The general understanding of yoga is the westernised concept which means nothing but physical exercise to keep the body fit. In the west pure yoga has been corrupted to such an extent that different people have started their own variation — musical, dance, hot, hatha yoga and so on. Actual meaning of yoga is the union of mind and body. According to the Yoga Sutras, “Yoga is settling of the mind into silence. When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded consciousness.”
Yoga actually began as a philosophy rather than a physical discipline. Yoga is mentioned in the sacred ancient Indian text, the Rig Veda, which defines yoga as a union, or ‘yoking’ of the material and spiritual worlds, and it doesn’t describe any physical postures other than the traditional cross-legged meditation pose.
Actually, yoga as a physical exercise can by fully justified, but it is far more than that. It helps us cultivate an inner state of body-centred consciousness that allows us to walk calmly amongst the chaos. Yoga teaches us to let go and to have exquisite awareness in every moment.
The essence of yoga is the union or integration of all layers of life — physical, emotional and spiritual. It is a practice for going beyond the ego’s habitual identification of the mind and body directly experiencing our true spiritual self. Rooted in this connection to the spirit, we are able to solve the challenges that arise in life.
The final part of ashtang yoga is samadhi — and that is the ultimate aim. The general understanding when one talks of samadhi is that the person has died. In a way the state of samadhi is like that, you are dead, yet you are alive — all your bodily activities get muted to such an extent that you appear to be medically dead. Lots of yogis reach that stage.
One can reach that state through serious meditation practice and in so doing one completely loses the sense of “I” or one’s ego. When the “I” dies, one can truly live. With the death of the ego, one reaches that state of purity which takes one to ‘heaven’, to experience the highest knowledge or the ultimate truth. That is called samadhi. This is the essence of all spiritual teachings, no matter what you call it.
It does not matter which religion you belong to, all that matters is losing the selfishness, losing the ego. The ego is, in a way, the very source of the mind.
All the expressions of the ego, thinking, feeling, willing, could be put together under one term, “mind.” If the mind gets completely purified, then it’s no longer an obstruction to your experience of the Truth. When it is clean and clear, the mind doesn’t colour the appearance of the pure Self. It becomes a pure reflector of the Self to see its own true nature. That is the essence of spirituality.