Sri Aurobindo’s immortal statement ‘All life is yoga.’ is probably what could be the final pronouncement on the subject. However, for whatever it is worth I will try and express my views on the subject. Yoga is not a teaching, a technique, a philosophy or an ideology. It is the outcome of the ultimate alignment of the human consciousness and the infinite consciousness.
In our modern world there are a lot of different views on what classifies as yoga. Some people say standing on one’s head is yoga, someone else views yoga as a antiquated system designed for recluses with no relevance to modern life, another person feels it is the go to place for healing physical ailments, other people feel it is too difficult for the modern busy individual, there are some who think doing physical postures or asanas is all yoga has to offer, there are some who think it is a ruse and a form of escapism from the hard gritty reality of life, then there are people who think its a lifestyle product – the in thing to be labelled as, there are the well intentioned but misguided people who think they are karma yogis as they are working hard and then there are the very few who want to walk the path to know God.
Yoga means ‘Union’. It is the phenomenon of the individual connecting to the source, the finite to the infinite, the drop merging into the ocean. It is analogous to a radio being tuned to the ultimate frequency where all the possible channels reside. For the purpose of reaching this alignment there are several paths or techniques which have been developed by masters who have realized this eternal truth themselves.
Like it or not, the fact is the consciousness of human beings is always trying to expand either consciously or unconsciously. Some people buy a lot of things, some people eat a lot, some get into relationships, some get focused on getting ahead in their career. While it is imperative to fulfill these drives from a utilitarian, materialistic, survival viewpoint, it may not be for the benefit of the higher consciousness. This is what in decision making is called a ‘Satisficing solution’ – one that is not the most optimal but just satisfactory for solving the survival issues.
One may ask what is the need for evolving into higher consciousness and is there a guarantee one can be happy when this happens. In other words, how do I know if I will derive greater benefit for myself if I am in a state of higher consciousness.
Let us take the example of when you first had ice cream. The first time eating an ice cream is possibly a very fond and memorable experience for most of us. However, how many ice creams can we really have before we feel bored, sick and tired of them. Once one desire is satiated we crave newer ones. Psychologists have coined this phenomenon as the ‘Hedonic treadmill’ and just like a treadmill we must keep running lest we crash. So it would seem that indulging the senses is a very impractical and a very limited approach to living.
One might argue that while sensory indulgence is an impractical and a foolish way to live one’s life, a better approach is working hard in one’s career or business and deriving pleasure from achieving milestones in the same. This is actually even more dangerous than the sensory indulgence because there may be no guilt associated here and one’s ego continues to grow. However, life being life there will be ups and downs in all aspects. There will be failure along with success. Since our ego places a lot of worth in our work, it will be an emotional roller coaster leaving one drained at the end of the day. It is an exhausting way to live and one cannot effectively do this their whole life.
Another argument could be that one lives for others, is selfless and giving. However this may be an impractical suggestion without one being in yoga as it may provide more fuel to one’s ego that makes one feel that they are virtuous or more dharmic than their fellow brethren. It is possibly the most insidious of all the three as most of the time sattvic ahamkara develops. Without the necessary grounding in yoga this can make one self righteous and sit in judgment of others.
However, when one is in yoga then anything that is done will automatically be selfless, for the highest good and of the highest quality. The work someone who is in yoga does will always be optimal as there is no ego or a limited self involved. It is as if the creation functions through someone like this and like creation it is a vast, unlimited, infinite expanse of a blank canvas that this person can paint their life on.