What is Yoga – I (Passages from Sri Aurobindo’s writings)

Photo by Suhas Mehra
Photo by Suhas Mehra

In honour of the upcoming International Yoga Day, we share some excerpts from two of the writings of Sri Aurobindo. In this first part of this series, we share a small essay written by Sri Aurobindo around 1911.

We believe these selected passages shed some much needed light on what is Yoga in its essence. This is especially helpful given some of the recent opposition Yoga has seen from some of the ill-informed and perhaps ill-intentioned critics of the International Yoga Day celebration. What makes this opposition more worrisome is that it is originating from within those misguided sections of the Indian community who are unwilling to see and accept the universal and holistic nature of Yoga, primarily because such a view will come in the way of their narrow religio-political ambitions.

For Yoga to see such erroneous and unfounded opposition in the very land of its origin, when the entire world and humanity are waking up to the deeper potential of Yoga and Indian spirituality is indeed a sorry symptom of how far removed some of us have become, not only from the spirit and essence of our own traditions and cultural riches, but also from a clear intellectual knowledge of what these traditions are. The reasons for this are numerous, some of which have also to do with the sinister nexus of religion and politics. But all that is not our concern for the present.

For now let us turn our attention to Sri Aurobindo’s words and spend some time contemplating on the real essence of Yoga. He writes:

Yoga is not a modern invention of the human mind, but our ancient and prehistoric possession. The Veda is our oldest extant human document and the Veda, from one point of view, is a great compilation of practical hints about Yoga. All religion is a flower of which Yoga is the root; all philosophy, poetry & the works of genius use it, consciously or unconsciously, as an instrument. We believe that God created the world by Yoga and by Yoga He will draw it into Himself again. Yogah prabhavapyayau, Yoga is the birth and passing away of things. When Srikrishna reveals to Arjuna the greatness of His creation and the manner in which He has built it out of His being by a reconciliation of logical opposites, he says “Pasya me yogam aishwaram”, Behold my divine Yoga.

We usually attach a more limited sense to the word; when we use or hear it, we think of the details of Patanjali’s system, of rhythmic breathing, of peculiar ways of sitting, of concentration of mind, of the trance of the adept. But these are merely details of particular systems. The systems are not the thing itself, any more than the water of an irrigation canal is the river Ganges.

Yoga may be done without the least thought for the breathing, in any posture or no posture,without any insistence on concentration, in the full waking condition, while walking, working, eating, drinking, talking with others, in any occupation, in sleep, in dream, in states of unconsciousness, semi- consciousness, double-consciousness. It is no nostrum or system or fixed practice, but an eternal fact of process based on the very nature of the Universe. Nevertheless in practice the name may be limited to certain applications of this general process for specific and definite ends.

Yoga stands essentially on the fact that in this world we are everywhere one, yet divided; one yet divided in our being, one with yet divided from our fellow creatures of all kinds, one with yet divided from the infinite existence which we call God, Nature or Brahman. Yoga, generally, is the power which the soul in one body has of entering into effective relation with other souls, with parts of itself which are behind the waking consciousness, with forces of Nature and objects in Nature, with the Supreme Intelligence, Power & Bliss which governs the world either for the sake of that union in itself or for the purpose of increasing or modifying our manifest being, knowledge, faculty, force or delight. Any system which organises our inner being & our outer frame for these ends may be called a system of Yoga.

CWSA, Vol. 12, pp. 18-19 (emphasis added)

To be continued….

Part 2

Part 3


22 thoughts on “What is Yoga – I (Passages from Sri Aurobindo’s writings)

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  1. Thanks for sharing Shri Aurobindo’s passage. Those who do not want to improve the quality of their life will find a hundred excuses for opposing the beneficial–can’t do much about that so I say -Most Welcome ,till you learn better !!- in the meantime those who recognize that the fulcrum around which all life revolves is Yoga, will make it an integral part of their daily routine at every strata. Sending positive vibrations, love and light to the opposing ones so they too join us for they are also a part of my world–that’s what Yoga taught me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t believe someone could actually oppose Yoga. You post is so insightful. Yoga has such deeper meanings and roots, that it takes a lot of understanding to feel the essence. I , myself, fail to be involved at such level. I follow a lot of Yoginis in Instangram but I find very few of them has such deeper level of understanding, the way they describe how it impacts their life. One of the popular yogini Kino Mc Gregor, has learnt Ashtanga in Mysore and she has immense respect for the place. But why I don’t come across an India practitioner baffles me. Maybe I am ignorant of them, maybe they aren’t that famous, but it’s sad to see a cold response from the place Yoga originated.

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  3. Yes the opposition is totally mindless and ill-intentioned, I believe. Thanks for reading this post, Rajlakshmi! And welcome to Matriwords. I am happy you found this post insightful.
    As for the yoga practitioners (particularly Hathayoga) from India, perhaps there aren’t that many who are also social media savvy! I don’t know, it is just a guess. But if you ever get a chance to visit Rishikesh, I have heard there are many wonderful teachers and institutions there for rigorous training in Hathayoga and Rajayoga. Of course there is no shortage of people practicing bhaktiyoga in India…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing these wonderful words Beloo…I loved the part about the waking consciousness and the souls merging with the power of Yoga. Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy to know that this post helped you learn a bit more about the real meaning of yoga. Thanks Vishal for reading and for your comment. And welcome to Matriwords!


  5. Thanks for sharing this post again. I had read it but never got round to leaving a comment on it. The reason that the westernised mind in India rejects such a divine contribution of our culture as Yoga is perhaps they equate it with Hinduism and so junk it as they do everything to do with it. I wish all such ‘intellectuals’ read this post and learnt something about what yoga is from the great spiritual master himself. Ah, bhakti yoga! That is something I can understand!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Zephyr for your comment. I guess if those ‘westernized Indian intellectuals’ read such things, they may have to go out of their jobs! So ignorance works for them 🙂 I put a smiley but it is a rather sad situation, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

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