Every yoga process is meant for purification. In the ancient Yoga text of Bhagavad Gita, it is clearly described that the goal and purpose of the human form of life is purification. So if purification is the goal, what am I being purified of?
To begin to understand this question, we must first acknowledge our true identity as spirit soul, or Atma, temporarily covered by the misconception that I am my material body and mind. While I am covered in this way, my goal is to live for myself and my own happiness. In the material concept of life, we want to be the supreme enjoyer. Purification means being purified of this selfish desire - being purified of self-centeredness and self-absorption - and ultimately offering oneself back to the Supreme Will, where we can truly be of service to all beings.
In order to re-awaken our truest nature, we need to be purified of this desire for false lordship. Every yoga process is meant for purification. That's why Krishna spoke the Bhagavad Gita and gave us the gift of all the yoga processes - all the tools, techniques, methods, and advice. It has been kindly given to us so that we can actually experience gradual purification and be re-awakened to our natural condition. This is the real purpose of all yoga processes.
How does Yoga Purify ?
Yoga is a process of purification - so how does yoga asana, or pranayama, or focusing on tip of nose or the point between the eyebrows, purify us?
In modern times, people commonly practice yoga for reasons other than purification, but this was not how yoga was originally practiced. Do we really believe the great yogis of the past were engaging in these processes of Yoga to lose weight or enjoy better sex? Or so they could eat more and enjoy their senses more? No, the process is for purification. Through the process of yoga asana, a person gradually becomes less influenced by the material modes of passion and ignorance, and more influenced by the mode of goodness (Sattva). Yoga is gradually able to move a person out of the mode of passion, shifting him into the mode of goodness. And from the mode of goodness one is able to move into the other higher yoga processes - enabling higher thinking, deeper understanding, and ultimately moksha, or enlightenment.
The Three Gunas or ropes that control us
The three Gunas, or modes of material nature, are the subtle influences of material energy which are covering us and affecting our actions. The three modes are namely Sattva guna (goodness), Rajo guna (passion), and Tamas guna (ignorance). The closest mode to spiritual transcendence is the mode of goodness. Farthest away is the mode of ignorance.
If a person is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or sleep, they are more covered and less aware. In this very covered state, their consciousness is further dimmed by their activities in this mode. A person influenced by the mode of passion is more awake than those in the mode of ignorance - however, they are distracted by lust (the desire to enjoy). Because their agitated mind is not peaceful, they won't be able to focus on higher learning. Maybe they have their mind on the cute girl in front row of the yoga class, or are thinking about what they will eat and enjoy for lunch when they get home, etc. But the person in the mode of ignorance is even further away because he is asleep, barely conscious. A perfect example of someone in mode of ignorance is a drunk person. We have to put coffee under his nose to wake him up out of the mode of ignorance and move him into the mode of passion with the desire to eat. Everyone is covered to some degree by each of these three modes of material nature - it is not one or the other. We are all covered by some passion, goodness, and ignorance. For example, maybe we have 50% goodness, 45% passion and 5% ignorance. We each have different degrees of coverings according to our actions. A person more situated in the mode of goodness is more aware and conscious and naturally more inclined towards spiritual development and higher thinking and understanding. Thus. it is easier in the mode of goodness to remember our true identity. The more covered a person is, the further away they are from awareness of our true nature and real identity.
Purpose of Yoga
All yoga processes - whether Karma yoga, Raja yoga, Hatha yoga or Bhakti yoga - are there to purify and raise a person out of the mode of ignorance, and from the mode of passion, though a gradual process of shifting into the mode of goodness . All yoga processes therefore recommend and advise to eat a vegetarian diet because vegetarian food stuffs are less of a karmic burden and more purifying to the body, mind, and consciousness. Eating a vegetarian diet helps us move out of the darker influences and into the mode of goodness. Eating meat - consuming dead animal flesh - is in the mode of darkness, Tamas or ignorance.
Practicing asana is a part of yoga, but yoga asana is not itself a complete yoga system. The real yoga begins when we step off the mat, and apply yoga wisdom to our everyday lives. Sadhana is yoga in practice. There is a way to live our lives so that our everyday life’s activities (like eating, for example), help move us in a higher direction - situating us in the mode of goodness and higher awareness. When situated in the mode of goodness, the easier and the quicker the results of yoga will be present within us. Yoga asana is part of a path of purification and awareness to help discipline and control our body and senses. But without embracing the essence of yoga by adopting yoga lifestyle and wisdom, yoga asana becomes nothing more than physical exercise or an extreme sport.
The process of yoga is a gradual process of expanding awareness.
The Supreme purifier, Krishna, gives us these yoga processes to gradually purify our consciousness.
How does the process of asana help purify a person? The first thing it does is makes us aware of our body. A person in the mode of ignorance is not aware of his own body - they eat something, have stomach pain, and don't make the connection between the two. Yoga asana increases our awareness of our body and helps to wake us up. We start tuning in and becoming more aware of the different foods and the effect they have on our body. Unfortunately, many people nowadays that engage in yoga asana, become aware of their body and stop there - but awareness of the body is just the first step on the yoga path, like the first rung on a ladder. The system of yoga as laid out by Patanjali is that first you become aware of your body, then you become aware of your breath, your breathing, and so on. We become more sensitive to different smells, our tastes change, etc. and gradually we become sensitive to the existence of others and our connection with them. The yoga process is one of purification - purifying oneself from the modes of material nature - shifting from the mode of ignorance to the mode of goodness, then beyond. The process of yoga is a gradual process of expanding our awareness of ourselves, our environment and of others, and of our relationship with them.
A person who is more situated in the transcendence, is less disturbed by the material body and the influences of material nature. We start seeing and appreciating the separation between our self and our body and mind. In this way, we rise above the mind and desires - seeing them for what they are. We don’t need to be following their demands, allowing the senses to control us. For example: if it’s a cloudy day, we’re aware it’s a cloudy day, but we experience it from a distance. We have awareness that the mind and senses are making demands, but liberate ourselves from being under their influences and control by not jumping and following their demands. So we gradually become Go Swami (master of the senses), instead of being Go das (servant of the senses). We cease being enslaved by our senses.
Bhakti Yoga - Most recommended
In Vedic Sanskrit, the term Yoga is derived from the root word Yujir. Yoga (to yoke) is the yoking up or linking, harnessing of a horse and cart. Therefore the closest English translation of the word yoga is "union,"
Bhakti means "love and devotion for the Supreme." Therefore Bhakti-Yoga is the yoga path of "loving union with the Supreme Soul." In this day and age (Kali Yuga), the highest recommended path of yoga for purification is that of Bhakti Yoga - and kirtan is the very heart of Bhakti Yoga.
Kirtan is the foremost powerful process of purification and yoga for this day and age. Kirtan is the song of yoga, the song of Supreme. It is the embodiment of the essence of yoga - an instant form of meditation that engages the whole body, mind and senses with ease and grace. It very quickly awakens our truest nature, bringing about self-awareness and ultimately self-realization. Practicing regular kirtan, coupled with eating a vegetarian diet, very easily purifies and situates us in the mode of goodness, from which we can gradually become more aware and awakened. Kirtan is the heart of all yoga. It is the means and the goal. The more you practice kirtan, the more your taste for it develops and grows - bringing about inner satisfaction and nourishment. Kirtan is food for the soul. Mantras are spiritual in nature - transcendental sound vibrations that softly carry one beyond the body, mind and senses. They move us out of the material world and into spiritual transcendence, liberating us from the material concept of life and into the goal of yoga, moksha.
Article By Radha Kauai