Yoga and Integral Yoga

Copyright: Anand Buchwald, eMail:


In the part of the world that has adopted the western way of mind yoga is often conceived of as some sort of exotic religion or as a sectarian movement. Not too narrow minded people eventually think of a system of movements to keep the body healthy. And even sophisticated people usually are somewhat unsure as to the how and why of yoga. Basically speaking yoga is a tool. As such it can be used by different people with different backgrounds for different ends. It is a kind of occupation with the human nature and its potentials and possibilites. In this way it can be used in religious practice of every faith, to enhance one's health, to calm and discipline one's mind or to enlarge one's inner cosmology.

But one thing yoga is not, at least not to the eye of an interested beginner: one fixed and immutable block of exercises.

In a way yoga is the science of life (life in its broader meaning) and consciousness. And like in the accepted sciences there are different ologies with different states of growing knowledge. Each branch has its set of goals, advises, hints, exercises and techniques, the use of which differs according to school.

The most widespread yoga (at least in the west) is Hatha-Yoga. This yoga works with the body in the form of body exercises (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama) to improve health, vigour, endurance, abilities, agility, certainty, power, harmony, body-consciousness...

Then there is Bhakti-Yoga (the yoga of love and devotion), Jnana-Yoga (the yoga of knowledge), Karma-Yoga (the yoga of works), Tantra-Yoga (no sex-yoga, but a yoga of the life-forces in a wider sense), Kriya-Yoga, Kundalini-Yoga, Raja-Yoga and many more. And there is the Integral Yoga, which is a new yoga, in a way synthetic, as it is not grown over the centuries, but molded from Karma-, Jnana- and Bhakti-Yoga and the Yoga of Self-Perfection for a more extensive and integral approach. The techniques used with each yoga are adapted to help reach the desired ends. They can basically be sorted into asanas (body exercises), pranayama (breathing techniques), pratyahara (the drawing back of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (union, identifcation). The different yogas lay different stress on these points and utilise different aspects.

But now let's have a wider look on the matter. Till now we have only seen the view of a 'technician'. But if one takes a look from higher above one can see something like an unbroken thread. The evident goal of each yoga is a greater perfection.

We can illustrate this with the example of a cook. Every cook has his abilities; some are more able than others. If a cook with moderate abilities strives to become a better cook, he has to gain more knowledge, to practise more and to refine his taste he has to make an effort towards more perfection. This effort is the process of Yoga. If he has achieved what he wanted and is content with it, he stops doing yoga. If he opts for further perfection he can do more yoga. So yoga is not limited to asanas - yoga can be done at every moment, as there is always a chance of more perfection.

We can say that the strife for perfection starts with a basic harmonization (that is removing gross troubles), proceeds with finer attunements and leeds to a new equilibrium with a new and improved look at the world. Perfection means, that everything is in its place and as things are always changing and progressing, what is in its right place now may not be so tomorrow, so perfection is not a static thing but rather a progressive movement and perfection is never perfect. It can grow indefinitely. This process of striving for ever greater perfection can be called yoga.

Perfection also means union, which is the meaning of the word yoga. Let's return to our example and say that you are only able to boil eggs and aspire to cook a Gratin Dauphinoise. At present this is something beyond your reach. But in due course of time and work you come nearer to it, and when one day you can cook that Gratin, you have reached some sort of union, because what once was outside of your reach is now part of your abilities. And in the gradation of cooking abilities you have reached a higher stage of perfection.

There is yet another aspect to perfection. Perfection, and so the process of yoga, means to become whole, to become one's real self, one's true self ever more with every passing minute. This also means to go deeper within and to discover the inner worlds and layers of being and consciousness. In this notion of yoga, techniques tend to loose their importance.

The deeper you reach within the more you can become aware of the Divine's presence (or if you do not believe in God: of the Highest Truth). This is so, because, as everything was created by the Divine out of itself, everything has retained a direct link with the Divine, which might be strongly veiled in inanimate matter, but is less so in human beings and still less in conscious human beings.

To effect a union with the Divine, or for atheists to become part of the Supreme Truth, is the ultimate aim of almost any yoga. The way to achieve this aim is different for everybody. Therefore it was said by Sri Aurobindo and Mira Alfassa, that there are as many yogas as there are people upon earth.

Following this lead, there is yet another approach to yoga. There are techniques in many yoga-systems, the use of which shall enable the practitioner to ascend temporarily to higher stages of consciousness, to leave behind the grey, dull and common world and to have trance experiences during meditation.

But once he returns he looses contact and direct remembrance. What remains would be a feeling of attainment, of something nice and great, of peace, light or wideness. With more practice one can remain longer in these realms. One can even become 'addicted'. But there is one hindrance: the body. It needs to be taken care for and forces our flights back to earth. Therefore in the traditional concept of yoga the body and the physical nature in general is regarded as an obstacle. This also led to the development of techniques that should enable the body to be almost immobile, healthy and long-enduring, so as not to make too much trouble.

But while there is nothing wrong with the strengthening of the body, the concept behind it is debateable. Instead of fighting the body, one could also try to make it one's friend. With this thought (though it is not of primary or original importance) the Integral Yoga was developped. One of the main reasons for it's genesis was the observation that you have to take a leap into trance and a leap back. In the general notion there are only these two worlds and nothing inbetween. The Integral Yoga however starts with the finding that the world is ONE, with a gradation of ever ascending steps. Observation shows that nature doesn't leap, although at times she increases her speed considerably. The appearance of mankind for example, may seem to be such a leap, but anthropology discovers always new intermediary beings between contemporary man and its animal ancestors. In the same way in the course of our development we will not pass from our earthly home to a new transphysical abode, becoming all of a sudden purely spiritual beings that have once and for all left their bodies down behind, if this is at all desireable.

But the Integral Yoga shows a new approach to this subject. The physical world exists and is not to be neglegted. Instead it is to be enclosed in our efforts towards a 'higher' and more spiritual life. The line of evolution is not the destruction or the putting aside of the physical (although mankind is indeed working hard towards this end) but its partaking and the enclosing of it and all other nether realms in the general ascending movement.

When we encounter gaps in our ways upward, we do not have to leap, but to go slow, thus creating a bridge or creating an hitherto unknown path in the human and transhuman landscape. It should be clear that it does not do to have a transconscient experience in which we have no connection whatever with the world from which we came, and on the other hand to leap back, with no remembrance of our experiences and no change in ordinary consciousness and behaviour.

One purpose of the Integral Yoga is to take up everything, the whole human nature and life and to make the upward movement as a complete person.

This is one movement.

There is yet another movement. It is to rise up high and to bring the heights back down, one could say to enlighten matter, and in this process to try to express and to live our highest, purest and most enlightened achievements in daily life. To put it into rather simple terms one could say, that it is an endeavour to bring about a heaven on earth. Both movements are necessary simultaneously.

In order to be able to do this work, which is a slow one, because it is all-embracing instead of persuing a narrow goal or a singular thread, we have to gain greater knowledge of our nature and of the universe in general, that is to grow in consciousness constantly and to become a researcher of consciousness.

One of the elements that make up human nature is the soul. One can say that the soul is a small spark of the origin or the Divine or our link with the ultimate truth and reality of everything created. In order to progress integrally it is indispensable to connect everything with this core. In the process of this work we have to learn that we do not have one singular personality but a whole bunch of them, and the only true personality is our soul. A simple example of this multiple personality structure shows up with the desire to loose some weight and gain more physical definition. Once a resolution for this is made you can observe a lot of different personalities rushing by: One does not like the dietary regimen, another wants an exception on behalf of some small piece of sweets now and then, still another insinuates after a few minutes that the workout is much too hard and another personality leaps at every possibility to make you forget your intentions, while there is always one personality, that isn't convinced at all of the necessity to loose some weight. In order to succeed you have to be single-minded, or better unity-minded, and convince all your diverging parts to unite in the effort towards a better physique. The central point of single-mindedness in the Integral Yoga is the soul deep within. As the only true and persistent personality it should decide upon the course of things and every part of our being should follow. So we have to go searching for our soul and to bring her out in front to develop and unfold her individuality and personality instead of suppressing her at every moment. It is with the soul that we can naturally ascend up high by going within.

In this work we will encounter new insights into our nature and composition, as well as the other way up high. While the way of the soul is somewhat similar to a wormhole (astrophysically speaking), the way of spirituality is a constant ascent towards a greater and purer light.

Leaving aside the psychic, the soul being a matter of its own, we have before us a rough staircase of seven steps, of which at our present stage only the first four are important. The worlds of Sat, Chit and Ananda are material for further realisations. The first three however form our everyday life.

The first world is the world of matter with its gradations from gross to very subtle. The second world is the domain of the vital. It ranges from animal impulsions to the energy we use to progress. The vital is energy, movement, instincts, wishes, will. Next comes the world of the mind ranging from mechanical thinkings, which need to be spoken to become conscious and effective, through the realm of ideas, ideals and intuitions to the farthest reaches of highest light, to the Mind of Light which is expressive of the highest truth possible in the three nether worlds.

The exploration of all these parts of our being, their unifying (meaning that everything is in its proper place), interconnecting and enlightening belong to the initial work before entering into the inner domain of the Integral Yoga. Even the achievement of the Mind of Light is only a preparation for the real endeavour of the Integral Yoga.

Sri Aurobindo's and Mira Alfassa's work was to bring down the fourth world into human reach: the world of the Supreme Truth, the world of the Supermind. It is a new step of evolution and will have its perceivable effect on the three nether worlds in due time, though certainly not within a few years. Sri Aurobindo has built a bridge to the Supramental. We have yet to discover it and to use it as frequently a possible, in order to make it more easily accessible, perceivable and concrete and to explore the land inbetween, so that it increasingly becomes part of our lives.

This survey on Yoga and the Integral Yoga is by no means complete or comprehensive. The world of Yoga is as manifold as life and cannot be grasped in a few lines - it can only be explored in whatever depth desired.




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