Yoga means to bring two things together – to merge. Some may say it is the merging of the jivatma into the Paramatma – the individual soul into the Supreme Soul – or of the devotee into God. But, in truth, yoga is just the opposite. Yoga is not a coming together, but a moving apart. It is moving away from the misconception that we were ever apart from God.
In truth, there is, always has been and always will be nothing but Oneness. This is because there is but one true Self expressing itself in all of creation. All people, mountains, rivers, animals, plants and trees are this one True Self alone. But, in our current state, we are overpowered by our sense of ‘i’ and ‘mine’. Our likes and dislikes are so strong, that we are unable to grasp the truth of oneness. Hence, we think we are apart from each other and God.
Here is a story to explain this: Once there was a child at a fair who got lost from his mother. He didn’t know what to do. He looked everywhere, but all the people he saw were strangers. In his panic, he started running. But no matter where he went, he didn’t see his mom. Then he fell down and started to cry. He was crying as hard as he could. It was then that he felt his mother’s kiss on his forehead.
In fact, the little boy had not been lost. He had not even been at a fair. He had always been in his mother’s arms. He had fallen asleep and was just having a nightmare that he could not find his mother. Our so-called “separation” from God is just like this. To understand our situation, all we have to do is to wake up. Then we will see that we have never been apart from God – the universal mother of all.
All spiritual practices – whether it is selfless service to society, meditation, chanting mantras, or studying the scriptures – are to help awaken us from our slumber. Because these practices bring us closer to God, we call them yoga.
These days what most people think of as ‘yoga’ is hatha yoga – using specific stretches and postures as means of meditation. When done with proper awareness, such yoga can be a very beneficial spiritual practice. In hatha yoga, as you move and hold positions, you try to remain aware of every single movement. As your arms go up, you try to be totally aware of that movement. Similarly, when the arms come back down. Through this external awareness, you are also gaining internal awareness. When performed like this, yoga is not only a form of exercise, improving our physical health, but it also becomes a genuine spiritual practice, refining us mentally and spiritually, making our mind more subtle and aware.
In fact, every action done with awareness can be called yoga. We should try to inculcate the same degree of awareness we have when performing yogasanas in everything we do. In this manner, we can become focussed on our true Self. We will realise that there has always only been peace and oneness.