There is considerable interest in the subject of Yoga today, but a great deal of misunderstanding about it, and the first thing to be understood is that there are many Yogas, in fact as many as there are aspects of Christian religion. The word ‘Yoga’ literally means ‘yoke’ and the idea fundamentally is the pursuit of that which will link, yoke or unite the soul to Divinity.
To many people in the West Yoga is a sort of magic that, if practised, will bring you powers to make money, to be healthy or perennially young; and because the larger number live automatically rather than consciously, Hatha Yoga is the most widely known of all the Yogas. This is literally the control of the will by physical means, which involves breathing and other exercises combined with a rigid asceticism and should never be practised except under a trained instructor. Some of the easier exercises have filtered through to Westerners and are merely childish from the point of view of a true exponent.
The more advanced Yoga can be called the science of control of the mind, or balanced living. It does not demand the withdrawal from any orthodox creed, of its adherents; in fact you can belong to any belief you like and still take up Yoga. The East has always been much more universal in its outlook than the West and all Incarnations of God, Saints and Prophets are equally revered. No Buddhist, for instance, has ever waged an aggressive war, for they do not believe in taking life in any form.
For the pursuit of the higher Yoga you have to understand something of your own make-up, and the traditional Teachers are great psychologists. It is believed that the mind of man is merely an instrument, say like a pen, which should be under the individual’s complete control; but most people follow their minds like slaves and consequently alternate between joy and sorrow, being entirely at the mercy of their circumstances. This is called living automatically, and to live consciously you have to realize that the real ‘I’ of man is not the mind or the body which is subject to change and decay but something entirely different standing behind the mind, able to direct it and a witness of its vagaries. You can prove this for yourself by reflecting that when a child, you referred to yourself as ‘I’, when young also, and in old age as well, nor has that ‘I’ changed with the changes of the body. Your ‘I’ is not less because you lose a limb or more because you acquire wealth. That ‘I’ can say ‘I won’t think of that, it depresses me,’ ‘I will think of so-and-so,’ in other words, you are the subject of your mind and can control it, like a car. If you allow the mind to control you, you are allowing the car to take charge without any directing force. Yoga consists in learning to control and direct the mind, tranquillizing it, and rendering it completely obedient to the behests of the ‘I’; but this is not all. When by various practices, of which meditation plays an important part, you have your mind under complete control, you become aware of much that was quite unknown to you before. A story in this connection may clarify this point. A rich man sent his boy to the native school where children repeat their lessons in chorus. When he visited the school he complained that he could not hear his son and he was therefore not being taught properly. The teacher then silenced each child in turn, leaving only the rich man’s son repeating the theme, and the father was satisfied.
Now, if we allow our minds to be in a constant state of agitation and babel, so to speak, full of biasses and prejudices, we fail to hear the voice of Truth that is submerged in this din. As we gain control of the mind, we become more and more aware of values that hitherto had not been able to reveal themselves to us. Every mystic will substantiate this, and for those who give themselves up to this life one might well quote “Eye has not seen nor ear heard… what has been prepared for them.”
Even a little of this practice of control of the mind brings enormous advantages, nor is it necessary to go to a forest or enter a cave to put it into practice. It can be inserted into one’s ordinary routine, though, naturally, an hour or two daily must be put to the practices.
One sees so much lack of satisfaction and strain in the world today and wonders why more people do not dig a little deeper to find a solution. There is no doubt, however, that those who take up the spiritual Yoga have peace, poise and something to put against fear and adversity.