In Hindu thought, spirituality creates a union with God—yoga. This union is not a physical union but a subtle mental union. When we pray to God and repeatedly think about and meditate on him, there is an intention. The intention behind this meditation on God is to gradually transform our inner mind—antahkaran, a very special term in Hindu philosophy—toward godliness. The poet has verily sung, “O Krishna, may thee color me into thy color.”
Yoga is basically a system that involves the training of body, mind, and spirit; it is a very integrated program. Often in modern athletic training, the body is exercised but the mind is not attended to. Conversely, in religious or spiritual courses, the physical part is ignored. The ancient concept of yoga recognizes that through a healthy body alone, a healthy mind might be cultivated. The mind must be fixated to the highest and noblest thoughts of virtuous conduct. Thus, man is groomed to attain excellence in all fields of life. Indeed, Hindu seers have always maintained that all disorders and diseases are caused because an individual walks out of the cosmic order into disharmony and discord.
It is to the great credit of these ancient gurus of India that this program has now been adopted by the modern world. Although all schools of yoga do not teach in the same way, the basic structure and philosophy may not tampered with. It should be clearly understood that yoga is not just another physical training program. In essence, it is a training that involves a harmonious blending of the body and mind, aiming toward the highest levels of efficiency in all spheres of activities. By its original definition, yoga is a union with the Divine. In any modified form, if there is no such union, it may not be called yoga. Essentially, yoga is coupled with spiritual and divine qualities.
In the ancient scriptures, yoga has been classified under different forms: Jnana yoga: yoga through knowledge; Bhakti yoga: yoga through devotion; Karma yoga: yoga through action; Raja yoga: yoga through deep meditation; and Hatha yoga: yoga attained through body postures. In reality, these are not separate divisions but rather many aspects of the same training program. In practice, an individual may opt for more attention to any one or more of these forms of yoga, according to his aptitude and choice.
Even though yoga may not be done in the same way at any two places—there are abundant variations and modifications—yoga is always conducted with a sense of auspicious sacredness. It is usually started with an invocation and chanting of “Om” or some other Vedic mantra. Sometimes a candle is lit, and at the end, the yoga is closed with a chanting prayer hymn and a respectful bowing with folded hands—the Indian “Namaste”. Consider the scene if there is vulgar talk, boisterous loud music, any casual or purposeless video program on TV, or even news broadcast when yoga is going on—it would defile the environment for the yoga.
Hindu sages emphasize holding the spine erect while doing meditation and yoga. The human species is the only creature that can hold the spine erect. Ancient seers probably observed a strong facility of the erect spine and the brain. It would not be wrong to say that yoga has taken the world by storm. In America and Europe, yoga has perhaps become more popular than it is in India today. Swami Vivekananda and Paramahana Yogananda initially brought the concept and philosophy of yoga to the United States in the early twentieth century. B. K. S. Iyengar started many schools of yoga across the country. In recent times there has been a flood of yoga centers across America. There are scores of books, magazines, and Web site programs on yoga. Yoga has found its way into the American lifestyle, not just with adults who want to improve their physical, mental, and spiritual capabilities but also with young children. More than twenty million persons in America alone are, at present, involved in yoga exercises.
Undoubtedly Yoga has gone through many a herculean challenge in USA. Yoga Journal, which is the leading publication for yoga professionals, has branched off into the lucrative area of conferences and retreats. In many Western yoga centers, the proceedings are conducted in a secular, non-religious manner. Physical postures and exercises, together with some breathing exercises (pranayama), form Hatha yoga. Yoga exercises have proved very beneficial, as these are balanced with relaxation techniques.
Even though yoga is a child of Hinduism, it has now grown its own strong wings. It has made its mark, beyond the confines of any one religion. Yoga has truly become a citizen of the world!
Today, Yoga has become a household word around the world; the United Nations’ Organization has recognized it by celebrating June 21 every year as World Yoga Day. Like many other ancient Hindu systems of Meditation, Ayurveda etc., Yoga has now earned its long overdue appreciation. Yoga focuses attention on physical, mental, and spiritual aspects in varying degrees. In some places, its spiritual aspect is considerably downplayed, while in other places it is given the highest importance. Even in India, at no two places is yoga conducted in the same manner. This, in fact, lies in accordance with the general liberal attitude of Hindu religion and culture; leaving an individual to practice many activities according to his/her own choice and aptitude. Yoga being an ancient traditional system, there are no formal copyrights on it, yet a natural reference to its Indian origin, avoiding any casual mal-presentation would be most sagacious. In fact, Yoga performed without any spiritual contemplation, by its very definition, would be incomplete and much less beneficial.