The enigma called integral yoga
Sri Aurobindo was unique among spiritual masters in being a perfect synthesis of the East and the West. That gave his teachings a refreshing and contemporary touch, free from any dogma and prejudice. While he was rooted in ancient Indian wisdom, his teachings have a global scope in today’s world. This article by Ramesh Bijlani is part of a series that celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, which falls in 2022.
Integral Yoga is a powerful synthesis of the major traditional schools of yoga worked out by Sri Aurobindo about a hundred years ago. He took into account the spirit common to all schools of yoga as well as the particular feature of each individual school to create a single, harmonious entity. Such a synthesis was necessary because form and technique had come to subordinate the spirit underlying yoga. The emphasis on form at the expense of spirit is easy to understand because, even today, yoga is popularly equated with the visible techniques such as asanas, pranayamas, and meditation, while the spirit of yoga receives, at best, lip service. Why this continues even a hundred years after Sri Aurobindo tried to undo this injustice to the immensely valuable spiritual foundations of yoga is perhaps because his approach was radical and revolutionary. And, a revolutionary approach is not well-received by the average mind, which finds the beaten track far more comfortable and convenient.
In his synthesis, Sri Aurobindo looked at yoga as a systematic approach to self-improvement, the ultimate aim of which is union with the Divine. The improvement should involve all parts of the being. That is where two major schools of yoga come in. Hatha Yoga is primarily for the improvement of the body, and Raja Yoga, for that of the mind. The yoga of the Gita brings yoga into daily life and also incorporates the flexibility required to suit the temperament and circumstances of the spiritual seeker. Leaning heavily on the yoga of the Gita, Sri Aurobindo’s synthesis allows each individual to carve out his own path and lays emphasis on bringing yoga into daily life. But the synthesis also acknowledges the need for fitness of the body and mind, and therefore has no reservation about incorporating the techniques of Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga to the extent that they are compatible with the daily routine, preferences, and capacity of the individual seeker. Thus, Integral Yoga is not technique-intensive. Techniques are permissible, but no specific techniques—not even meditation—are specifically prescribed. The role of techniques is to make the equipment—the body and the mind—fit for work done in the spirit of yoga.
Now it is easy to understand why Integral Yoga is puzzling to many. The puzzle is three-fold. Firstly, the techniques, which occupy centre stage in the popular image of yoga, have been pushed to the periphery. Secondly, what occupies centre stage in Integral Yoga is work. The work is outwardly similar to what everybody else is also doing. The fact that it is enlightened by knowledge and offered to the Divine in the spirit of devotion is not visible. Thirdly, the goal of traditional yoga is individual salvation. But the goal of Integral Yoga is uplifting the consciousness of the human race and thereby creating a better world. While the goal is the highest ever conceived by any yoga, what is done towards the aim is essentially invisible! On top of that, no two individuals may be practising Integral Yoga in the same way. That is the paradox of Integral Yoga.
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