Yoga is defined as a state – presumably a state of being, or state of consciousness. Most people think of yoga as something they do – they say, “I’m going to do my yoga today.” Cane these two be distinguished?
“Yoga” is a comprehensive word suggesting union. Whatever leads to union can be called yoga. Or in other words, from the simple act of breathing, to sitting here, walking, eating, and whatever else a human being does – all of it can be transformed into yoga. So if I am eating and I am conscious that I am making something that is not me a part of myself – I am uniting with something that I was not till ten minutes ago – if that is your experience, you can call this “eating yoga.”
The word “yoga” has been used in the past with a certain understanding, but today it is used loosely, frivolously. Now there is aquatic yoga, dog yoga, cat yoga – all kinds of things. This is a misunderstanding. Only the surface of yoga has come to the West – not the soul of yoga.
The Yoga Sutras
You do not have to do many practices, like people are trying to do 36 or 84 asanas – just one would be enough. When Patanjali came, yoga had evolved and developed into over 1800 schools. Over 1800 varieties of yoga were going on in India at that time. When Patanjali came, he saw this immense knowledge, but it had become impractical for anyone to grasp everything. So he reduced the whole thing into a few sutras – eight limbs of yoga – so that it is a little easier for people to grasp.
Patanjali defined and described yoga in many ways because he was more of a scientist than a saint. He went about it very mathematically. A sutra is like a formula. He simply said, “Chitta vritti nirodha.” This means if cessation of intellect happens, you will be in yoga. The fundamental nature of your intellect is, it is divisive. It is a knife-like instrument. The way for the intellect to analyze and know anything is to dissect, to cut up everything and look at it. If you keep dissecting everything, you will know one aspect of life, but you will not know the nature of life.
By dissection, you can know the physicality – you cannot know the entirety of life. So Patanjali said if you cease your intellect consciously and you are still alert – not drugged out – if you bring your intellect to a hold and it is not cutting up anything, then it is in a state of nirodha. That means the intellect is not active, but you are fully conscious. Then you are in yoga, because if you do not divide the world, as you breathe, as you pulsate with life, you will know you are a part of everything.
Source: A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest