The Spiritual essence of Yoga


Yoga is an integral part of the Indian tradition since time immemorial. It is the fundamental path of spiritual sadhana. Yoga has been discussed even in the oldest Indian sacred text, the Rig Veda, which is at least 10000 years old, considering the fact that Ramayana has been proven to be 7000 years old. Subsequently, Patanjali developed the science and gave Yoga Sutras to the world, which form the basis of all yoga. Yoga itself means union–of the individual with the Divine. The glory or pinnacle of yoga is dhyana, meditation. It is  also the means of achieving harmony between the mind and the Self. There are several yogas, but Raja Yoga, the path of contemplation, has shown the path of enlightenment to humanity. The great revival of yoga took place with Swami Vivekananda. In very recent times, yoga has become universally popular. There is tremendous interest in yoga all over. Having said that, we must add a point to note. Numerous yoga centres have come up in every locality in almost all countries. Many have taken to the spiritual path also. But how conventional are some recent Yoga centers, which have come up in the name of the oldest and the pure form of yoga, which is meditation and the path to attain salvation? Have some of them, owing to commercial interests, become a little unmindful of the true essence of Yoga? Anshuman Prabhakar, who practices yoga in its purest and its simplest form, writes about the shadows of time that have befallen on the ancient tradition of Vedic India.

Contributing Editor

Spiritual essence of Yoga

Anshuman Prabhakar

A few years back I got re-introduced to Swami Vivekananda and his teachings in a powerful way. This re-introduction of Swamiji in my life, inspired me to start learning and imbibing new elements of yoga practices. This precious age old heritage of yoga science not only intrigued me to learn more about it, but also inspired me to start practicing daily meditation.  A few minutes of puja, prayer and meditation every day reinstated a desired positivity in my thoughts and actions, thus transforming my mental and physical being. Holding on to this personal commitment to myself, I have been practicing daily puja, prayers and the exact science of meditation in its simplistic form, as explained by Swamiji in his works. 

Looking around the world and witnessing the various deformations creeping into this precious age-old tradition of yoga, I feel the need to re-introduce the exact words from Swamiji and break the delusions created by new-age yoga centers and their marketing teams. Rishi Patanjali outlined the truest definition of yoga in a single phrase. 

“Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (chitta) from taking various forms (Vrittis).”

Swami Vivekananda helped the modern individual to understand the profundity of the sutra by explaining the finest clues and connotations. 

To quote him: “We have to understand what Chitta is, and what the Vrittis are. I have eyes. Eyes do not see. Take away the brain centre which is in the head, the eyes will still be there, the retinae complete, as also the pictures of objects on them, and yet the eyes will not see. So the eyes are only a secondary instrument, not the organ of vision. The organ of vision is in a nerve center of the brain. The two eyes will not be sufficient. Sometimes a man is asleep with his eyes open. The light is there and the picture is there, but a third thing is necessary — the mind must be joined to the organ. The eye is the external instrument; we need also the brain center and the agency of the mind. Carriages roll down a street, and you do not hear them. Why? Because your mind has not attached itself to the organ of hearing. First, there is the instrument, then there is the organ, and third, the mind attached to these two. The mind takes the impression further in, and presents it to the determinative faculty — Buddhi — which reacts. Along with this reaction flashes the idea of egoism. Then this mixture of action and reaction is presented to the Purusha, the real Soul, who perceives an object in this mixture. The organs (Indriyas), together with the mind (Manas), the determinative faculty (Buddhi), and egoism (Ahamkâra), form the group called the Antahkarana (the internal instrument). They are but various processes in the mind-stuff, called Chitta. The waves of thought in the Chitta are called Vrittis (literally “whirlpool”).”

This higher science of yoga in today’s world is becoming a prey to the marketing gimmicks that limit yoga to physical contortions of body and superficial levels of mental calmness alone. The deeper science of yoga has been thoroughly practisced and researched in India by rishis for thousands of years. Swamiji  in his works tried to reconnect us to  this glorious tradition and helped us understand the true meanings and profoundness of this metaphysical science.  

Immaculate deconstruction of the science of Yoga was done by Swamiji for modern individual to understand these subtler worlds in an easier and more comprehensible language. Swamiji explained very complex realities with such ease. For e.g. “What is thought? Thought is a force, as is gravitation or repulsion. From the infinite storehouse of force in nature, the instrument called Chitta takes hold of some, absorbs it and sends it out as thought. Force is supplied to us through food, and out of that food the body obtains the power of motion etc. Others, the finer forces, it throws out in what we call thought. So we see that the mind is not intelligent; yet it appears to be intelligent. Why? Because the intelligent soul is behind it. You are the only sentient being; mind is only the instrument through which you catch the external world.” 

To substantiate the understanding, Swami Vivekananda further elaborates his definition of Yoga with more relatable ideas. “Take this book; as a book it does not exist outside, what exists outside is unknown and unknowable. The unknowable furnishes the suggestion that gives a blow to the mind, and the mind gives out the reaction in the form of a book, in the same manner as when a stone is thrown into the water, the water is thrown against it in the form of waves. The real universe is the occasion of the reaction of the mind. A book form, or an elephant form, or a man form, is not outside; all that we know is our mental reaction from the outer suggestion. “Matter is the permanent possibility of sensations,” said John Stuart Mill. It is only the suggestion that is outside. Take an oyster for example. You know how pearls are made. A parasite gets inside the shell and causes irritation, and the oyster throws a sort of enameling round it, and this makes the pearl. The universe of experience is our own enamel, so to say, and the real universe is the parasite serving as nucleus. The ordinary man will never understand it, because when he tries to do so, he throws out an enamel, and sees only his own enamel. Now we understand what is meant by these Vrittis. The real man is behind the mind; the mind is the instrument his hands; it is his intelligence that is percolating through the mind. It is only when you stand behind the mind that it becomes intelligent. When man gives it up, it falls to pieces and is nothing. Thus you understand what is meant by Chitta. It is the mind-stuff, and Vrittis are the waves and ripples rising in it when external causes impinge on it. These Vrittis are our universe.”

Reading, understanding and acting on the true yoga path shown by Swamiji brought more faith and positivity and conviction in me. Simple practices of Yoga and meditation enhanced my understanding  of this profound science, which dwells far beyond the physical and mental realms of reality. 

I hope that my attempt to draw this quick parallel between the marketed forms versus the true science of Yoga, will break some of the wrong notions and will also inspire a few to connect with the truest sciences of all.