All life is yoga

‘All life is Yoga.’  So wrote Sri Aurobindo,  sage and spiritual master, the author of ‘A Synthesis of Yoga.’  Yoga is not just a series of exercises to improve posture and make the body supple, its acolytes would define it as a method for self perfection  leading ultimately to a union with the Divine.  Yogis believe that since we are all potentially divine,  our aim must be to achieve the perfection of that divinity by improving each part of our own being; body, mind and intellect. 

Yoga achieves perfection of the body through the asanas and pranayamas (Hathayoga). Asanas are a series of stretches and postures, which, it is claimed, give you the same cardiovascular efficiency as vigorous aerobic exercise and vast improvements in fitness.  Each posture stretches a certain set of muscles and is followed by a posture that stretches the opposing set.  They need not be difficult and the postures do not have to be maintained for long.  Proceed at your own pace.  It will leave you feeling remarkable relaxed and refreshed.  Pranayamas are a set of breathing exercises that invigorate and balance the system.

Yoga achieves perfection of the mind through meditation (Radayoga).   The meditation is designed to clarify the surface layers of the mind as lack of movement clarifies a muddy pool so you can see down to the depths. It involves sitting or lying comfortably in a quiet place in a relaxed posture and by breathing and inward chanting to attain a deep state of consciousness akin to trance.  Preoccupations, worries, regrets are banished from the mind while you concentrate on the here and now.  In trance, there is a clearer focus on the sounds and feelings around you while everything else drifts away.  Meditation is focus and can be achieved through creative work; painting, sculpture, gardening, poetry, music, cooking, even  running and walking or even sitting quietly by the side of a river fishing.  Find the time and the space in your life to do this. 

Asanas, pranayamas and meditation exist for one purpose, that is to acheive that peaceful state of body and mine that allows a contemplation on the meaning of life, what yogis say is union with the divine, or an innermost state of peace and contemplation.

Yoga is not another religion.  Yogis do not believe in a single God or even a company of Gods, but they do believe in the notion of a divinity, a state of being that creates and pervades all existence and they revere sages like Sri Aurobindo as instruments to help us attain a state of perfection. 

I cannot believe in such a divine presence, although I acknowledge the power of the human mind to create it. There is much about our existence that we cannot explain, but I like to place my faith in evolution, cosmology and the amazing power of the human mind to create meaning out of our existence.  But I do believe that Yoga is a wonderful system of  healing the mind, the body and the spirit or meaning and I incorporate asanas and meditation as an essential components of my everyday life. 

Our lives are so fragmented; we express so many different aspects of ourselves at different times.  We are, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, disorderly ordered.   We seem to have a fatal attraction to pain and suffering.  Yoga is a means of liberating ourselves.  Yoga is not only a method by which man can attain that state of peace and relaxation that facilitates health, fulfilment and happiness.  It  also creates a state of being that allows reflection on the deeper meanings of our existence,  alongside but separate from our daily preoccupations with work, family and the material aspects of contemporary living.   

Some yogis may renounce all material connections, retire to an ashram and live a life of self perfection, but most of us cannot do that.  Each person must follow their own path. But we may find time during the day to carry out asanas and pranayamas and we may also be able to build into a more balanced way of life time to meditate and reflect on the deeper meanings.  This can only help us to cope with stress, to think about what we are eating, how we are living and deal better with the strains of life that cause illness.    

In June, I lived for three weeks in the Sri Aurobindo ashram high above the town of Nainatal in the foothills of the Himalayas.