Daily Readings from the Works of Swami Venkatesananda

Insights and Inspirations (Venkates Daily Readings Vol 2) - Yoga or Physical Culture

January 11, 2019

Yoga or Physical Culture

      People labor under a delusion that while a disciplined life is indispensable for a certain path, for another it is not. Saints and sages glorify certain practices like japa and kirtan as extremely easy to break the ice of the aspirant's despair ("I am so sinful that I am useless for any yoga practice"). Soon after this, the aspirant is 'enrolled' in the ranks of aspirants, and the sage gently reminds him that unless he is prepared to (in the words of Gurudev Sivananda) "Detach the mind from the world and attach it to the Lord," no progress is possible. Even so with Karma yoga.   I well remember hundreds of instances when Gurudev warned that without desirelessness, egolessness, and (on the positive side) Narayana-bhava or Atma-bhava (seeing God or the Self in all), mere activity is but labor and so much energy wasted. Without physical, mental and moral discipline, what is styled as hatha yoga (but which in fact is just yoga asana) will degenerate into mere physical culture, and raja yoga or the yoga of meditation and mysticism will be impossible.

      However, Gurudev did not insist that we should all become 'perfect' in self-control before undertaking these yoga practices. He insisted that right from the beginning everyone should practice japa, kirtan, meditation, study of scriptures, yoga asanas, pranayama etc., without losing sight of the imperative need to progress side by side in measures of self-control. Intelligently and sincerely practiced, yoga asanas and pranayama themselves can enable us to acquire mastery over the senses and mind.

     I request the yoga student to study Gurudev's immortal works on Hatha Yoga and Science of Pranayama, where He even suggests how the yogic practices can be made to serve the aspirant's desire to overcome his evil habits and tendencies, and to grow in virtue. For instance, "Practice sirasana, sarvangasana and siddhasana simultaneously with pranayama. These are all highly useful in the conquest of passion," says Gurudev in His most inspiring book Sure Ways for Success in Life and God-realization. Every spiritual aspirant should make a thorough study of this wonderful scripture.

     Perhaps the greatest obstacle in the path of yoga is insincerity! Only God's and Guru's Grace can enable us even to detect its presence and ultimately to remove it.

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