Yoga has to be seen in two forms: first, as the preparation of the body; and second, as actual performance of the yogic practices. More important than yogasanas is the preparation of the body to practise the asanas. According to Patanjali, the concept of asana is: Sthiram sukham aasanam – a posture in which you are comfortable and a posture which you can sustain for an extended period of time. This indicates static movement or static postures of yoga. When one speaks of the dynamic postures of yoga, they don't come under the category of yoga as taught by Patanjali. People speak of Patanjali but they never teach the system of Patanjali. They teach the system of hatha yoga not of raja yoga. Sage Patanjali never had anything to do with hatha yoga; he was only concerned with raja yoga. The whole concept of Patanjali's system of yoga is not a dynamic practice of asana or pranayama. It is a practice that connects you to your body, to your prana and to your mind; and this is how the practice of yoga begins.
Many times people do asanas as physical exercise. Maybe for some time they feel happy, for they have done something physical, yet those physical exercises of yoga do not represent the real practice of yoga. According to the yogic theory, you have to work with your body, with your mind, and with your pranic system. These three dimensions are to be involved in the practice of asana and pranayama.
Sri Swami Sivananda, our paramguru, and my guru, Sri Swami Satyananda, have emphasized the practice of yoga for the cultivation of human qualities and creativity, for health and well being at all levels. From their perspective, to confine yoga only to physical practice is incorrect. They are looking at yoga for an integrated development of the human personality and not just to make a person light and free physically.
In a class that has been inspired by Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda, the tradition that you follow, you have to keep in mind that asana is for the body, pranayama for the pranic system, relaxation to overcome the stresses and tensions of body, emotions and mind, and the concentration techniques to work with the mind. These four practices constitute one class of yoga: asana, pranayama, relaxation and concentration. Asana is only one aspect of yoga, it is not yoga. It is only one yoga anga, one aspect of yoga, not the total yoga. Asana comprises only ten percent of the entire yogic discipline. Asanas, no matter how you practise, how many times you practise, or which one you practise, only comprise ten percent of the total yogic system. Pranayamas are only five percent of the yogic system. The rest are different practices from asana and pranayama. The purpose of asana, apart from health and physical well being, is to connect your body with prana and the mind.
Yogis have understood that we live in five different bodies at the same time. The physical body is known as annamaya kosha, the sheath of the body of matter. The energy system is known as pranamaya kosha, the sheath of energy, prana, the vital energy. The mental behaviour, mental experiences and mental dimension is known as manomaya kosha. It is the interactive mind. The fourth sheath is the vijnanamaya kosha, the dimension of consciousness. After completing, perfecting and harmonizing annamaya, pranamaya and manomaya koshas, you access consciousness, vijnanamaya kosha. Then, the fifth one is anandamaya, the sheath of bliss, spirit, spiritual realization or awareness. These are the five levels that integrate to create one complete experience of yoga.
This is the total package as Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda have conceived. With this you will experience the ideas that Swami Sivananda set forth in the early days. After all, why do you practise yoga? Some people practise for physical reasons, some for mental reasons, and some for spiritual reasons. However, after they have fulfilled their expectations, they disconnect with yoga, and this is the trend prevalent in society today.
If you think of yoga as part of human culture, what is its role and relevance? After forty years of involvement in yoga, I have come to the conclusion that for me, the purpose and aim of yoga is to develop excellence in all aspects and areas of my life. Not self-realization, not peace and not relaxation. These are concepts that you have not been able to understand. When you think of self-realization you think of something from above coming into you and making you illuminated and enlightened.
Few people realize that realization or enlightenment is a product of a balanced nature, personality and mind. When you are in harmony then realization comes. This realization is not of the divine; this realization is practical and related to life. In life you discover the higher qualities.
Asana, pranayama, relaxation and concentration constitute one complete class of yoga. Their aim is to manage the conditions of body, illness, ill-health, disturbances, stresses and tensions. At the pranic level, their purpose is to stimulate and activate the prana shakti, so that you are more dynamic, vibrant and energetic. At the mental level, the purpose of yoga is to give you clarity, understanding, awareness, concentration and wisdom. Once you are equipped with these three levels of balance through the practices of yoga, you move into the discovery of your inner nature and the cultivation of the faculties of consciousness.
—10 April 2014, Worli, Mumbai, India