admired for having the wisdom to notmisrepresent Yoga by presenting co-mingled, or watered-down versions under the name Yoga. In this way, their students are getting some of the benefits of this small piece of Yoga, while at the same time not distorting authentic Yoga in the eyes of those students.

Functional Training: A good example of programs integrating Yoga principles, but without hijacking the name Yoga and abandoning its higher goals, is the movement towards Functional Training or Functional Exercise. From this perspective, the postures of Hatha Yoga are considered only a part of this broader physical fitness perspective. The increasing use of these terms is very good news for Yoga, in that it more accurately states what is actually being done, instead of deceptively (by omission) calling the practices Yoga.

Bikram Choudhury, interviewed by CBS television on the 60 Minutes show aired on June 8, 2005:

About Yoga being what the interviewer referred to as "meditative," Bikram Choudhury responded, "No, that's the biggest problem in America. That's the Yoga introduced to America. Yoga means sit and close your eyes and you look at the lamp, or look at the crystal. Absolutely not; absolutely you are not ready for that kind of Yoga.

"You use the body as a medium to bring the mind back to the brain. Perfect marriage between body and mind. Then, you can reach and knock the door to the spirit ."

"Yoga is free. It belongs to the earth. It's a god."

Of India, "it is the only country in the world that still there is some humanity and spiritualism left."

"The philosophy of human life: Who you are? Human. Why you came to this earth as a human? What ultimate destination of your life? To understand all these things you have to study Yoga."


Seekers of the spiritual

Skipping Yoga as a spiritual tool: For a person longing for spiritual attainment, the path of traditional Yoga may be an ideal fit, including all of the many aspects that it encompasses. However, when the authentic seeker of spiritual truths starts exploring the landscape of paths, Yoga is often not pursued as a spiritual tool because "everybody knows" (incorrectly) that Yoga is merely a physical exercise program.

Appearances prevent finding authentic Yoga: While it is not true that Yoga is a merely physical program, it appears that way to the majority of people. Therefore, because of the appearances, many sincere seekers are not finding authentic Yoga, which has some of the highest teachings and practices known to humanity.

Yoga focuses on the spiritual,
right from the very beginning.

Begin with the spiritual: Following authentic Yoga may bring a person not only spiritual realization, but also side effects that might include physical health, reducing or eliminating some diseases, or health promotion. The intent of Yoga is to focus on the spiritual, right from the very beginning. Through such an authentic orientation of Yoga, many fruits will come, including the physical benefits.

Reaffirm the true nature of Yoga: The problem is not one of changing the path of those who practice adaptations of Yoga, or only small parts of Yoga. Such people have a perfect right to do as they wish. However, what is needed, is to clearly reaffirm the true nature of authentic Yoga and make this available to the true seekers in a wide array of venues. Fortunately, at least a small percentage of teachers are trying to do this.

The Journey OF Yoga TO Yoga
is a Sacred Pilgrimage

Imagine that you are taking a sacred pilgrimage (Yatra) to a sacred place in the height of the Himalayas (or other such destination). In your journey you might fly on an airplane, ride in a car, and do lots of walking. The whole journey en route is one of pilgrimage due to your heartfelt conviction for the destination you are seeking.

However, at any given moment, there are thousands of airplanes in the sky around the planet. There are millions and millions of people riding in cars. There are still many more millions who are walking somewhere. Are all of these people on a Yatra, a sacred pilgrimage to the Himalayas? Of course not.

  • The thing that makes airplane riding, car riding, and walking a Yatra is the intentionality in the heart for the destination being sought.

  • It is the intentionality for the goal called Yoga that makes the process leading there also called Yoga, not the mere actions themselves.

The fact that one moves the body this way or that, or does some breathing practice does not, unto itself constitute Yoga. Yoga is the journey (Yatra) towards Yoga, which is the union being sought. People might have different ways of describing that union called Yoga, such as to say it is Jivatman knowing itself as Paramatman (the individual and the absolute), or the union of Shiva and Shakti (the static and the active), or discerning the convergence point of Purusha and Prakriti (consciousness and matter). However this union or Yoga might be described specifically, they have to do with the union called Yoga.

If one is not working with relationships in the external world, with one's personality, with the body, with the breath, or the levels of mind with this kind of intentionality towards the destination called Yoga, then the process along the way is simply not Yoga.

There are many practitioners and workshop leaders who provide breath training for health reasons, though without using the word Yoga. When providing breath training for health, they make no mention whatsoever of attaining or realizing the higher union that is at the core of Yoga. These people are to be admired for not calling their work Yoga, even though breath training is a part of Yoga. Frankly, it may have never crossed the minds of many of these practitioners to call their training Yoga. This is as it should be.

So how is it that others who teach that work with body, breath and mind do call their practices Yoga, while completely ignoring the goal or destination of Yoga? Should we say that massage therapists, respiratory therapists, and psychotherapists are all teaching Yoga because they are working with body, breath, and mind? Of course not.

The destination of Yoga is Yoga, period. Any other use of the practices is simply not Yoga.


Turning away from Yoga as spiritual

Some go elsewhere for meditation: Among the teachers, scholars, authors, and publishers who profess to be experts in Yoga, many turn away from non-sectarian Yoga Meditation for their own practices of meditation and contemplation. Almost unbelievably, it is not uncommon for so-called Yoga teachers to recommend that their Yoga students practice Yoga for the physical body, but instruct them they should not follow Yoga to learn practices such as introspection and meditation.

Yoga in the West has only 
scratched the surface of Yoga.

Compatible with religion: Yoga as a means for spiritual unfoldment is compatible with any religious orientation. It is quite common for people who have pursued the authentic spiritual practices of Yoga to report that they become even closer to own their religious roots. There is no conflict. (See the article,Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion)

How is it that you would NOT do this:

People do not walk into a restaurant and order a bottle of “Christian communion” with their meal. Rather, they order a bottle of wine. If one did place such an order, it would be taken as a joke. Similarly, would we call eating bread with your meal “Christian communion” or would we simply call it eating bread? Would you call taking a bath or a shower baptism? Of course not.

But that you WOULD do this?

How is it that one can walk into a health spa, for example, and order up “Yoga” and completely disregard its true meaning?

Teachers promoting their religion: Yet, it is also sadly true that some other teachers of Yoga, both from East and West, teach in a way that worships teachers or deities that are not known to the religions and cultures of the students, even further confusing the issue of what Yoga is truly about (See the paper, Is Yoga a Religion?). This is not to say that teachers should necessarilynot present their religion. Rather, the point is that by not clearly acknowledging the difference between their religion and Yoga, there is a great potential for confusion about the nature of Yoga.

Teachers and students are both deprived: Many modern Yoga teachers are missing out on authentic Yoga because of their misunderstanding, and these high Yogic practices are thus not even followed by many of them. In other words, they cannot teach the more authentic perspectives of Yoga if they do not know about them. In turn, their students are also being deprived of authentic Yoga and the wisdom of the ancient sages.

David Frawley, an internationally recognized scholar and teacher, is quoted in the Sep/Oct 2000 issue of Yoga Journal:

Yoga in the West "has only scratched the surface of the greater Yoga tradition," he says. "The Yoga community in the West is currently at a crossroads. Its recent commercial success can be used to build the foundation for a more profound teaching, aimed at changing the consciousness of humanity. Or it can reduce Yoga to a mere business that has lost connection with its spiritual heart. The choice that Yoga teachers make today will determine this future."

See also this, by David Frawley:
Vedantic Meditation

Can a Christian Practice Yoga or Yoga Meditation?
(YouTube of Swami J)


Teacher training programs

Teacher training avoids the spiritual: Even a cursory review of the school and seminar offerings will reveal that in most modern Yoga teacher training programs, a small percentage of the curriculum deals with the spiritual aspects of Yoga, which are the true focus of Yoga. Once again, this modern focus on the physical aspects of Yoga is backwards from the authentic Yoga of the ancients.

You can become a "certified" Yoga teacher 
without having spent a single minute in the 
face-to-face presence of a teacher 
studying the traditional Yoga texts.

Become certified with no face-to-face teaching: The Hatha Yoga Pradipikaand the Yoga Sutras are two of the most authoritative texts in Yoga. As an example of the current state of modern Yoga teacher training, the most well known agency in America that claims certifying authority for Yoga schools has structured its standards with such a focus on the physical that it is possible for a student to become a certified Yoga teacher without having spent a single minute in the face-to-face presence of a teacher studying these texts or any of the other traditional Yoga texts.

See also the article:
Yoga Day USA and the Distortion of Yoga in America

About Yoga in the US:
"It's a mess".
- Georg Feuerstein

Online Yoga teacher certification for $49.99: As if the state of Yoga and Yoga teacher training were not already bad enough, one online company has started to offer a $49.99 online Yoga teacher training program. All you have to do is purchase their program via credit card, read their material, and take a written online exam, which consists of multiple choice questions. You can become a "Certified Yoga Instructor" and will also receive an online transcript that mentions your score, which can be used "to prove your certified credentials". Interestingly, their promotional material even explains that the certificate that you will receive does not mention the word online.

Georg Feurstein, another well recognized scholar and teacher, is quoted in a July/August 2003 article in the online LA Yoga Magazine. When asked, "How would you describe Yoga in the US today?" he responded:

It’s a mess. And you can quote me on that. Anything that comes to America or the West in general, immediately gets individualized and commercialized. There has always been great diversity in traditional Yoga, and this diversity was based on the experience of masters. Today even beginning teachers feel qualified to innovate and create their own trademarked Yoga system.

"So, looking at the Yoga movement today, part of me feels very saddened by it, but then I also see that it contains the seeds of something better. Also, amazingly, Yoga can be beneficial even when it is reduced down to posture practice. But people shortchange themselves when they strip Yoga of its spiritual side."

Teachers told to not speak: Some Asana teachers say that they do understand the authentic goals of Yoga, and would like to share these higher teachings with students. However, some of them who teach at well known "Yoga studios" around the country (USA) have privately confided that they have been directly told by studio owners to not teach this, and that if they do, they will no longer be allowed to teach there. Many other Asana teachers who understand and seek authentic Yoga in their personal lives refrain from sharing this with students out of fear for losing students and their payments for classes.

Maybe the pendulum will swing back: While modern Yoga teaching may have gone far off track in recent years, there is some movement towards providing training that focuses on the authentic. It seems that the pendulum has swung so far away that it might slowly be starting to swing back to the real goals of authentic Yoga.

A picture is worth a thousand words:
This photo is from an advertisement at, which is 
a leading department store in USA. (see copy of website)

What Yoga has become in America (Video) 
(More YouTube videos by Swami J)


Names and Modern styles of Yoga

Recent inventions: The nature of Yoga is even further confused in the public eye by the way the methods are promoted. Reviewing almost any list of the best known 10-12 modern Yoga "styles" will quickly reveal that almost all of the modern Yoga styles have been invented in the last few decades. Very few Yoga teachers today will simply teach "Hatha Yoga," the physical Yoga system of the past (that actually had spiritual goals), let alone the true spiritual Yoga.

Most of the modern "styles" of Yoga
did not exist a few decades ago, while
Yoga itself is thousands of years old.

Many use a man's name: In addition, many, if not most of the modern "styles" of Yoga have the surname of a currently living man in front of the word Yoga, as if that man, himself, has invented Yoga. This is not to say that these teachers are not competent or even superb in their physical abilities. They may do a very good job within the scope of their teachings.

Distorting Sanskrit terms: Several other modern systems have taken an ancient Sanskrit word or phrase that has a specific spiritual meaning, and then adapted that terminology to some set of postures or practices that were not part of the original intent.

Trademark of ancient names: In addition, these modern teachers have then trademarked these ancient, traditional names, further misleading an unsuspecting public. This leaves the would-be students with the impression that the current day founder of this brand name system is somehow linked to the original teachings associated with that word or phrase. It further leads people to believe that the new teachers certified by that founder also have some expertise or familiarity with the traditional practice or level of attainment authentically associated with that word or phrase.

Modern styles are very suspect: If you were to turn the clock back a hundred years, maybe even fifty, twenty, or less, few, if any of these current styles, systems, or methods of Yoga even existed. Most of the founders of these modern, so-called Yoga styles were not even born. Therefore, these modern styles are very suspect when, at the same time, we say that Yoga is thousands of years old. This is not a mere call to go back in time to some theoretically more pristine era of Yoga. Here, it really has been a case of throwing away the baby with the bath water.


What kind of Yoga do you do?

Four traditional schools of Yoga: Traditionally, there are four schools of Yoga. If asked, "What kind of Yoga do you do?" the answer would be one of these four, or a combination of them. Briefly, the four schools of Yoga are:

  • Karma Yoga: The Yoga of action, doing the practices while fulfilling one's duties in the external world.

  • Jnana Yoga: The Yoga of knowledge or self-enquiry, knowing oneself at all levels through a process of contemplation and introspection.

  • Bhakti Yoga: The Yoga of devotion, of surrender to the divine force or God, practiced in ways consistent with one's own religion.

  • Raja Yoga: The meditative school of Yoga, such as systematized byPatanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Six classical schools: In addition, it is important to note that Yoga itself has been classically considered to be one of six schools of Indian philosophy.

What kind of Yoga do you do?: However, now, when one asks, "What kind of Yoga do you do?" the question is almost impossible to answer. The question now is an inquiry as to which of the many modern adaptations of postures that one practices, as referred to in the last section.

Only Yoga: A true Yogi, one who sincerely practices authentic Yoga, may do just Yoga, meaning some combination of Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, and Raja Yoga, in the context of the six systems of Indian philosophy and practice. The mere asking of the question, "What kind of Yoga do you do?" is, itself, a sign of confusion, as one Yogi encountering another Yogi would not likely ask such a meaningless question.

Paramahansa Yogananda, the well-known author of Autobiography of a Yogi, responds to the question "What is Yoga?" in the text The Essence of Self-Realization:

"Yoga means union. Etymologically, it is connected to the English word, yoke. Yoga means union with God, or, union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit. Most people in the West, and also many in India, confuse Yoga with Hatha Yoga, the system of bodily postures.

But Yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline . I don't mean to belittle the Yoga postures. Hatha Yoga is a wonderful system. The body, moreover, is a part of our human nature, and must be kept fit lest it obstruct our spiritual efforts. Devotees, however, who are bent on finding God give less importance to the Yoga postures. Nor is it strictly necessary that they practice them. Hatha Yoga is the physical branch of Raja Yoga, the true science of Yoga. Raja Yoga is a system of meditation techniques that help to harmonize human consciousness with the divine consciousness.


When is Yoga no longer Yoga?

Think of a car with missing parts: Imagine you see a car, and your friend says, "What's that?" You say, "It's a car". Imagine that the car is missing a wheel, and your friend asks you the same question. Still, you say, "It's a car". But what if all four wheels were gone, and the doors were gone, and the engine was gone. Then, what would you say when your friend asked, "What's that?" You might say something like, "Junk". We may not know the exact point of change, but somewhere along the way, in removing the parts, you'd naturally stop saying, "It's a car".

Without the higher goals,
can it still be called Yoga?

Think of Yoga with missing parts: At what point, and after how much adaptation to modern culture, does Yoga cease to be Yoga? When Yoga is stripped of its higher goals and methods, can it still be called Yoga? When is Yoga no longer Yoga?

Bricks and houses: Imagine that you hold a brick in your hand, and say to a person, "This is a house!" To hold out asanas (postures) and say, "This is Yoga!" makes as much sense as saying that a single brick is a house. Both are confusing a minor, though useful part with the whole.


"But it's useful! It helped me!"

One of the most common comments used to justify the modern devolutions of Yoga is in saying something like, "But it's useful! It helped me!" It is as if they think that pointing out the true nature of Yoga is somehow in opposition to doing other activities that are of benefit to human beings. The argument is that if people become flexible and less stressed, the method is therefore called Yoga.

The fact that physical postures (or modern revisions) are effective is not the question. Doing asanas is beneficial, but calling it Yoga is a different matter. The fact that the brick is useful does not make it a house. Any physical exercise, such as walking or playing tennis is useful, but that does not make it Yoga. Aerobics, calisthenics, jazzercise, and kickboxing may also be useful, but that does not make them Yoga. Massage therapy, physical therapy, and respiratory therapy are useful, but that does not make them Yoga. Psychotherapy and counseling are useful, but that does not make them Yoga.

The argument that the tiny piece of Yoga called asana is useful is not a legitimate justification to reverse the part and the whole, and thus claim that Yoga, when stripped of its higher goals and practices, is still Yoga.


Opponents are providing support

Religious leaders say Yoga is spiritual: Ironically, some of the most outspoken opponents of Yoga are doing the most to promote its authentic spiritual nature. Leaders of some religious organizations are prohibiting Yoga classes from being conducted in their facilities because of its spiritual nature. They can be quite outspoken in their condemnation of Yoga. (See Is Yoga a Religion, including the section on choices related to Yoga and religion. See also Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion)

The opponents of Yoga are often
quite outspoken about Yoga's spiritual goal,
while so-called Yoga teachers
often avoid the subject.

Preventing classes because of being spiritual: In one recent example in the news, a religious leader stopped Yoga classes in his facility because "the Yoga instructor, had confirmed that the ultimate aim of Yoga was to enable participants to " 'ascend to a higher spiritual plane.' " He went on to add, "It seems completely inappropriate that we should give someone a platform who is advocating different spirituality". While his actions may be unfortunate for the students, it openly voices the authentic nature of Yoga.

Teachers argue that Yoga is only physical: At the same time, however, the modern Yoga teachers themselves are often arguing that the Yoga they are teaching is only a physical program supported by physicians and the medical community, and place little or no emphasis or acknowledgement on the authentic spiritual goals of Yoga.

Teachers and opponents have switched roles: Thus, we have a situation where modern Yoga teachers are usually ignoring or minimizing the spiritual goal of Yoga, while the opponents are speaking out quite loudly that Yoga is spiritual! The roles have effectively been reversed.


What to do if you are seeking authentic Yoga

Recognize the authentic and the adaptations: There are many challenges faced by those who are seeking authentic Yoga as the path to Enlightenment or Self-realization that it is intended to be. As with many endeavors in life, progress begins with understanding. Understanding the current situation within the modern Yoga community will help tremendously in sharpening one's ability to recognize the difference between modern adaptations and authentic Yoga of the ancients.

The authentic seeker
of authentic Yoga
will find an authentic path.

Cultivate determination: Once seeing the difference between the adaptations and the authentic, it then requires the determination to be in a minority, to not just get caught up in the flow of the latest fad. That determination, followed by action will lead the authentic student of authentic Yoga to an authentic path.

Help will come: It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will come. It is also said that the ideal teacher will come for each student, depending on the aspirations the seeker holds in the heart.


Related Quotes & Links

Comments on Yoga in the West, David Frawley 
Yoga American Style, Prem Prakash
Yoga Renamed is Still Hindu Subhas R. Tiwari
Comments on Contemporary Yoga, Georg Feuerstein
What is Yoga?, Paramahansa Yogananda
Certified Yoga Teacher: Illumination or Illusion?, Pat Burke
Yoga Yesterday and Today, Interview with Georg Feuerstein
Yoga in the Modern World, Mikel Burley
Curative Yoga Introduction,
Why do we do Yoga?, Sharon Steffensen
Had Your McYoga Today?, Hillary MacGregor, Los Angeles Times
Open Source Yoga Unity, A non-profit collective 

Is Yoga a Religion?
by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 

Question: Is Yoga a religion? 
: No, but the question is important to consider. 

Contents of this web page:  
The simple explanation 
What's missing with Yoga? 
Religion can be extremely useful 
Yoga means union 
What does the dictionary say? 
Yoga and ducks 
Yoga and silence 
Religion and mysticism 
How to deal with Yoga and religion 

Quotes and links: 
Related quotes and links (or scroll down)

See also these articles: 
Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion 
Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga 
Philosophy, Not Religion 
The Meaning and Purpose of Yoga 
Sanatana Dharma 
Hinduism and Radical Universalism  
Vedantiic Meditation 
Indic Understanging of "Religion"

Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga.
While Yoga may be in Religions, the many 
Yoga practices with body, breath and mind, along 
with their transcendent goal of direct experience, 
are generally neither characteristic of Religions, 
nor typically practiced by the adherents of Religions.

Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga.

These are NOT ten different religions.
They ARE ten different people
each of whom arise from the same source,
regardless of what, if any, religion they choose.


Xenophanes: Ethiopians imagine their gods as black and snub-nosed; Thracians blue-eyed and red-haired. But if horses or lions had hands, or could draw and fashion works as men do, horses would draw the gods shaped like horses and lions like lions, making the gods resemble themselves.

The simple explanation

Question:Is Yoga a religion? 


Yoga is contained within religions.
Religion is not contained within Yoga. 

Yoga means union. It is the joining together
the aspects of ourselves which were
never divided in the first place.
To say that the word Yoga itself is a religion
makes as much sense as saying
that the words Union or Holistic
are themselves religions.

It is important to note that there is not universal agreement on these points, nor the definition of Yoga, with many feeling that Yoga is not a religion, and many people feeling that Yoga is a religion. See the comments below related to commingling Yoga and religion. See also the quotes and articles linked below, where others are describing the relationship between Yoga and religion. See also the section about making your own choice regarding Yoga and religion.

See also Philosophy, Not Religion 

See also Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga

If one day I say I am a Buddhist, the next a Christian, the next a Hindu, the next a Jew, the next a Muslim, and the next something else, has the "I" actually changed, or only the opinions of the mind? Who am I? That cannot be answered with a mere opinion of mind. It can only be experienced in the stillness and silence of direct experience, wherein these divisions evaporate.

What's missing with Yoga?

Here are a few of the things that are usually part of religions, but which are missing with Yoga:

Yoga has no deity to worship.
Yoga has no worship services to attend.
Yoga has no rituals to perform.
Yoga has no sacred icons.
Yoga has no creed or formal statement of religious belief.
Yoga has no requirement for a confession of faith.
Yoga has no ordained clergy or priests to lead religious services.
Yoga has no institutional structure, leader or group of overseers.
Yoga has no membership procedure.
Yoga has no congregation of members or followers.
Yoga has no system of temples or churches.

O man, realize that the kingdom of God is within you, the Lord of life is the highest of all. Anyone who has realized this, would like to go to his innermost self. And there is a way for that. I am not talking about Hinduism, I am not talking about Buddhism, I am not talking about Christianity, I am not talking about Islam. I am talking about something universal. The moment you realize that the absolute truth which is not subject to change, death, and decay is within you, then you attain a freedom, freedom from fears, all fears. That is called the state of enlightenment and that can be considered to be a state of perfection. Therefore, learn to go to the deeper aspect of your being. Everyone should learn to meditate so that he’s free from many, many diseases. That meditation should be simple, a purely scientific technique, without putting any brand, like Hindu meditation, Buddhist meditation, Zazen, Zen meditation, Christian meditation or Jewish meditation. These teachers have destroyed the whole philosophy of meditation. Meditation is a simple method.

Swami Rama
From Conscious Living


Religion can be extremely useful

To point out that Yoga is not religion, or that Yoga is in religion, but religion not in Yoga, are not facts opposed to religion. That one should or should not practice religion is not what is being described here. Religion can be extremely useful, and some would say absolutely essential. That one can practice Yoga either with or without religion is described further below.

See also the article:
Philosophy, Not Religion

Respecting religious choice: Practitioners of Yoga may be very clear about Yoga not conflicting with any religion. However, there are many thousands of denominations and sects within many diverse religions. Some of these groups have religious beliefs that might seem very different to ones own.

For example, some say that certain foods should be eaten, while others say that the same food item should not be eaten. Some suggest polygamy, while others require monogamy. Some agree with medical treatment, while others say that healing is only up to God, and that modern medical treatment should not be used. Some believe in social freedoms, while others believe more in religious discipline.

So too, some consider basic practices like calming the autonomic nervous system through diaphragmatic breathing to be of a different religion, while others see this as a universal human process from which anyone can benefit. Some others consider making the body flexible to be a part of religion, while others see it is physical fitness, while still others see it as a part of systematic, non-sectarian meditation. Some of the customs of various religions may seem odd to the others, but these are the realities of the diversity of humanity.

Pointing out this diversity in this article is not intended to resolve these issues, nor to proffer a solution. However, it seems useful to accept that, to some degree, there are people who consider Yoga to be religion, even though we may know it is not. Maybe it is good to respect that choice of others.

If you are not a religious scholar (already knowing these terms), here are links to some religious and philosophical terms that you might find insightful to explore (new browser windows will open so that you don't lose this page):
agnosticismancestor worshipanimismanti-clericalism,antitheismapostasyatheismcanonclericalismcultdeism,deitydenominationdharmadialectical materialismdualism,ecumenismempiricismfideismfree thoughtheathenism,henotheismheresyidealismignosticismimmanent,kathenotheismlist of religionsmaterialismmetaphysicsmonism,monolatrismmonotheismmysticismneo-platonismnon-dualism,non-sectariannon-theismnuminouspaganismpandeism,panentheismpanendeismpantheismpelagianism,phenomenologyphysicalismpluralismpolydeismpolytheism,positivismpragmatismrealismreligious pluralismscholasticism,sectsectariansyncretismthe alltheismtheodicytheology,theophanytranscendenttranseunttranstheismultimate reality


Yoga means union

The word Yoga means union, and comes from "yuj" which means "to join," to bring together into union the various aspects of yourself that were never divided in the first place. From that comes the direct experience of yourself that is beyond the false identities stemming from the seemingly countless colorings of attraction and aversion. Another modern adaptation of this principle is the word holistic, meaning to become whole, or to realize your underlying wholeness.

Patanjali describes this in the Yoga Sutras where he defines Yoga as the mastery (nirodha) of the mind (Sutra 1.2), allowing the true Self to then come shining through (Sutra 1.3). Patanjali also explains that the purpose of Yoga is discrimination (viveka) among the inner processes (Sutras 2.26-2.29). The process of mastering and integrating the mind may be a part of religions, but that does not mean that regulating your mind in this way is, itself, a religion.

Virtues in Yoga and Religion

Yoga also recommends meditation on, and cultivation of lovingness, compassion, goodwill and acceptance, as well as non-violence, truthfulness, training the senses, non-possessiveness, and other such virtues (Yoga Sutras 1.332.30-2.32). Religions also recommend cultivating such virtues. However, it is self evident that cultivating these ways of being or living are not themselves religion. When these are practiced in Yoga, the subtler, finer, truer aspects of our being are revealed, and this may or may not be seen in the context of religion. That choice rests with each individual person.


What does the dictionary say?

Four definitions of religion: Below are four definitions of religion, taken from theEncarta World English Dictionary, an online dictionary. Based on those definitions, is Yoga a religion? 

Definitions of religion: Is Yoga a religion? 
1. Beliefs and worship:
"People's beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life"
No: Yoga does not prescribe the worship of any specific "deity or deities." The worddivine is defined (in dictionaries) as coming from, or connected with God or gods. Yoga does not give specific instructions for the "existence, nature, [or] worship". Yet, Yoga acknowledges that bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion is a valid aspect of Yoga. Yoga does not tell you where to direct that devotion, or the specific methods by which you should do it. That is left to personal religious preference. (See also the note below on the fallacy of composition, in that some will argue that Yoga is a religion because some may suggest or allude to a particular name of God or deity.)
2. Particular system:   
"A particular institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine"
No: Once again, divine is defined as relating to God or gods, and Yoga itself does not prescribe to what or whom one should direct their worship, nor does Yoga require it. Again, Yoga definitely acknowledges the value of bhakti Yoga, regardless of which form that takes for an individual person. It also may be true that one uses the word divine in other ways as well. Also, Yoga itself is not institutionalized as a religious system, although some of the principles are contained within many religions or other systems (such as the principles of kindness to other people, taking care of one's body, regulating breathing, or quieting the mind). 
3. Beliefs or values:    
"A set of strongly-held beliefs, values, and attitudes that somebody lives by"
Maybe, but not really: One could argue that Yoga is a religion by the definition of religion as being a set of strongly-held beliefs, values, and attitudes that one lives by. On the other hand, this could also apply to many other things as well, including governmental, educational, psychological, social, cultural, or familial ways of living. Common sense tells us that these are not really what is meant by the word religionin the context of questioning whether or not Yoga is a religion. 
4. Obsession:    
"An object, practice, cause, or activity that somebody is completely devoted to or obsessed by (The danger is that you start to make fitness a religion.)" 
[Italics are in the dictionary.] 
Maybe, but not really: One could become "completely devoted to or obsessed by" Yoga, and thus this use of the word religionmight apply. Once again, however, common sense tells us that this is not really the meaning of the word religion. Most people have a working, day-to-day, common language sense of the meaning of a religion, and it simply does not apply to Yoga. 


Yoga and ducks

An old saying: There is an old saying that, "If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck!"

Only when you 
commingle Yoga and Religion 
does Yoga appear to be Religion.

They look similar because of commingling: This is where the problem arises with Yoga and religion. Sometimes, when one encounters Yoga in particular organizations or groups of people, it can look very much like a religion. This is because some of the teachers and practitioners of Yoga and Yoga meditation commingle Yoga with religious practices. This is particularly true in the arena ofbhakti Yoga, the Yoga of devotion. From the standpoint of bhakti Yoga, it is the devotion that is the point, not that a particular object is suggested for that devotion. Thus, one may practice bhakti, or devotion, from within his or her own religious preference.

Teachers presenting their own religion: When the teachers practice their own religion in the context of Yoga, and present that to their students, the students end up with a mixture of Yoga and religion. The student may know the theory (and truth) that Yoga is not a religion, while at the same time those same students are practicing the religion of their teacher in addition to practicing Yoga.

Yoga and religion get blended: Gradually, Yoga and the religious practices blend, and suddenly you have a religious duck named Yoga! This does not mean that Yoga or Yoga meditation is a religion. It does mean that a particular organization, lineage, or system may have taken on the coloring of religion, and within that sphere, there is religion being practiced.

Logical fallacy of composition: In the area of logic or deductive reasoning, one of the erroneous ways of arguing a point is the logical fallacy of composition. One version of the fallacy of composition is projecting a characteristic assumed by apart to be the characteristic assumed by the whole. For example, we might say that some people like a particular food, and then make the logical fallacy of saying that all people like that food, confusing the part and the whole. The way this happens with Yoga is that one might argue that since some teachers and aspirants, current or historical, have practiced Yoga in the context of religion, thewhole of Yoga itself is therefore a religion. By understanding the fallacy of composition, it is easier to see through such arguments.


Yoga and silence

Keeping the context of your own religion: Yoga systematically deals with alllevels of your being, leading you to a place of deep stillness and silence. From within this stillness and silence, you can more fully experience spirituality in the context of your own religion and personal beliefs.

World Senses > Body > Breath > Mind > Silence

It's about removing obstacles: When we are not experiencing such a deep stillness and silence, it is because our world, senses, body, breath and mind have become obstacles to inner peace and spiritual awareness. (See Yoga Sutra 1.4)

Then comes spiritual insight: It is in the spirit of observing, accepting, understanding, and training ourselves in Yoga Meditation that these obstacles are gently, systematically removed. It is somewhat like gradually thinning out a cloud bank that is veiling the spiritual serenity that is naturally there. In this way, our world and the aspects of our own being can become tools rather than obstacles. This spiritual focus is the entire purpose of Yoga. (See the article, Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga.)

Feeling closer to your own religion: Through this spiritual focus of Yoga, one may come closer to their own religious roots, although the practices themselves are not necessarily religious.


Religion and mysticism

Exoteric and esoteric: One of the main reasons for the appearance of Yoga being like religion, is really a confusion between religion and mysticism. Within most religions, there are shades of gray within two poles, that are called Exoteric andEsoteric. (See the article Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion)

Each religion has both: The Exoteric, or external religious practices are what most of us see as dominant in our cultures. Within all of the Exoteric religions, there are also Esoteric practitioners that are seeking direct experience. These seekers of direct experience are often outcasts from the Exoteric organizations of their own religion. This has happened throughout human history. The examples are easy to find in books and articles, and are not presented here.

Yoga is Esoteric: Yoga is itself a mystical seeking of the direct experience of inner realities or truths. However, Yoga itself is not telling an aspirant what religion to follow. It is involved with training in the process of working with senses, body, breath, and mind, such that the inner can be experienced directly (See the description of Yoga in Yoga Sutra 1.2 and the description of the seer inYoga Sutra 1.3). Yoga deals with the Esoteric, rather than the Exoteric. In this light, some of the practices of Yoga are contained within religions, while religion is not contained within Yoga.

Only an appearance of conflict: What appears to be conflict between a particular religion and Yoga is often not really valid, because of comparing an Exotericreligion with the Esoteric practices of Yoga. This same appearance of conflict also occurs within religions themselves, usually due to the fact that the Exotericfollowers have little understanding of the Esoteric seeker. The Exoteric follower has simply not traveled far enough to feel the deep-seated Esoteric longing of the mystic and yogi to know the deeper teachings and direct experience.

The Yogis and Mystic Seekers
must come to accept 
that they are consistently in a minority.

Seeing in front and behind: In the principle of spiritual life being like climbing the steps of a ladder, or staircase, it is easy to see the steps behind you, while it is difficult to see the steps still in front of you. Thus, in the view of the Exotericreligionist, the Esoteric seeker or Yogi is seen to have strayed from the path, to be an evil person or sinner, or to have a psychopathological problem.

Learn acceptance of being in a minority: Like it or not, the practitioners of Yoga and the mystic seekers in our modern world, like those throughout human history, must accept that there is rejection by others who do not understand the subtler path. This is not likely to change, for the simple reason that the seekers of inner experience and truth are consistently in a minority.


How to deal with Yoga and religion

Make a personal choice: The Yoga practices of self-awareness, self-training, and self-discovery are non-sectarian, and are compatible with all religions. If you are familiar with the differences between Yoga and religion, it is easy to keep them separate, or if you prefer, to integrate them. The choice rests with each person as an individual.

Choices about Yoga and religion

1. Keep them separate. 
If you wish to keep Yoga, religion, and spiritual matters completely separate, this is easy to do. It simply means practicing and studying your Yoga at places, and with people who share those same values and orientations of Yoga not being part of religion. Each person is free to follow their own religion in their own way. 

2. Retain and blend your religion. 
If you wish to practice Yoga, including its deeper, more authentic, so-called spiritual aspects, retaining and blending the religion of your youth, family, and culture, that too can be done quite easily (keeping in mind, however, that authentic Yoga will lead one towards the esoteric or mystic and of the spectrum of religion, as noted above). 

3. Choose a new religion. 
If you wish to integrate Yoga with a religion new to you, and you are with a teacher or organization whose values and orientations match yours, this too may be done. 

Have clarity about your religion, and choose: It seems most useful to have inner clarity about one's own religious preferences. Then it is easier to choose whether to practice Yoga separately from religion, in the context of religion, or with no religion at all. Then, the aspirant can attain all of the benefits of both their religion and of Yoga. The benefits of Yoga are for everyone.

Yoga is for everybody: All of these options are available to each of us in our practice of Yoga. There is a simple reason that these options are available. That is, Yoga truly is not a religion, and thus, Yoga can serve all people of all faiths or beliefs.

Related Quotes and Links

Article Links:  
Yoga and Religion - Swami Sivananda 
What is Yoga? - Swami Chidananda 
Religion and Spirituality - Swami Krishnanda  
Is Yoga a Religion? - Phil Catalfo
What is Yoga? - 
What is Yoga? - Yoga for well being 

Quotes: Below are a few quotes from people suggesting that Yoga is not a religion. Obviously, not everybody agrees with this, and contradictory quotes can also be found easily. Once again, it leaves each person to decide for himself or herself whether or not to practice Yoga in the context of religion.

Swami Sivananda Saraswati: "Yoga is not a religion, but an aid to the practice of the basic spiritual truths in all religions. Yoga is for all, and is universal." (link)

Georg Feuerstein: [To practice yoga] "You need not believe in anythingother than the possibility that you can transform yourself." "...some Yoga practitioners are more religious than others. But Yoga itself is simply a tool for exploring the depth of our human nature, of plumbing the mysteries of the body and the mind.  (link)

Swami Chidananda Saraswati: "Yoga tends to bring out the inner unity that exists at the central core of all religions, and its non-sectarian techniques bring people closer in spiritual ties of inner unity."  (link)

T.K.V. Desikachar: "Yoga was rejected by Hinduism... because yoga would not insist that God exists. It didn't say there was no God but just wouldn't insist there was.... Yoga is not a religion and should not [affiliate] with any religion." (link)

Swami Rama: Yoga is a systematic science; its teachings are an integral part of most religions, but yoga itself is not a religion. Most religions teach one what to do, but yoga teaches one how to be. Yoga practices, however, described in symbolic language, may be found in the sacred scriptures of most religions. (Lectures on Yoga, 1979, from Chapter entitled What is Yoga?)

Swami Satyananda Saraswati: In the last two or three decades, when yoga was introduced to the modern world, it was received with some scepticism. At first people thought that it was another religion. But in spite of this young people took up yoga and soon others began to notice its amazing effects. Then the psychologists, medical doctors, criminologists, and philosophers started making investigations and they were surprised to find that yoga is not a religion but a science. (link)

Shri Ram Sharanam AshramYoga is not a religion. it is not necessary for you to believe in a certain god or to chant certain hymns. it is spiritual and ancient science, which leads to health in the body, peace in the mind, happiness in the heart and liberation of the soul. (link)

Pandit Usharbudh AryaYoga is not a religion or a church. It requires no belief in a doctrine, no credo. All yoga philosophy is concerned with the experience of meditation and nothing else. It does not require anyone to adhere to a belief system. (from the book, God)

Swami Krishnanda: The foundation behind the practice of Yoga, or meditation proper, is the resolution of conflicts and fulfilment of all longings to the utmost extent until one reaches infinity itself. What a grand thing is Yoga! Now we realise! We will be surprised that our very life is there only for that goal. Now we will be able to appreciate thatYoga is not a religion. It is not Hinduism. It is not Buddhism. It is not Christian mysticism. It is not anything of that sort. (link)

Osho: First, yoga is not a religion—remember that. Yoga is not Hindu, it is not Mohammedan. Yoga is a pure science just like mathematics, physics or chemistry. Physics is not Christian, physics is not Buddhist. If Christians have discovered the laws of physics, then too physics is not Christian. It is just accidental that Christians have come to discover the laws of physics. But physics remains just a science. Yoga is a science—it is just an accident that Hindus discovered it. It is not Hindu. It is a pure mathematics of the inner being. So a Mohammedan can be a yogi, a Christian can be a yogi, a Jaina, a Buddhist can be a yogi. (link)

Swami NadaBrahmanandaYoga is not a religion and can usually be practiced by people of any religious persuasion. (link)

Swami Viditatmananda SaraswatiYoga need not be identified with a religion. It is based on the fundamental principles of life. It can be practiced by any individual anywhere, at anytime. It does not threaten anything. Yoga teaches us the fundamental principles and prescribes a way of life in keeping with those principles. When we live a life in keeping with fundamental principles, there is harmony. When we live a life in violation of the fundamental principles, there is a disharmony. Harmony is happiness, and disharmony is unhappiness. Yoga is not a religion . Yes, it is integrated in Hinduism, because it evolved in India. But it can be integrated by any individual without violating or sacrificing the tradition within which the individual has grown up. That is why it has been adopted worldwide. People have found that they can retain their faith and their beliefs, yet continue to take advantage of what yoga teaches. (link)

Swami Maheshwarananda: Although we speak a lot of God and say that yoga is the way to God, yoga is not a religion nor a religious sect. God is a universal principle, cosmic light, eternally awake consciousness which pervades all existence. (link)


Mysticism, Yoga, and Religion
by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 

Within religion, Mysticism and Yoga 
are aspects of the 
Esoteric end of the spectrum.

Index of this web page: 
You can practice both
Exoteric and Esoteric
Mysticism and Yoga are Esoteric


You can practice both: It can appear that Mysticism or Yoga (union, from the root yuj, to join) are alternatives to religion, as if one must choose one or the other. This can lead to the unfortunate view that if seekers practice Mysticism and Yoga along with their religion, they are merely doing some sort of cut-and-paste process where two different paths are being combined.

It can appear that one must choose one of these:
 OR one of these:
...but that you cannot have both.
This is not true. Although you can definitely 
practice Mysticism and Yoga outside of religion, 
you can also practice them within your religion, 
as they are already there, 
in the Esoteric form of the religion.

The principles of Mysticism and Yoga are already contained within the various religions. It is only because of incorrectly seeing them as necessarily having to exist separately from one another, that there appears to be solely a joining together. In other words, it can appear that one is doing a mere cut-and-paste job of affixing Yoga onto one's religion, while the roots of the principles are already there, in the religion, in the Esoteric form of the religion.

Many of the people who practice Mysticism and Yoga do so from outside organized religion. However, they can also be practiced from inside religion as well, as they are already there, contained within the religions. For example, there are the Gnostics and the Sufis, known for their inner, mystical focus, while being related to their respective religions.

Surely many people draw specific methods and techniques from the independent Mystics and Yogis, but the essence or spirit of the practices, as well as the goals of these practices are already part of the religions in one or another of theirEsoteric forms.

Three polarities:
Esoteric -- Exoteric
Immanent -- Transcendent
Material -- Efficient

See also Philosophy, Not Religion 

See also Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga

Two Polarities of Esoteric and ExotericWithin each of the religions there are polarities of Exoteric and Esoteric, along with shades of gray between those two. The Exoteric is based on belief, while the Esoteric is based on attaining direct experience.

  • Exoteric religion is the external form of religious practice, and is what most of us are accustomed to seeing in the majority of churches, temples, or other religious organizations or movements. Exoteric religion may sometimes be called either Traditional or Orthodox.

  • Esoteric religion, on the other hand, has more to do with the inner experience, the subtler practices, and the pursuits of direct experience of the spiritual principles. It is the path of saints and sages, who have often been considered as deviants or outcasts by their own Traditional, Orthodox, or Exoteric religions.

Two Polarities of Exoteric and Esoteric

Esoteric is shunned: The Esoteric practitioners are often shunned by theExoteric religionists because the subtler pursuits and practices are simply not understood. As one progresses along the Esoteric path, it is ever more clearly seen how the Esoteric and Exoteric are different degrees of expression and experience within the teachings of the same tradition or religion.

Exoteric misunderstand the Esoteric: However, unaware of these subtleties, the Exoteric people are forced to see the Esoteric people as either having strayed away from the religion or suffering from some psychopathological malady. In time, they too may grow to see the breadth and depth of their own religion, but in the meantime, the journey of the Mystic and Yogi is neither understood nor accepted.

Two other polarities: Along with the polarities of Esoteric-Exoteric it is extremely useful for the practitioners of Mysticism and Yoga to be aware of two other polarities:

Immanent or Transcendent God: There are two views of the nature of God, although different religionists or scholars might have vastly different opinions within each of those two. God as Transcendent means God as a separate being that is overseer of the activities of the world. God as Immanent refers to God as being all-pervasive, permeating the whole of manifest reality.

The Mystic or Yogi seeking inner experience often, though not always, has a greater leaning towards God as Immanent, while the Exoteric religionist often tends exclusively towards God as Transcendent. With some reflection, it is easy to see how the Mystic or Yogi may easily be able to hold both perspectives in his or her spiritual pursuits.

Often, however, the Exoteric practitioner is only able to see the notion of God as Transcendent, as a separate being, and therefore completely rejects the notion of God as Immanent. This is one of the reasons that the Mystic or Yogi may feel quite out of place in a religious culture dominated by those of the Transcendent God view.

See also: 
Stages of Enlightenment

Material or Efficient Cause: There are two aspects to the cause of any created object. One is the Material Cause, which refers to the stuff out of which the objects are made. The other is the Efficient Cause, which refers to the question of who caused the creation of the objects. For example, flour is the Material Cause of bread, while the baker is the Efficient Cause. Similarly, clay is the Material Cause of a pot, while the potter is the Efficient Cause.

The emphasis of the Exoteric religionist is usually almost exclusively on the Efficient Cause, whereby the separate being, the Transcendent God, is considered to be the creator of the universe and humans, much like the baker and the potter are the creators of bread and pots. The goals of spiritual life are seen to come as a result of the Efficient Cause.

While the individual Mystic or Yogi may or may not emphasize the Efficient Cause called God, following one's own predisposition or religion, there is almost always a focus on the Material Cause, which is an inner journey, through the levels of one's own being, so as to find the core or center, which is underneath all the layers of manifestation. Depending on the perspective of the individual practitioner, this realization may be variously called Self-realization, enlightenment, knowing God, or other terms.

Polarities are well known amongst academicians: It is important to note that these polarities of Esoteric-Exoteric, Immanent-Transcendent, and Material-Efficient are well known to the academic field of religious studies, as they are aspects of each of the more known religions.

However, they are seldom mentioned, much less emphasized by the religionists claiming to lead the public or lay people. Most of the religious leaders promote the Exoteric, Transcendent, and Efficient polarities through their churches or temples, utilizing a vast array of icons and physical paraphernalia, along with external rituals or ceremonies.

The teachers of the Esoteric, Immanent, and Material polarities are naturally less drawn to building churches or temples for external worship rituals, with any physical forms serving as pointers on the journey to the direct experience of the subtler, finer realities. Thus, they are far less visible in our societies and cultures. Although more hidden, the diligent seeker can find these more subtly focused teachings within virtually all of the religions. If you think of yourself as having a Mystic or Yogic orientation, the awareness of these polarities can go a long way to your understanding why you might find yourself to be in a minority, and possibly criticized by others.


Mysticism and Yoga are on the Esoteric pole: Mysticism and Yoga deal with the Esoteric practices and experiences, whether or not one follows a particular religion. In fact, the entire purpose of Yoga is nothing but the Esoteric pole, seeking direct experience of the deepest, subtlest, or highest realities of one's own being. (There really isn't an Exoteric version of Yoga, given the inherent higher purpose of authentic Yoga. That some might think that there is an Exotericpole of Yoga is one example of the recent distortion that Yoga is merely a physical fitness program. See the article Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga.)

Mysticism and Yoga are Esoteric

Conflict is within the religion, not with Yoga: Thus, what appears to be a difference between two separate paths, such as between a particular religion and either Mysticism or Yoga, is actually a conflict within that religion. It is often a conflict wherein the Traditional, Orthodox, or Exoteric followers are criticizing the Mystics, Yogis, and Esoteric practitioners within their own religion, and claiming that the conflict is with some outside source, Yoga.

The Conflict is often within religions, not with Yoga

Criticism is of the Esoteric: In this way, many of the complaints of the modern religionists about the Mystical and Yoga movements are not really about some separate, new movements that are emerging in our cultures. Rather, they are criticism about the Esoteric aspect of their own religion. It is the resistance to their own subtler practices that is the source of the apparent conflict. Yoga simply bears the brunt of some of this confusion.

Labeling the Mystics and Yogis as Neo: It is common for some who have lost touch with the deeper aspects of their traditions to label the Yogis or Mystics in such a way that they appear as deviants. It is common for these people to put words like NeoNew or Modern in front of the religion or other yogic term to try to make the deeper practices sound like newly created distortions, rather than the ancient practices that they often are. The Exoteric people may also use the term New Age in a derogatory tone to describe the Esoteric practitioner. So too, some of the recently awakening Mystics and Yogis will adopt these types of terms, thinking that they are inventing something new. It is ironic that those who are most interested in the authentic Esoteric roots of various teachings are labeled as Neo or New by the Exoteric practitioners who are not interested in the higher, subtler practices of their own traditions.

Remember the Mystics and Yogis of the past: It is useful for the sincere seeker to also keep in mind world history, wherein the Mystics and Yogis have often chosen, or been forced, to move deep into the mountains, forests or deserts to do their practices, so as to avoid the onslaught from others who are focused exclusively on the Exoteric perspective. This is not to say that the modern Mystic and Yogi should retreat from the world, but it can be comforting to recall that others, who have come before, and who have also tread the inner path, have experienced the challenges presented by the Exoteric people.

Within religion, Mysticism and Yoga 
are aspects of the 
Esoteric end of the spectrum.

Exoteric sees only one; Esoteric sees both: It is important to note that the further one travels up the Esoteric ladder, the more the seeker sees how both the Exoteric and Esoteric processes of religion coexist as part of the whole. However, the Exoteric follower often does not share this view, and sees only the Exoteric, as the upper reaches (the Esoteric) have not yet been seen or experienced.

Being aware of the polarities in one's own religion: The modern seekers who are drawn to Mysticism and Yoga can benefit tremendously by being aware of, and occasionally reminding themselves of the Exoteric and Esoteric polarities within their own religion. Then they can have much greater freedom in deciding whether or not, and how, to practice Mysticism and Yoga in the context of their own religion.  

The Meaning and Purpose of Yoga
by Bhole Prabhu 

See also these articles:
Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga 
Distortion of Yoga in America 
Philosophy, Not Religion 

Like many arts and sciences that are profound, beautiful, and powerful, yoga has suffered from the spiritual poverty of the modern world--it has been trivialized, watered down, or reduced to cliches. The deep and eternal essence of yoga has been misrepresented and packaged for personal profit by clever people. At the hands of some, yoga has been reduced to the status of just another exercise program available on videotape. In other contexts, yoga has been presented as a cult religion, aimed at attracting "devotees." Such a haze of confusion has been created around the clear and pure concept of yoga that it is now necessary to redefine yoga and clarify its meaning and purpose.

Yoga defines itself as a science--that is, as a practical, methodical, and systematic discipline or set of techniques that have the lofty goal of helping human beings to become aware of their deepest nature. The goal of seeking to experience this deepest potential is not part of a religious process, but an experiential science of self-study. Religions seek to define what we should believe, while a practical science such as meditation is based on the concrete experience of those teachers and yogis who have previously used these techniques to experience the deepest Self. Yoga does not contradict or interfere with any religion, and may be practiced by everyone, whether they regard themselves as agnostics or members of a particular faith.

Throughout history, yogic techniques have been practiced in both the East and West, so it would be an error to consider yoga an "Eastern import." In fact, yoga, with its powerful techniques for creating a sense of inner peace, harmony, and clarity of mind, is absolutely relevant to the modern world--both East and West. Given the increasing pace and conflict present in modern life, with all its resulting stress, one could say that yoga has become an essential tool for survival, as well as for expanding the creativity and joy of our lives.


Although yoga does not "belong" to the East, it is easiest to trace its roots there, because cultural change has not obscured the origins of the science, and an ongoing tradition of yoga has continued to the present day. No one person "invented" yoga--yoga is a living tradition, a set of practices that dates back for centuries. These practices were codified by a scholar and teacher named Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras, written about the second century B.C.

The most important teaching of yoga has to do with our nature as human beings. It states that our "true nature" goes far beyond the limits of the human mind and personality--that instead, our human potential is infinite and transcends our individual minds and our sense of self. The very word "yoga" makes reference to this. The root, "yuj" (meaning "unity" or "yoke"), indicates that the purpose of yoga is to unite ourselves with our highest nature. This re-integration is accomplished through the practices of the various yoga disciplines. Until this re-integration takes place, we identify ourselves with our limitations--the limitations of the body, mind, and senses. Thus we feel incomplete and limited, and are subject to feelings of sorrow, insecurity, fear, and separation, because we have separated ourselves from the experience of the whole.

In the modern world we have become quite successful in our external achievements--we have created powerful technologies and a variety of products, we are obsessed with accumulating power, wealth, property and objects--and yet we have not been able to create either individual or social peace, wisdom, or happiness. We have only to look around and see the destructiveness of our weapons, the emptiness of our pleasures and entertainments, the misuse of our material and personal resources, the disparities between rich and poor, and above all, the loneliness and violence of our modern world. We see that amid all our success in the external world, we have accomplished little of lasting value. These problems will not be solved through new technological developments. Instead, the resolution to these human problems will come only when we discover within ourselves that for which all of mankind is searching--inner peace, tranquility, and wisdom. This attainment is the goal of yoga, for yoga is the practical science intended to help human beings become aware of their ultimate nature.


The process of yoga is an ascent into the purity of the absolute perfection that is the essential state of all human beings. This goal requires the removal of our enveloping personal impurities, the stilling of our lower feelings and thoughts, and the establishment of a state of inner balance and harmony. All the methods of yoga are based on the perfection of our personalities and may help to create a new world order.

In the beginning of our work, the greatest problem we experience is our inherent restlessness of mind. Mind, by its very nature, is outgoing and unsteady. The highest state of meditation, however, requires a calm, serene, one-pointed mind, free from negative emotions and the distractions created by cravings, obsessions, and desires. To reach the subtler levels of consciousness and awareness, we need willpower, clarity of mind, and the ability to consciously direct the mind towards our goal. This is possible only when we turn away from preoccupation with external acquisition and seek to stop all inharmonious or negative mental processes. To achieve this, we do not need to give up our homes and society and retire to a monastery. Instead, we can achieve a state of peace, harmony, and contentment in our daily meditation, and thus, go on carrying out our life's duties and activities with the love and devotion that emerges from our meditative experience.

For those who want to follow the path of yoga towards peace and evolution, there are a few prerequisites. We need good health, a calm mind, sincerity, and a burning desire to rise above our human imperfections. Our health is maintained by a simple and well- regulated diet, adequate sleep, some physical exercise, and relaxation. Imbalance or excesses in food, exercise, sleep, or our personal relationships produce physical and emotional disruptions that disturb the practice of yoga and meditation.

If the aspects of our daily lives are well balanced, then certainly we can make progress in yoga in the modern world. Regardless of where we live or what we do, we can create a life conducive to yoga.


As we indicated earlier, there is much confusion about exactly what yoga is, especially since there seem to be so many approaches, all described by the name "yoga." A mountain climber may take a variety of routes to reach the top of a mountain. From the plain at the base of the mountain, all these paths seem distinct and different, but from the mountain summit, the view is always the same! The same is true of the seeming diversity of the yogic paths. These different paths are not mutually exclusive or conflicting, but are intended to accommodate the various inclinations, personalities, and temperaments of individual students, and yet they all have the same goal. These various paths of yoga include: 

1) Hatha yoga, which deals mostly with body and breathing exercises that help the student to become aware of his or her internal states. Hatha yoga exercises help to make the body a healthy and strong resource for the student. 

2) Karma yoga, which means "the yoga of action." This path teaches us to do our own duties in life skillfully and selflessly, dedicating the results of our actions to humanity. Practicing this aspect of yoga helps us to live unselfishly and successfully in the world without being burdened or distressed. 

3) Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom. This path involves intense mental discipline. Knowledge dawns as we learn to discriminate between the real and the unreal, between the transient and the everlasting, between the finite and the infinite. This path is meant for only a fortunate few, who are aware of the higher and subtler realities of life. 

4) Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion. This path is the way of love and devotion. It is the path of self-surrender, of devoting and dedicating all human resources to attaining the ultimate reality. 

5) Kundalini yoga is a highly technical science. The guidance of a competent teacher is required to learn methods for awakening the serpent-like vital force that remains dormant and asleep in every human body. 

6) Mantra yoga, which involves meditation and the use of certain sounds called "mantras," which are traditionally transmitted to the student, and are used as objects of concentration. Mantras help the student in self-purification, concentration, and meditation. These mantras were discovered in deep meditation by highly advanced sages and teachers.

Finally, there is raja yoga, the "royal path" which is very scientific and thorough. By following this path methodically, we learn to refine our desires, emotions, and thoughts, as well as the subtle impressions and thoughts that lie dormant in the unconscious mind. Raja yoga helps us to experience the inner reality by using an eight-runged ladder. The ultimate goal is for the aspirant to attain the eighth rung, samadhi.


Raja yoga encompasses teachings from all the different paths. Because of its variety it can be practiced by people of many backgrounds and temperaments. It involves all three dimensions of human interaction-- physical, mental, and spiritual. Through this path, we achieve balance and harmony of all three levels and then attain full realization of the Self.

Raja yoga is a scientific discipline that does not impose unquestioning faith, but encourages healthy examination. Certain practices are prescribed and the benefits derived from them are described so that this path can be scientifically verified by anyone who experiments with the methods. Because of this, raja yoga is ideally suited to the modern world, in which scientific skepticism is so prominent.

Raja yoga is also called astanga yoga, or "the eight-fold path," because its eight steps create an orderly process of self- transformation beginning on the level of the physical body, and eventually involving the subtler levels of life. The eight steps are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.


The first four rungs or steps--yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama, comprise the path of hatha yoga, which is preparatory to the last four stages of raja yoga.

Yama and niyama are ten commitments of attitude and behavior. One set of disciplines (niyama) is meant to improve the human personality and the other (yama) is meant to guide our relationships and interactions with other beings in the world. Thus yoga is an education for both internal and external growth.

The five yamas, or restraints, are nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, sensual moderation, and non- possessiveness. Their practice leads to changes in behavior and emotions, in which all negative emotions are replaced by positive ones. The five niyamas, or observances, are cleanliness (both external and internal), contentment, practices which bring about perfection of body and senses (tapas), study of the scriptures, and surrender to the ultimate reality. The niyamas lead to the control of our behavior and eventually are extremely positive factors in developing the personality.

In the beginning we should not be discouraged by the challenge of these first two steps. For example, even before we have succeeded in developing the trait of nonviolence completely, we will see increasing peace in our lives and meditation as a result of attempting to practice this yama.

Usually, when hatha yoga is taught in the modern world, only asanas (physical postures) and certain breathing practices are taught. Yama and niyama often are ignored. Because of this, hatha yoga has become somewhat superficial, sometimes emphasizing only physical beauty or egoism about skill and strength in postures. Certainly asanas and breathing exercises create physical health and harmony, but only when our minds are free from violent emotions can we achieve a calm, creative, and tranquil mental state.

Actually, there are two types of asanas--meditative postures and postures that ensure physical well-being. A stable meditative posture helps us create a serene breath and calm mind. A good meditative posture should be comfortable and stable, ensuring that the head, neck, and trunk are erect and in a straight line. If the body is uncomfortable, it makes the mind agitated and distracted. The second kind of postures are practiced to perfect the body, making it limber and free from disease. These postures stimulate specific muscles and nerves and have very beneficial effects.

The fourth step of raja yoga is pranayama. Prana is the vital energy that sustains body and mind. The grossest manifestation of prana is the breath, so pranayama is also called the "science of breath." These exercises lead to calming and concentration.


The four steps of hatha yoga prepare the student for the four internal practices of raja yoga. These internal practices are pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

The fifth step of raja yoga is pratyahara or withdrawal and control of the senses. While we are awake, the mind becomes involved with the events, experiences, and objects of the external world through the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. The mind constantly gathers sensations from the external world through these senses and our mind reacts to them. To attain inner calmness, the student of yoga will want to develop the ability to voluntarily remove the distractions of the world outside. This is not a physical process but a voluntary, mental process of letting go of our involvement with external sensations.

Our sensory impressions distract the mind when we want it to become aware of serenity within. Thus, it is useful to learn dharana, or concentration, the sixth step in raja yoga. In concentration, the scattered power of the mind is coordinated and focused on an object of concentration through continued voluntary attention. This voluntary attention uses a conscious effort of the will, and it is developed through consistent practice. Through concentration, a scattered, weak mind is focused and made more powerful.

The seventh step in raja yoga is dhyana, or meditation. Meditation is the result of continued, unbroken concentration. Concentration makes the mind one-pointed, calm, and serene. Meditation then expands the one-pointed mind to the superconscious state. Meditation is the uninterrupted flow of the mind toward one object or concept. When the mind expands beyond conscious and subconscious levels and assumes this superconscious flow, then intuitive knowledge dawns. All the methods of yoga prepare us to eventually reach this stage of meditation and thus attain peace, perfection, and tranquility.

In our daily lives, meditation can be very helpful in eliminating many physical and psychological problems. A significant amount of the disease we experience is actually either directly or indirectly the result of conflicts, repression, or emotional distress arising in the conscious or unconscious mind. Meditation helps us to become aware of these conflicts and to resolve them, establishing tranquility and peace. In this way, meditation becomes a powerful resource for facing the challenges of daily life.

If we really consider how we learn in the modern world, we realize that despite all our emphasis on education, our education is one- sided and shallow. We may learn to memorize equations and facts, but we do not really learn to understand and develop our own inner life. Our minds remain scattered and our emotions persist as negative, conflicting forces. We are able to use only a small portion of our mental abilities, because we are preoccupied with confusion, fear, and inner conflict. Meditation helps us to overcome these limitations; it helps us to become aware of the subtler and more positive powers within. In gaining this awareness, we become creative and dynamic. Abilities such as intuition, which many consider unusual or rare, are actually within the potential of all human beings who meditate. Such gifts are available to those who make contact with the deeper aspects within themselves.

Prolonged and intense meditation leads to the last step of raja yoga-- the state of samadhi, the superconscious state. In this state we become one with the higher Self and transcend all imperfections and limitations. The state of samadhi is the fourth state of consciousness, which transcends the three normal states of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.

A person who attains samadhi becomes a gift to his or her society. If humanity is ever to achieve a more evolved civilization, it will be possible only because of our growth and evolution as human beings. A person who is established in samadhi lives his or her whole life as a spontaneous expression of the unhindered flow of supreme consciousness. This superconscious level is our human essence; it is universal and transcends all the divisions of culture, creed, gender or age. When we become aware of this state within, our whole life is transformed. When we transform ourselves and experience serenity, peace, and freedom, we also transform our societies and all of human civilization. This awareness of the infinite consciousness is the practical and real goal of yoga. 


Bhole Prabhu lived in the Himalayas, and was a yogi, poet, and philosopher renowned as an original thinker.

Theism, Atheism, Yoga and Fear

by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

This article is written expressly for the benefit of 
Yogis, Yoginis, or Mystics -- seekers of direct experience -- 
who find themselves at odds with either (or both) of the
two polarities of conservative religionists 
or purely materialistic atheists.

The meaning of fear: Fear is defined as a feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. Though there may be many sources and effects of fear, there is a particular fear related specifically to practitioners of Yoga meditation, as well as other meditative and contemplative practices or traditions. Many sincere seekers of direct experience of subtler realities seem to have a pervasive fear stemming from the negative influences of two polar opposites: the Theists and Religionists, and the Atheists and Secularists.

Yoga is separate from both Theism and Atheism: In America, some Theists or Religionists view Yoga (as well as Mysticism and Gnosis) as being in opposition to their individual form of Theism, and hence, see it as in alignment with Atheism. Some Secular Atheists view the Yoga practices of meditation and contemplation as being part of Theism or Religion. At the same time, however, practitioners of authentic, traditional Yoga usually view both Theism and Atheism as separate from the direct experience sought through these practices.

An often imperceptible fear: The often imperceptible fear of the Theists, Religionists, Atheists, and Secularists can be a major obstacle in sadhana or spiritual practices by virtue of the fact that the sadhaka (practitioner) is "going against" the subtle pressures of the human environment. It is a fear of the people themselves (due to their pressures), not of their actual views, such as the fear of the retribution of "God". The effect of this fear can be an unconscious reticence to pursue the deeper teachings, or to explore and surrender into the subtler processes such as with advanced meditation or contemplation. Or, the fear may be strong enough to completely stop you on your inner journey of enlightenment, even though it may remain undetected by the conscious mind.

Non-harming towards Theists and Atheists: Now, it is important to note that these observations are not intended to make a sweeping generalization about all Theists or all Atheists, most of whom are likely very genuine and well-intentioned people. While there may be some who are individually quite aggressive and destructive in their belief based actions, most are probably just living day-to-day lives, only indirectly and unintentionally causing harm. In reflecting on the influences of other people, it is also important to remember the principle in Yoga of ahimhsa, non-harming, and the value of cultivating love for all, as we all arose from the same one source.

Swami Rama succinctly addresses the problem 
of the two polarities when he writes:

"I have been facing a serious difficulty: 
either I meet material scientists 
or I meet religionists and philosophers, 
but not aspirants who are prepared 
to evaluate and verify 
the effects of these practices."

1. Material scientists
2. Religionists
3. Philosophers
4. Aspirants prepared to evaluate and verify the effects of these [Yoga] practices.

The only valid views: Some Theists or Religionists have a world-view that theirs is the only valid way of living, that they are right and everybody else is wrong. If you do not see reality their way, then you are a sinner and are going to burn in hell. The fear being talked about here is not just the fear, for example, of what "God" may do to you for your failing to follow the rules of the religion (though that fear may have also been programmed into you at a deep level). Rather, it is a subtle, often unnoticed, ever present fear of the religious institutions and their human representatives and followers themselves who want you to follow them. It is a fear that creeps not only into your worldly activities with other people, but also into the recesses of your unconscious mind, where it can become a block to your spiritual life.

Growing Atheism and Secularism: As if that is not enough, there is a growing presence of Atheists or Secularists who decry all spiritual practices as being irrational and a waste of time. Some of these people are completely convinced that all nature of consciousness emerges solely from matter. If you are not a pure, one hundred percent materialist, you are perceived to be an ignorant Religionist of the most extreme fundamentalist type. The fear is not based on the atheistic possibility of there not being an afterlife, that you will finally, irreversibly no longer exist in any form. Rather, it is a fear of the people themselves, resulting from their rejection of both you and your views, along with an argument that you should disbelieve any metaphysical experiences you may have had, and abandon your seeking of anything higher or deeper.

Theists and Atheists in your family: If either of these types of people, Theist or Atheist, are present in your family, social and career worlds, the unspoken (or spoken) pressure to conform, follow, or convert to their views can be a tremendous threat to your sense of well being, both in terms of emotional response and the realities of functioning in a world of such people. This fear can have a devastating effect on ones feelings of safety in family, community, and professional life, and, in turn, on spiritual life. It can cause hesitancy, timidness, reluctance, mistrust, self-doubt, and other such emotions and reactions, which are often projections of an underlying fear. These, in turn, are antagonists to the tranquility or peace of mind consistent with meditation and other spiritual practices.

50 US states are red or blue: In America, the fifty states are spoken of as either red states or blue states, based on political party dominance. The two colors also represent religious polarities of conservative or liberal.

Imagine for a moment that there were a third category, which we can call violet states, which would be those where the Yogis and Mystics are in the majority. How many violet states are there? None. The balance of blue states and red states may shift slightly from time to time, but there remain no violet states. If you are red oriented you can easily visit or live in a red environment. If you are blue oriented you can easily visit or live in a blue environment. However, if you are violet oriented there is no state in the U.S. where you can go where you are anything other than a minority. As is often the case with minorities, the stage is set for fear.

You may be extrinsically and subliminally 
pressured from two directions. 
One is the Theistic Religionists who say 
you are an evil or damned Atheist. 
The other is the Atheistic Secularists who say 
you are a misguided or confused Religionist.

Feeling in a miniscule minority: So, if you think of yourself as a Yogi, Mystic, or Gnostic seeker, you are extrinsically and subliminally pressured from two directions. One is the Theistic Religionists who say you are evil or damned Atheists, and the other is the Atheistic Secularists who say you are misguided or confused Religionists. You may intuit the all-pervading Reality rather than only some one, single overseer ("God") of the world, contrary to the Religious Theist. You may intuit that matter manifests from consciousness, rather than vice versa as seen by the Secular Atheist. In either case, you may find yourself feeling alone, confused and suffering deeply, or at best, feeling yourself to be in a miniscule minority.

Speaking in hushed tones: In response to this unnoticed fear, you may find yourself speaking in hushed tones when talking with others about subjects like meditation. If a conservative Religious Theist walks in the room, you may lower your voice or change the subject of conversation. You may look around to see who is watching or listening before starting a conversation about the inner contemplative journey. Similarly, you may find yourself suddenly become either very quiet or verbally evasive in the presence of a self-declared Secular Atheist. You may have learned over many years that it is safer to just remain silent, to keep your experiences and perspectives to yourself.

Pervasive fear leading to seeking "community": The fear we are talking about here is not a clinical paranoia, but a low level, pervasive fear that may otherwise be having little effect on your daily life, as might be the case with a medically diagnosable paranoia. However, you may find yourself longing for a "community" of "like minded" people, while often feeling alone and not having such a close network of friends and fellow seekers. You may read books, but never have anybody to talk with about them, or with whom you can share your insights or ask your questions. You may meditate or do other practices, but still feel a vague sense of incompleteness that you do not understand.

Labeled as a "cult": Theistic Religionists can be quick to label Yogis and other Mystic seekers and organizations as cult followers or cult organizations. They describe the methods of cults as including being emotionally and financially exploitive, psychologically manipulative, demanding of unquestioning dedication or devotion, requiring suspension of critical thinking, and other such means of control. Ironically, it is these very kinds of practices that the Yogi or Mystic may see in the Theists and their organizations. Not knowing quite how to deal with this in work or social settings, the Yogi or Mystic may end up with an internalized fear which may not be recognized as having an unconscious influence over one's own spiritual practices and life.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you may be carrying around this kind of inner baggage of fear and having it negatively impact your spiritual practices and life. It often manifests as feeling you "do not have time" to meditate or do other practices, as if some invisible force is blocking the path in front of you. It can manifest as feeling you are "not ready" to go ahead on the journey. It can feel like you are "not worthy" to have the joy of direct experience of your own true nature. It can leave you "deciding" to follow the inner journey later in life, maybe after you have a different circle of friends, after you have moved to a different city, after your children are grown, after your relationship with your spouse has changed, or after you retire from your job.

Commitment to exploring fear: No teacher, no method, no class can deal effectively with this, without seeing clearly the nature of this pervasive fear-filled obstacle, and without having a resolute commitment to see it, explore it, accept it, and not let it prevent you from doing your meditations, contemplations, or other spiritual practices. The suggestion of Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras that these obstacles be dealt with by one-pointed training of mind may lead to feeling even more hopeless because of feeling you "cannot do it," although this ability to stay focused is ultimately seen to be extremely important and useful.

Finding community: The Theists or Religionists have found or created a very broad range of communities of peers with whom they can relate and provide support for one another. So too, the Atheists and Secularists have increasingly found or built communities for supportive relationships. Surely, some practitioners of Yoga and Mysticism have found or have formed small, supportive communities. Of those, some have encountered and dealt with the fear being talked about here. However, there are many, possibly millions of sincere seekers with lesser experience and exposure who have neither discovered and dealt with the fear, nor found any supportive community where they can openly explore and transcend this very subtle, powerful obstacle. They are quietly suffering alone in an unseen fear of both the Theists and Religionists, and the Atheists and Secularists, who are by far in the majority amongst their neighbors, coworkers and family members.

Imperative to see the nature of this fear: If you are a sincere seeker of direct experience, it is imperative to see the nature of this fear so that you can develop the will power, the sankalpa shakti, the determination to move forward, right through the middle of these obstacles, regardless of the opinions and actions of your fellow humans, whether Theists or Atheists. This is done by cultivating an active, passionate conviction to seek that for which your heart longs. With this awareness and commitment, and an attitude of loving perseverance, the fear is ultimately seen as a phantom and gradually dissolves into just one more past habit that no longer binds, or blocks the finer realization being sought.


Yoga Sutras 1.1-1.4: 
What is Yoga?
(Next Main)

Click here to return to the main page of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.Being prepared to start: To sincerely begin the pursuit of Self-realization is a most significant step in life, when the highest goal of life is taken on as number one on your list of things to do. The first word of the Yoga Sutras is atha, which means now (1.1). This particular word for now implies a preparedness in arriving at this auspicious stage of desire and commitment towards Self-realization, the highest goal of Yoga.

Definition of Yoga: The first four sutras define Yoga, with that definition being expanded upon in the other sutras. In a systematic process of meditation, you gradually move your attention inward, through all the levels of your being, gaining mastery along the way (1.2). Eventually you come to rest in your true nature, which is beyond all of those levels (1.3). This action and the realization of this center of consciousness, is the meaning of Yoga.

(Yoga Sutra 1.1: Swami Rama)

Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah. 
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.
Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field. 
Then the seer rests in its true nature.

Knowing what's left after setting aside the obstacles: There is a fundamental simplicity to the process of Yoga that is outlined in the Yoga Sutras. While the process might appear very complicated when reading the Yoga Sutras and many commentaries, the central theme is one of removing, transcending or setting aside the obstacles, veils or false identities. The many suggestions in the Yoga Sutras are the details or refinements of how to go about doing this. By being ever mindful of this core simplicity it is much easier to systematically progress on the path of Yoga.

The true Self shines through: Once the obstacles and false identities have been temporarily set aside, the true Self, which has been there all along, naturally comes shining through (1.3). The rest of the time, we are so entangled with our false identities that we literally do not see that this misidentification has happened (1.4). It is the reason that sometimes it is said that we are asleep, and that we need to awaken. That awakening to the Self is the meaning of Yoga.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Consciousness looks outward and sees a reflection, like a mirror.Like a mirror: Consciousness looks outward, through the intellect, through the mind, and then through the senses and body. It sees a reflection, like a mirror. It sees reality, a world, a self-identity, which it falsely thinks to be "me" or "mine." Through the forgetting power of avidya or ignorance (2.5), pure consciousness says, "I am this or that!" This is not all bad, for it gives the opportunity for the joy of awakening, through a journey called Yoga, returning to the wholeness that was never really divided in the first place.

Yoga and Sankhya philosophies: The process of realization through Yoga rests on the discovery of pure consciousness (purusha) as separate from all the many false identities, which are considered to be evolutes of primal matter (prakriti). These principles of purusha and prakriti are part of the philosophical system known as Sankhya. Yoga and Sankhya are two of the six systems of Indian philosophy. See also these articles:

Yoga is samadhi: Both ancient and modern sages, including Vyasa, the most noteworthy commentator on the Yoga Sutra, flatly declare that Yoga is samadhi, the high state of perfected concentration or complete absorption of attention (3.3). Yoga means union, literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join or to integrate. It means to bring together the aspects of ourselves that were never divided in the first place. It means to attain direct experience of the core of that preexisting holistic being who we truly are at the deepest level, and that is attained through samadhi.

The goal of Yoga is Yoga, period. (more)

Yoga is not: Yoga is not merely physical fitness, stress management, medical treatment, or a means of manifesting money, although authentic Yoga is definitely beneficial to many aspects of life. The goal of Yoga is Yoga, period.

See also the article:
Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga 

Introduction article: It is useful to read the Introduction to the Yoga Sutraspage, which describes several approaches to exploring the Yoga Sutras pages of this website.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Self-Realization and the Microchip

Swami Rama on the Yoga Sutras
(The Video below is the 1st of 85 videos)
(Click here for all 85 videos; about 13 hours - external site)


1.1 Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.
(atha yoga anushasanam)

  • atha = now, at this auspicious moment; implying the transition to this practice and pursuit, after prior preparation; implying a blessing at this moment of transition
  • yoga = of yoga, union; literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which meansto join or to integrate; same as the absorption in samadhi
  • anu = within, or following tradition; implies being subsequent to something else, in this case, the prior preparation
  • shasanam = instruction, discipline, training, teaching, exposition, explanation; Shas implies the imparting of teaching that happens along with discipline

(Yoga Sutra 1.1: Swami Rama)

See also the article:
Now, Then, and Therefore Yoga Discipline is Being Explained
(Swami Rama on Yoga Sutra 1.1)

Yoga comes after preparation: This introductory sutra suggests that after our many actions in life, and whatever preparatory practices we might have performed, now, we are finally ready to pursue the depths of self-exploration, the journey directly to the center of consciousness, Atman, or Self, our eternal and True identity.

Discipline and learning: To practice Yoga requires cultivating discipline and following a systematic method of learning (anushasanam). This has more to do with the quality or conviction in one's practices than it has to do with thequantity. This is described in greater detail in sutras 1.21 and 1.22.

Five states of mind: In describing this sutra, the sage Vyasa names five states of mind, of which the one-pointed (ekagra) (1.32) state of mind is the desired state of mind for the practice of Yoga. These five states of mind range from the severely troubled mind to the completely mastered mind. (These five are also described in the five states section of the Witnessing article.)

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Five states of mind
  • Kshipta/disturbed
  • Mudha/dull
  • Vikshipta/distracted
  • Ekagra/one-pointed
  • Nirodhah/mastered

To position the five states of mind on the fingers 
is a good way of learning to remember them. 

Know where you are: It is very useful to be aware of these stages, both in the moment, and as a general day-to-day level at which one is functioning. It reveals the depth of practice that one might be able to currently practice. Some aspect of yoga meditation applies to every human being, though we need to be mindful of which is most fitting and effective for a person with this or that state of mind.

Two of the states are desirable: Of the five states of mind (described below in more detail), the later two (one-pointed and mastered) are most desirable for the deeper practice of yoga meditation. For most people, our minds are usually in one of the first three states (disturbed, dull, or distracted). To deal with the troubled mind and the lethargic mind is progress, leading one to a merely distracted mind, from where one can more easily work on training the mind in one-pointedness.

Stabilize the mind in one-pointedness: By knowing this, we can deal with our minds so as to gradually stabilize the mind in the fourth state, the state of one-pointedness (Note that this use of the phrase fourth state is different from that used in relation to the fourth state of turiya). This is the state of mind which prepares us for the fifth state, in which there is mastery of mind. (The first two states might also be dominant or intense enough that they manifest as what psychologists call mental illness.)

Knowing where your mind is now
tells you how to get where you're going.

1. Kshipta/disturbed: The ksihipta mind is disturbed, restless, troubled, wandering. This is the least desirable of the states of mind, in which the mind is troubled. It might be severely disturbed, moderately disturbed, or mildly disturbed. It might be worried, troubled, or chaotic. It is not merely the distracted mind (Vikshipta), but has the additional feature of a more intense, negative, emotional involvement.

2. Mudha/dull: The mudha mind is stupefied, dull, heavy, forgetful. With this state of mind, there is less of a running here and there of the thought process. It is a dull or sleepy state, somewhat like one experiences when depressed, though we are not here intending to mean only clinical depression. It is that heavy frame of mind we can get into, when we want to do nothing, to be lethargic, to be a couch potato.

The Mudha mind is barely beyond the Kshipta, disturbed mind, only in that the active disturbance has settled down, and the mind might be somewhat more easily trained from this place. Gradually the mind can be taught to be a little bit steady in a positive way, only occasionally distracted, which is the Vikshiptastate. Then the mind can move on in training to the Ekagra and Nirodhah states.

3. Vikshipta/distracted: The Vikshipta mind is distracted, occasionally steady or focused. This is the state of mind often reported by students of meditation when they are wide awake and alert, neither noticeably disturbed nor dull and lethargic. Yet, in this state of mind, one's attention is easily drawn here and there. This is the monkey mind or noisy mind that people often talk about as disturbing meditation. The mind can concentrate for short periods of time, and is then distracted into some attraction or aversion. Then, the mind is brought back, only to again be distracted.

The Vikshipta mind in daily life can concentrate on this or that project, though it might wander here and there, or be pulled off course by some other person or outside influence, or by a rising memory. This Vikshipta mind is the stance one wants to attain through the foundation yoga practices, so that one can then pursue the one-pointedness of Ekagra, and the mastery that comes with the state of Nirodhah.

4. Ekagra/one-pointed: The Ekagra mind is one-pointed, focused, concentrated (Yoga Sutra 1.32). When the mind has attained the ability to be one-pointed, the real practice of Yoga meditation begins. It means that one can focus on tasks at hand in daily life, practicing karma yoga, the yoga of action, by being mindful of the mental process and consciously serving others. When the mind is one-pointed, other internal and external activities are simply not a distraction.

The ability to focus attention is a 
primary skill for meditation and samadhi.

The person with a one-pointed mind just carries on with the matters at hand, undisturbed, unaffected, and uninvolved with those other stimuli. It is important to note that this is meant in a positive way, not the negative way of not attending to other people or other internal priorities. The one-pointed mind is fully present in the moment and able to attend to people, thoughts, and emotions at will.

The one-pointed mind is able to do the practices of concentration and meditation, leading one onward towards samadhi. This ability to focus attention is a primary skill that the student wants to develop for meditation and samadhi.

5. Nirodhah/mastered: The Nirodhah mind is highly mastered, controlled, regulated, restrained (Yoga Sutra 1.2). It is very difficult for one to capture the meaning of the Nirodhah state of mind by reading written descriptions. The real understanding of this state of mind comes only through practices of meditation and contemplation. When the word Nirodhah is translated as controlled, regulated, or restrained, it can easily be misunderstood to mean suppression of thoughts and emotions.

To suppress thoughts and emotions is not healthy and this is not what is meant here. Rather, it has to do with that natural process when the mind is one-pointed and becomes progressively more still as meditation deepens. It is not that the thought patterns are not there, or are suppressed, but that attention moves inward, or beyond the stream of inner impressions. In that deep stillness, there is a mastery over the process of mind. It is that mastery that is meant byNirodhah.

In the second sutra of the Yoga Sutras (the sutra below), Yoga is defined as "Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah," which is roughly translated as "Yoga is the control [nirodhah] of the thought patterns of the mind field." Thus, this Nirodhahstate of mind is the goal and definition of Yoga. It is the doorway by which we go beyond the mind.

Transitions: New Years and New Moments in Life and Meditation
The transition from one year to the next year happens in an infinitely short moment that is actually non-existent in time. So too, there are transitions in the moments of life and the moments of meditation. Mindfulness of transitions in daily life and during meditation time is extremely useful on the spiritual journey to enlightenment. The recording ends with a 15-minute guided contemplative meditation on Transitions, which begins at 54:42.
Podcast Date: Dec 30, 2006 Length 1:09:25

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Practical journey through the Yoga Sutras; click on the individual links in the picture.
(You can click on the links in the above graphic)


1.2 Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.
(yogash chitta vritti nirodhah)

  • yoga = of yoga, union; literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which meansto join; same as the absorption in samadhi
  • chitta = of the consciousness of the mind-field
  • vritti = operations, activities, fluctuations, modifications, changes, or various forms of the mind-field
  • nirodhah = control, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, understanding, stilling, quieting, setting aside of

Nirodhah suggests self-training: This single sentence is a most succinct definition of the science of Self-realization, or Yoga. The key to understanding is the word nirodhah, which defies translation or description. When translated poorly or misunderstood, it can sound like the suppression or repression of thoughts and emotions, which is definitely not what Yoga is about. Rather, it has to do with a process more like coordinating and setting aside what is not significant or not-self (2.5). It means finding the jewel of Truth that isunderneath or behind all of the other activities in the mind-field. This comes through a self-training program dealing with the relationships, senses, body, breath, and mind. Ultimately, the meaning of nirodhah, and thus, of Yoga itself begins to emerge experientially through doing the practices.

Nirodhah is the most desired of five states of mind: The sage Vyasa names five states of mind, of which the nirodhah state of mind is the desired state of mind for the realization of the true Self. These five states of mind are described just above in the discussion of Sutra 1.1. It is extremely useful to be mindful of the five states of mind, so as to better understand their relationship to this most desired state of mind.

Uncoloring your thoughts: To find the jewel of the Self requires getting past the coloring of thought patterns (1.5), such as attachment, aversion, and fear (2.3). This involves witnessing your own inner process.

Practice and non-attachment: Two principles remain at the core throughout this self-training program: 1) Practices leading to stability and tranquility and2) non-attachment. (1.12-1.16)


Attitudes, efforts, and commitments: Five attitudes, efforts, and commitments are cultivated: faith in your direction, energy to go there, mindfulness and memory to stay there, and the ongoing commitment to seek the higher states of concentration and wisdom. (1.20)

Stabilizing and clearing the mind: Preparatory practices including meditation on attitudes towards people and ways to focus attention, are done to train the mind so that the subtler meditations can then be practiced. (1.33-1.39)

Reducing the gross colorings of mind: The more gross colorings of mind, dealing mostly with attractions, aversions, and fears are reduced through a process of training the senses, inner study, and surrender. (2.1-2.9)

Discrimination through eight rungs: Cultivating inner discrimination through the eight rungs of yoga (2.26-2.29), so as to systematically uncover that jewel of the Self. (1.3)

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Mind becomes like a transparent crystal; see Yoga Sutras 1.41-1.43

The "Seer" Beyond the Mind
(Video on Yoga Sutras 1.2-1.3)
(More Videos by Swami Jnaneshvara)


1.3 Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.
(tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam)

  • tada = then, at that time; at the time of concentration and meditation
  • drashtuh = the seer's, of the soul, witness, Atman, Self; from the rootdrsh, which means to see (It is significant to note that Patanjali is not trying to define who is the seer, or the nature of that seer. This is left to be answered or resolved in direct experience.)
  • svarupe = in its own nature, own form  or essence; (sva = own; rupa = form)
  • avasthanam = stability, settling, remaining, being in a state, resting, standing, lying, abiding; the root stha means to stand

Then the Self stands alone: As a result of having done the process of nirodhah, described in the last sutra, the true Self stands alone, unencumbered by our many false identities (described in the next sutra). This standing alone process is why the phrase Self-realization uses the word realization, rather than a word likeattainment. The process is not one of attaining something we do not have, but rather is one of removing the clouds, so as to see the light that is already there.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The wave forgets that it is the ocean, but through Yoga it can remember.

The wave forgets the truth that it is ocean, thinking itself 
to be the grand shape, which it has temporarily taken.
For a while, it takes on the rupa (form) of wave.
Finally, it remembers its true rupa (form) of ocean.
The two coexist, though one is true, and the
other, though beautiful, is only relatively true.
So too, we humans forget our true nature,
but, through yoga, can remember.

Awareness remains unchanged: In deep meditation, you come to see that while the thought patterns shift here and there, ever changing their shape, the way that the waves on the ocean keep shifting, the awareness itself never changes. There is a constant, ever flowing, ever being awareness that simply is, that observes or witnesses. In meditation, this same truth is realized over and over, as layer after layer, level after level of mental process is revealed and seen to be like the deeper shifting of the ocean waves. The awareness itself remains unchanged, and will become clearer and clearer as the center of consciousness that stands alone, though part of all the levels it permeates.

The seer: The word drastuh means seer or witness. The word seer does not give you a theological or metaphysical description or definition of who you are. This is one of the beautiful qualities of Yoga and the Yoga Sutras. There is nothing in the word seer to believe or not believe. By saying that the seer rests in its true nature after transcending the many forms of thought patterns in the mind field (1.3), one can simply do the purifying practices and personally experience the results. In English translations, the word drashtuh is often given meanings such as Self, Soul, or Atman (such as in the translations above). This provides some clarity or speculation of the nature of this seer, but it is useful to remember thatPatanjali is not actually telling you what is the nature of your true self, but that the seer will be experienced in itself, in its true nature, whatever or however that is ultimately experienced and described by each person.

Experiencing the seer in its own nature: Similarly, the word svarupe means inits own nature. Here also, Patanjali is not giving a definition of your true nature. Once again, there is nothing to believe or not believe. Through practice and non-attachment (1.12-1.16) and transcending the many mistaken identities (1.42.5), you come to the direct experience of your own nature. Yet, most of us are curious and want to hear or read about the descriptions of this true nature, leading us to speak of, and to describe Self, Soul, or Atman, etc.. While we use, describe, and discuss these terms it is, again, most useful to keep in mind that Yoga actually refers to it simply as the seer, which is resting in its true nature, allowing direct experience to reveal what this is.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Consciousness withdraws from a series of instruments.

Purusha and Prakriti: The process of realization through Yoga rests on the discovery of pure consciousness (purusha) as separate from all the many false identities, which are considered to be evolutes of primal matter (prakriti). These principles of purusha and prakriti are part of the philosophical system known as Sankhya. Yoga and Sankhya are two of the six systems of Indian philosophy. See also these articles:

Discriminating between Purusha and Prakriti: The entire process of Yoga rests on discriminating between Purusha and the false identities of Prakriti. While this process of discrimination permeates the whole of the Yoga Sutras, the following three clusters of sutras will clarify the way discrimination relates to practices and realization: 

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sankyha philosophy; Purusha and the evolutes of Prakriti.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sankhya philosophy; retracing Prakriti back through its evolutes to find Purusha.


1.4 At other times, when one is not in Self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns.
(vritti sarupyam itaratra)

  • vritti = of the operations, activities, fluctuations, modifications, changes, or various forms (of the mind-field)
  • sarupyam = similarity, assimilation, appearance of, identification of form or nature, conformity with the shape of; the root sa means with, and rupameans form
  • itaratra = elsewhere, at other times, when not in that state of realization above

When we are not aware of our true nature: When activity of all levels of mind have been transcended (1.2), we experience pure consciousness (1.3). However, the rest of the time, mind flows towards the many sensory experiences we have, as well as towards the streams of memories and fantasies. The existence of the external world and the memories is not the problem. Rather, the pure consciousness mistakenly takes on the identity of those thought patterns. In this way, we incorrectly come to think that who we are is one and the same with these thoughts. The solution is to separate the seer and the seen  (2.17), the experiencer and the object experienced, and this is the theme and practice of Yoga.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Sutras 1.2-1.4; mind is like chocolate in that it can take many forms, yet remains chocolate.

Consciousness wraps around mental objects: When a metal sculptor wants to make a mold, he might first make a plaster statue, then form the clay mold around that statue. Later, that clay becomes the mold for pouring the liquid metal. The process of the clay taking the form of the original plaster model is the meaning of the seer or Self appearing to take on the form of the thought pattern stored in the mind-field. When pure consciousness wraps itself around the mental object it encounters, it only appears to take on the identity of that object. It is a sort of mistaken identity that results.

Gold and clay: Gold is melted, reformed, and fashioned into many different ornaments. Yet, it remains gold. Clay is pushed and pulled and twisted, and shaped into many different bowls or other objects. Yet, it remains clay. However much consciousness shapes itself into the many objects stored in the mind field, that consciousness remains pure, standing alone. That consciousness, itself lacking any form, is described as having the nature of existence, consciousness, and bliss.

It is always a mental object: The object around which consciousness wraps itself is always an inner, mental object, even though there may be an external object being perceived through the senses (indriyas). If you see and smell your favorite food (or most offensive object), it is the memory of that experience, themental object that is being triggered and brought to the surface. Even if you have never experienced this particular object before, it is presented through the eyes and nose (and other senses) to the mind field, as if on a movie screen, which the seer can then watch. The experience itself is between the inner witness and the presented object, and that presented object might come either through the senses or memory (or subtle realm, internal awareness). The significance of this is that we need to work with our inner awareness in relation to mental objects. In other words, we need to train our own mind and senses.

Five forms of mental objects: The five types of thought patterns that result from this false identity (of the Seer taking on false identities) are described in sutras 1.5-1.11. How to release consciousness from these few categories of mistaken identity is the process of enlightenment, and is the subject of the Yoga Sutras.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Changing "I want" to "It wants" helps to clear the clouded mind, so as to discriminate between "I" and the objects of the mind-field.


Four Paths of Yoga:
Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja

by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

The four paths of Yoga are Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga. These four paths of Yoga are aspects of a whole that is called Yoga. The four paths of Yoga work together, like fingers on a hand.

Yoga is the preexisting union: Yoga means the realization in direct experience of the preexisting union between the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness. There are different ways of expressing this, including that Atman is one with Brahman, Jivatman is one with Paramatman, or Shiva and Shakti are one and the same. Each of these ways of saying it come from a different viewing point, while they are not essentially different points of view. They all point in the same general direction of union or Yoga.

Not merely union of body and mind: It has become common to say that this union is merely the union of the physical body and the mind. This allows both teachers and practitioners to dodge the true meaning of Yoga so as to present it as being something other than a spiritual path such as only physical health or fitness. It also allows people to avoid any sense of conflict with limited religious views that have no place for such high direct experience.

The four paths of Yoga: There are four traditional schools of Yoga, and these are: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga. While a Yogi or Yogini may focus exclusively on one of these approaches to Yoga, that is quite uncommon. For the vast majority of practitioners of Yoga, a blending of the four traditional types of Yoga is most appropriate. One follows his or her own predisposition in balancing these different forms of Yoga.

Jnana Yoga: Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.

Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine.

Karma Yoga: Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.

Raja Yoga: Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.

Integration: It is popular these days for a teacher or institution to develop some approach to Yoga that "synthesizes" or "integrates" these four paths of Yoga (along with other component aspects of Yoga). However, that is misleading in that they were never really divided in the first place. It is not a matter of pasting together separate units. Rather, they are all a part of the whole which is called Yoga. Virtually all people have a predisposition towards one or the other, and will naturally want to emphasize those practices.

Other paths of Yoga: Yoga is traditionally taught orally, rather than organized in books, which naturally are linear in nature, and are clustered into chapters. In oral teachings, there is a natural movement from one to another of the aspects of Yoga, including between the four paths of Yoga. Books and organization are useful, but we need to remember that Yoga is, in fact, a whole which has different aspects. For example, in the text Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Hatha Yoga (often called "physical yoga") is described as also related to Kundalini Yoga. It also explains that the purpose of Hatha Yoga is Raja Yoga. Thus, we can easily see the relationship of Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga as being parts or aspects of Raja Yoga, which is one of the traditional four paths of Yoga.

We can't abandon the others: While it is definitely true that we each have predispositions towards one or another of the four paths of Yoga, we cannot really avoid or abandon the others.

Jnana Yoga: While Jnana Yoga deals with knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation, everybody has a mind and at some point will need to examine it, wherein quiet reflection naturally comes.

Bhakti Yoga: All people will experience emotions such as love, compassion, and devotion at points along the journey, regardless of which of the four paths of Yoga is predominant.

Karma Yoga: Nobody can live in a body and the world without doing actions. Even a renunciate living in a Himalayan cave has to do some form of actions, and thus, some degree of Karma Yoga is essential.

Raja Yoga: Everybody will become still and quite from sadhana or spiritual practices, will naturally encounter and deal with attractions and aversion, and will meditate, thus touching on Raja Yoga.

Yoga classes: One thing that can lead to some confusion about the four paths of Yoga is the modern "yoga class" which often focuses mostly (if not completely) on physical postures. By referring to postures classes as "yoga classes" one is left with the false impression that this, unto itself, is the meaning of "Yoga." It is important to understand that asanas (postures) are a small, though surely useful, part of Yoga. It would be far better that such classes be called "postures classes" though that seems now unlikely to happen. In any case, the seeker of the authentic goals of Yoga will need to discern amongst usages of the word "Yoga" so as to follow the four paths of Yoga.

Choosing a path: Although the four paths of Yoga work together, along with the companion aspects of Yoga, it is extremely useful to be mindful of which of the four paths of Yoga is most in alignment with your own predispositions. By identifying that path, it can be emphasized in life, and the others can be wisely, lovingly used to enhance the chosen path of Yoga.

Sankhya Yoga,
Prakriti and its Evolutes:
Returning to Self-realization

by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 

Rediscovery of pure consciousness: The process of Self-realization is one of attention reversing the process of manifestation, of retracing consciousness back through the levels of manifestation to its source. To have a general understanding of this process is extremely useful, if not essential in the practice of Yoga.

Evolutes of 
Unmanifest Matter

(See also the chart below on retracing)

You don't have to know much: As you read through the descriptions below, please keep in mind that it really does not take a tremendous amount of understanding of these subjects to begin doing the self-awareness and meditation practices.

If you understand the general principle of systematically shifting awareness inward through the evolutes, then the process of meditation can truly be directed towards Self-realization, and not merely relaxation designed for stress management (as useful as that might be). The subtler and subtler practices and insights will come with practice, built on the foundation of simple understanding. With practice, the principles of Purusha and the evolutes of Prakriti become ever more clear.

Real and Unreal: Sankhya philosophy views anything that is subject to change, death, decay or decomposition as being "unreal" rather than "real." This does not mean that the objects are not there in front of you. Rather, they are not ultimately "real" in that their form keeps morphing from this to that to the other. What is considered "real" is that final substratum which never changes, cannot die, and cannot possibly decay or decompose. It is the direct experience of that "absolute reality" which is being sought.

Something evolves out of something: Ornaments can be said to evolve out of metal. Pots can be said to evolve out of clay. Our world is filled with objects. Objects are made of compounds. Compounds are made of molecules. Molecules are made of atoms. Atoms are made of particles. Particles are made of a subtler substratum. While one evolves out of the other, all of these levels of reality coexist and interact with one another.

Humans are also multi-leveled: So too, is the construction of the human being. We are multi-leveled beings, with the next level emerging out of the previous, while those levels still coexist and interact with one another (see the charts). While the human is made of physical material, we are also constructed of subtler levels of reality, which are products of the unmanifest, primordial essence called Prakriti in Sanskrit.

Familiar human evolutes: We are all familiar with the process by which our quiet mind has a memory arise, which triggers emotions, causing chains of thoughts to emerge from that, and to then further emerge into actions and speech. Each of these is a process of one level of functioning emerging or evolving out of the previous, while each of those levels still exists on its own. (See also the article on Karma and the Source of Actions, Speech, and Thoughts)

In this way, the actions and speech (which emerged from mind) still coexist with the whole of the conscious mind, as well as with the whole domain of the unconscious mind, and also with the still, silent center of pure consciousness (whatever we might call this consciousness, or however we might individually perceive it). All of these coexist, while one leads to the next, with the grosser emerging from the subtler. So it is with all the levels of Prakriti.

Evolutes of Prakriti: Similarly, our whole being, in the spiritual sense, is multi-leveled, with the next stage emerging or evolving from the previous. This is the subject of Prakriti, which can be loosely described as unmanifest, primordial matter (which is subtler than the gross realm of quantum physics). This Prakriti ("matter") is infused with pure consciousness, which is called Purusha. Here, however, we are not just talking about the evolutes of chains of thought and emotions, but also the evolutes of the instruments by which we think and emote. This is taking us to the core of our being.

Experiencing consciousness alone: Yoga has been described as a process of realizing the direct experience of consciousness (Purusha) as independent of all levels of false identity (manifestations of Prakriti). These false identities are all seen as evolutes of the primordial stuff or matter (Prakriti) from which they emerge. Purusha (consciousness) is actually at all times independent of the interplay, but has become falsely identified with all of this.

Retracing our way back: The reason this is important is that the process of enlightenment (or awakening) is one of reversing the process, of tracing our way back through the stages of evolutes. The chart above shows the evolutes, and the chart below shows the journey of tracing our way back to consciousness alone, which is the meditation process of systematically withdrawing consciousness from the evolutes.

Sankhya-Yoga: What we now call "Yoga" or "Raja Yoga" has also been called "Sankhya-Yoga," since the practical Yoga methods rest on the philosophical foundation of Sankhya, which is represented in the chart above. This is a widely held view of the relationship between Sankhya and Yoga (See also the article entitled Six Schools of Indian Philosophy). Some may not agree with this perspective, but that is a matter for the scholars to debate. Sankhya is thus the foundation for the Yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

To debate or not debate: Some intellectuals will also debate furiously and endlessly about whether the ultimate nature of reality is dualistic or non-dualistic. Some will say that Purusha (as consciousness) and Prakriti (as matter) are eternally separate, and therefore, ultimate reality is dualistic. Others will argue that the two are ultimately seen to be one and the same, and ultimate reality is non-dualistic. However, the seeker of direct experience through the practices of Yoga need not enter these debates intensely. While there may be some value in reflecting on these principles, and maybe even forming a provisional opinion, what is far more important is to understand and actually do the practices. (See also the article,Dualism and Non-Dualism)

This is very practical: Here, in this article, the evolutes of Prakriti are being presented as practical information for the modern seeker who is not a scholar or philosopher, but is a seeker trying to gain a basic understanding that will facilitate personal meditation practices. By having a working knowledge of the evolutes of Prakriti, the journey of moving attention in the reverse direction (involution) makes much more sense.

Universal principles: It is most important to note that the principles here are also contained in many other systems, although they may not be explained or used in precisely the same way. For example, the concepts of mind and senses, gross and subtle elements, and ego and intelligence, are universal principles. These are also included, for example, in Vedanta and Tantra as well, and also many other traditions. This is not said to force all of the many traditions into one box, but to help allow us to seek and see the underlying reality that is trying to be explained and reached through the practical application of the practices.

Uncovering false identities: The practices have to do with systematically uncovering the many false identities we have taken on by Purusha (consciousness) commingling with Prakriti (matter) (See Yoga Sutra 1.2). By starting with the gross levels (Yoga Sutras 2.1-2.9) of these false identities, and gradually discerning deeper and deeper (Yoga Sutras 2.10-2.11), our true nature will ultimately be revealed through direct experience (Yoga Sutras 1.3 andparticularly Yoga Sutra 3.56).

Descriptions of the Evolutes of Prakriti: Following are some brief descriptions of the evolutes of Prakriti, which are in the two tables shown in this article. The most important principles are that of Purusha and Prakriti, which are consciousness and primordial matter. Everything else emerges from Prakriti, and then is infused with Purusha. So, for example, all the levels of manifestation of the human (gross and subtle) are Prakriti, but have life due to the infusion of Purusha. One of the easiest ways to grasp this process of evolving and infusing, as well as arising from and receding into Prakriti, is to scroll down and read about the way the senses operate. The other evolutes arise and recede in a similar way.

Purusha: Of the two companion principles, Purusha is consciousness that is untainted, ever-pure. It is self-existent, standing alone from other identities of individuality; conscious being-ness; the principle of spiritual energy.

Prakriti: The other of the two companion principles, Prakriti is the unconscious, unmanifest, subtlest of the material aspect of energy. It is the primordial state of matter, even prior to matter as we know it in the physical sense. Prakriti manifests as the three gunas and the other evolutes.

Mahat or Buddhi: This is the purest, finest spark of individuation of Prakriti (primordial matter). It is very first of the evolutes of Prakriti. It is individuation, but yet, without characteristics. Buddhi is the word, which applies to the individual person, while mahat refers to the universal aspect of this process. (See Four Functions of Mind)

Ahamkara: This is the process of ego, by which consciousness can start to (incorrectly) take on false identities. Here, the word ego is used not to mean the actual qualities such brother or sister, or loving or cruel, but the capacity itself to take on the countless identities. (See Two Egos section of Four Functions of Mind)

Gunas: Prakriti (primordial "matter") has three characteristics or attributes of lightness (sattvas), activity (rajas), and stability (tamas). These three combine and re-combine so as to form the various aspects of mind, senses, and the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space.

Mind: Mind (manas) is the instrument, which is the driving force behind actions, speech, and the thinking process. It is also the recipient of the sensory input. It is useful to know that, here, mind is being used in this more limited way, rather than the whole of the inner process called antahkarana, which includes manas, ahamkara, buddhi, chitta, along with the senses and the five elements.

Senses/Instruments: The five senses and five instruments of expression are like ten doors of a building. Five are entrance doors, and five are exit doors. These ten indriyas are evolutes of mind.

One way to understand this process of the senses being evolutes of mind is to notice what happens when you fall asleep, into dreamless sleep. What happens to your senses, your ability to perceive through those senses? They seem to go away, yet they return after sleep. Where did they go? It is in that sense that we might say the senses are still there, but that they have receded back into the field of mind from which they arose in the first place.

This same process of arising and receding happens not only with the senses, but all of the evolutes of Prakriti.

Also, if the senses arise from and recede into the field of mind, then it is also easy to see that during times when the senses areoperating, they are also infused with mind, the next subtler level of Prakriti. In other words, senses without mind operating through them simply do not work. The idea of senses operating without mind infusing them seems rather silly, in fact. It is that simplicity that is in the whole concept of Prakriti manifesting outward, and the process of meditation retracing that process inward.

Elements: A further outpouring of Prakriti is when it bursts forth as the equivalent of space, as experienced in the subtle (non-physical) realm. From, and within that emerges air (thinness, lightness, airiness), then fire (energy), then water (flow, fluidity), then earth (solidity, form). When these five elements are in the subtle realm, they are known as tanmatras. When they further come outward, manifesting into the physical world, they are known as bhutas. From these, all of the many objects of the external world are composed.

Senses experiencing the Elements: Notice that the Senses and Instruments of action (Indriyas) emerge out of unmanifest matter, or Prakriti. Notice that the five Elements also emerge out of Prakriti. Thus, one set of evolutes (Senses and Instruments of action) are relating to another set of evolutes (the five Elements in the form of many objects). This is one way of explaining the mechanics of how it can be that all is one can appear to be multiplicity.


If this looks difficult: If this information is new to you, and looks difficult or confusing, please keep in mind that there are only a small number of principles on the charts above (about 25-30, depending on how you count them). While they might seem overwhelming, this really is a manageable number of principles to gradually learn.

By comparison, think of how you have learned to use the browser software with which you look at this web page. When I count the number of pull-down options on the menu of Internet Explorer, there are about 75 different commands that I have gradually come to use, and I'm no computer expert. To type a paper in Word, there are over 100 commands in the pull-down menus that I now know how to use.

This is not to say that self-awareness training is as easy as learning to use a computer. However, please don't feel too overwhelmed by the handful of principles of self-awareness. Gradually, understanding comes, and it comes through repetition and practice, just like learning to use your computer.

One of the beautiful parts of this process is that there really are only a handful of these principles through which consciousness gradually moves so as to then experience its true nature. Cultivating such a perspective makes the processsimple to see, though not necessarily easy to do. However, understanding the simplicity sure is a nice place to start!

Summarizing the process of retracing: It is not possible to thoroughly describe the retracing process of the evolutes of Prakriti in this paper, as that would mean, at a minimum, recapping the entire Yoga Sutra here in this small section. However, in the spirit of keeping it simple, it is very useful to summarize in straightforward terms, so as to have a basic grasp of the evolutes and their involution so that the practices can be done.

Shortcuts: It is important to note and remember that, while the retracing method of Sankhya-Yoga leads one systematically inward to direct experience, there is also the shortcut from bestowing of direct experience, grace, orshaktipat, whether you hold that as coming from God, Guru, or some other explanation of such gift. The sage Vyasa, the most noted commentator on the Yoga Sutras, mentions this in his comments on Sutra 3.6.

Means of Retracing Prakriti to Purusha: The journey of Self-realization, or discrimination of pure consciousness (Purusha) from unmanifest matter (Prakriti) is one of systematically using attention to encounter, examine, and transcend each of the various levels of manifestation, ever moving attention further inward towards the core of our being (See Yoga Sutras 2.26-2.29 and 3.53-3.56).

The descriptions below are intended to give you a feel for this inner process, not to be literal, step by step instructions. While the systematic process below is accurate, the specific practices are the subject of the Yoga Sutras. Hopefully, by better understanding the general process below, the meditation processes and practices of the Yoga Sutras will be clearer.

Meditation on objects composed of the five elements: Meditation often starts with awareness of gross objects of one kind or another. It might be be done with the eyes open, or with the eyes closed. It might be some religious or spiritual object, a picture, a geometric form, or a point of concentration, such as a candle flame or light visualized in the inner mind field. The object of attention might be scanning ones own physical body, or awareness of the mechanics of breath regulation.

In each of these and other cases, we are dealing with the gross world of objects, which are each related to the world of earth, water, fire, air, and space. One might use a single object of meditation, or a variety of objects. The objects might be constructed of the physical five elements (bhutas) or their subtle counterparts (tanmatras). They might be experienced as solid or heavy, like in the waking state, or as thin or vaporous, like in the dreaming state.

One might focus on many such constructed gross and subtle objects for many years. However, we might move to subtler meditation, where the object of meditation becomes the five elementsthemselves, and the sensing instruments themselves.

Meditation on the five elements themselves: Gradually, as the meditator progresses in attention training, there comes the ability to focus on and explore each of the five elements themselves, one at a time. This can sound a bit baffling at first, because the element itselfdoes not have form, in the conventional sense of a form having shape and dimensions, etc. Here, you are seeing more subtly how allobjects are constructed, which helps to temporarily set aside all such objects during meditation.

You are literally meditating on the element of earth, or water, or fire, or air, or space. Because you see all of the grosser objects as being only constructs (made of the five elements), non-attachment comes more easily and naturally (See Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16 on vairagya, Sutras 2.10-2.11 on subtle meditation, and Sutras 3.45-3.46 on the five elements).

Meditation on senses or means of cognition (jnanendriyas): As meditation progresses still further, we come to explore the sensesthemselves, as objects of meditation. We are now examining theinstruments with which we experience all of those objects (described above). The senses (jnanendriyas) are our doorways to the external world. Imagine for a moment the way a telescope works.

  • There is some object out there, such as a mountain in the distance.
  • There is a person in here ("me" or "I"), who is experiencing that distant mountain.
  • The telescope is a third part of this process, and is theinstrument by which the perception occurs.

In this metaphor, we might focus our attention not only on the mountains in the distance (the objects), but we might also focus attention on the telescope itself, the instrument with which we have previously been using to look at the mountains.

Similarly our five cognitive senses (smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, and hearing) are instruments by which the indweller (however you conceptualize or name that) experiences the external world. As meditation progresses, we turn our attention inward, in such a way that we are examining those instruments themselves.

Those senses appear to be physical instruments, such as a physical eyeball. However, we also, for example, see in our dreams, so we come to understand that the sense of sight (as well as the other senses) are internal or mental processes.

In our meditation practices, whether at seated meditation time or meditation in the world (mindfulness, if you prefer), we first may use our senses to explore and witness objects (whether physical or mental). However, at some point we withdraw our senses from those objects, and begin to explore the nature of the senses themselves, or the other internal evolutes of Prakriti, which do not seem to be objects in the conventional sense of physical objects.

Meditation on instruments of action (karmendriyas): The instruments of action (karmendriyas) are also doorways to the external world. These instruments (elimination, procreation, motion, grasping, and speaking) are the means by which the indwellerexpresses outward into the world.

So, these instruments of action (karmendriyas) are the exporters, so to speak, while the cognitive senses (jnanendriyas) are theimporters. Both are in service of the indweller. Together, they form a complete communication system between the inner and the outer.

At meditation time, we not only turn the cognitive senses inward, we also withdraw these instruments of action as well. This is why, at the grossest level of meditation practice, we both close our eyes and we sit still; one has to do with the exporter, and the other with the importer. This is a process of turning inward of the jnanendriyas and the karmendriyas.

As with the senses (noted above), the instruments of actions themselves also become objects, so to speak, of exploration in meditation. We learn to witness the tendencies of expression themselves. We become aware of the inclinations toward moving and speaking, for example, becoming literally aware of the cessation of these processes, as we come inward towards stillness. It is as if the senses and instruments of action are beginning to come inward in such a way that they are receding back into the mind and Prakriti from which they originally emerged. This process of withdrawal of the ten indriyas is described in the Yoga Sutras, as part of Pratyahara, which is rung 5 of the 8 rungs of Yoga (Yoga Sutras 2.54-2.55).

Meditation on mind itself: Notice in the charts above that the senses and means of cognition (Indriyas) as well as the five elements (Tanmatras and Bhutas) emerge from the field of mind (Manas) at the very subtle level of mind. Gradually, one has the ability to use mind itself as the object of meditation. This is extremely subtle, beyond our normal idea of what it means to witness the flow of thoughts in the mind. Here, again, we are literally aware of the instrument of mind itself.

In the eight rungs of Yoga (Yoga Sutra 2.29), rung five is Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses. This is often mistaken to mean that we sit still and close our eyes. While that is very important, it is not the real meaning of sense withdrawal, or Pratyahara. Here, when we truly turn attention inward from not only the typical objects of attention, but also inward from the senses themselves, we encounter the deeper ability to concentrate on mind itself. Mind itself is formless, in the conventional sense of an object having shape and dimensions, just as the senses and elements were also described as formless in the conventional sense.

Like meditation on the elements and the senses themselves (as objects), awareness of mind (Manas) itself has a bewildering quality to it, as we come back into our day-to-day awareness and try to understand or explain this. By being aware of this, it is easier to hold the subtlety of such experience.

Meditation on I-am-ness: Most of the time we mistakenly think that "who I am" is my mind and personality. However, as we gradually come to witness the subtle elements, the senses, and the mind itself, we come to see that there is a still subtler aspect, which simply declares "I am!" When it stands alone in this way, it is independent of the other manifestations.

To be aware of this "I-am-ness" (Ahamkara) is a further stage along the journey to realization of pure Consciousness (Purusha). This Ahamkara (literally "I-maker") becomes the coloring agent for attachments and aversions, which define our personalities and false identities. In meditation on this subtle level, those have subsided along with the senses.

Notice, once again, that the process is similar to dealing with gross objects of meditation, as well as the elements and senses. Something emerged from something, and now we are simply becoming aware of that substratum, letting go of the more surface manifestations. (Take a look at the third level of concentration in Yoga Sutra 1.17, which is on I-ness. Also see the article on the Four Functions of Mind).

Meditation with Buddhi standing alone: Still subtler is Buddhi, which is the individuated intelligence itself. It doesn't yet declare itself to be this or that identity, but is the very intelligence, which supports the ego (Ahamkara), the senses and instruments of actions (Indriyas), and the constructs of the inner objects and physical body (Tanmatras and Bhutas).

One of the final resting places of the individuated person is to know oneself as Buddhi, this most fine vehicle of consciousness (Purusha). It is still constructed of Prakriti, leaving that final discrimination or uncovering yet to be done. To know oneself at this level of Buddhi is sometimes called the level of bliss or ananda, as all of the other levels and false identities have temporarily come to rest or been transcended.

Purusha resting in itself: Finally Purusha, pure consciousness, rests in itself, alone, separate from all evolutes of Prakriti. The seeker on the path of Self-realization seeks even a minute or a moment of this highest glimpse of Realization, after which he or she continues to purify the remaining samskaras and karmas. (See Yoga Sutras 1.3and 3.56)

Keep it simple: As already said above, these descriptions are intended to give you a feel for this inner process, not to be literal, step by step instructions. The specific practices are the subject of the Yoga Sutras. The journey is systematic, and flows much more smoothly by having a general understanding of the process. This understanding, along with oral counsel, and the most important part of all, which is practice, gradually brings one to direct experience, which is the goal.

Yoga is a Science that Deals 
with Body, Breath, Mind, Soul, 
and Ultimately, the Universe Itself
(Sankhya and the Yoga Sutras)

by Swami Rama

From: Samadhi: The Highest State of Wisdom  

From Samadhi: The Highest State of Wisdom
Volume One of Yoga the Sacred Science
(Lectures on the Yoga Sutras)
By Swami Rama
ISBN 8188157015 (Buy)
Reprinted with permission of the Publisher
Copyright Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust (
Swami Rama Foundation (site)

See also the articles:
Yoga Sutras - Introduction 
Yoga Sutras - Summary of all 196 sutras

What does Yoga science mean to you? When people talk about Yoga they often think it has something to do with the physical being only. Yoga is a science that deals with body, breath, mind, soul, and ultimately, the universe itself. It is both practical and theoretical.

Patanjali* is not trying to teach any particular religion to you. Yoga is not a new religion, nor does it condemn any religion. Yoga does not teach that if you are Jewish, you should become Catholic, or if you are Catholic, you should become Hindu, or if you are Hindu, you should become Buddhist. All the great religions have come from one source. Religions tell people what to do and what not to do, and provide a set of rules or commandments that are not fully satisfying.

*See the article on Patanjali, who codified, systematized, or arranged the already existing traditional Yoga practices into the 196 succinct statements of the Yoga Sutras.

Yoga science does not tell you what to do and what not to do, but teaches you how to be. Yoga science is a science of life that helps you to know the known and unknown parts of life, that helps you to liberate yourself from pains and miseries, and that helps you to attain that state which is free from pains and miseries.

How can someone living in the world practice Yoga science? If you understand the fundamental principles of Yoga science and why Yoga science should be practiced, it will become easy for you to practice. First you have to decide to search. You have to feel the necessity of finding yourself. Yes, I want to know myself. Something is missing, something I could not receive from my church, from my religion. Millions of people, both in the East and in the West, are searching for Truth and Self-realization—or as the religionists put it, God. You may go to church or temple or synagogues, but the questioning mind is still there. Sometimes orthodox religions do not satisfy your needs, so you question life. When your mind questions, it means you are not fully satisfied. Life is a question in front of you. You want to know something more, but you are using this little mind, which is like a yardstick, to measure the vast universe and its mysteries. You do not understand your religion because you do not understand yourself.

The highest of all books is the book of life. Unless you open the book of life, you will not understand the teachings of the scriptures. The scriptures say what to do and what not to do, but you have to learn how to be. All the gates to higher knowledge will be opened to you once you understand yourself. Patanjali offers something to such seekers. Patanjali says the source of knowledge is within you. The world and external knowledge can only inform you and inspire you. To evolve does not mean going toward the external world. Evolution means going back to the source. If you put ten covers around a light, what will happen to the light? The light will be as it is, but it will appear dim to you. You will not be able to see it. If you remove the covers, you will see it clearly. You can compare yourself with the light. Before you go to the source of knowledge within, you have to go through many barriers.

Yoga science does not offer any new religion; it offers a methodology. Through Yoga science you can understand yourself better on all levels, including your physical well-being, your actions, thought process, emotions, and desires. You will also understand how you are related to the world, and how to lead a successful life in the world. Yoga science creates a bridge between the internal and external conditions of life. Yoga is a way of improving yourself, a way of understanding your internal states. Whosoever you are, you have all the potentials within you. Are you aware of this? If you are aware of this, do you know how to use them? Patanjali encourages us to be aware of the potentials that we have and to learn how to use them. This practical science says to explore more and more.

The word Yoga means “unification, to unite with.” You have to unite yourself with the whole. At present you are an individual and you are experiencing miseries. The cause of misery, according to Patanjali, is ignorance. Ignorance is self-created. You can be free from that misery because it has been created by you. It’s as if you constantly slap your face and then say, God help me. It’s as though you blindfold yourself and then say, O Lord of light, of life, and love, give me light. This prayer is in vain.

You have to light your own lamp. No one will give you salvation. I am talking of enlightenment. All individuals have the responsibility to enlighten themselves. Do not think you cannot do it. You have that spark. You are fully equipped. You simply need to discipline yourself. Discipline is not a prison. It simply means practice. 

Yoga Day USA and the
Distortion of Yoga in America
Press Release 
(Note that the situation is similar years later)

To understand the distortion of Yoga in America one need look no further than Yoga Day USA scheduled for January 28, 2006.

USA (PRWEB) January 24, 2006 -- For thousands of years Yoga referred to the realization through direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, Jivatman and Paramatman, and Shiva and Shakti, or the realization of Purusha standing alone as separate from Prakriti. If you are not familiar with these or other such terms, and yet think you are familiar with Yoga, it may be because you have heard little of the more authentic meanings, goals and practices of Yoga, while also having heard little of the true roots of Yoga.

To see the distortion of Yoga in America over recent decades, one need go no further than Yoga Day USA, which is scheduled for January 28, 2006. In their website ( and press release the promoters state that the “Top 10 Reasons to Try Yoga” or “to ‘Make the Connection’” with Yoga are stress relief, pain relief, better breathing, flexibility, increased strength, weight management, improved circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, better body alignment, and focus on the present for health reasons. The authentic reasons for Yoga seem to be not even worthy of mention in their Top 10 Reasons for Yoga.

Yoga Alliance, the sponsor of Yoga Day describes itself on the website as “the leader in setting educational standards for yoga schools and teachers.” However, while they claim this authority, they do not see fit to acknowledge or include in their Yoga Day promotions the fact that the roots of Yoga come from the ancient tradition of Sanatana Dharma, out of which has grown Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other traditions. Interestingly, while the Yoga Day promotions do not acknowledge the root of Yoga, many religious leaders in America who are opposed to Yoga for religious reasons are very quick to point out the authentic roots of Yoga, effectively reversing the roles of promoters and opponents.

To counterbalance the recent distortion of Yoga in America, there is a slowly increasing presence of scholars, teachers, religious leaders, teaching institutions and organizations that are speaking out about the true nature of Yoga and its goals. Individual seekers and media who are interested in knowing more about authentic Yoga can easily find these organizations and their spokespeople.