“The hatha-yoga system is meant for controlling the five kinds of air encircling the pure soul by different kinds of sitting postures-not for any material profit, but for liberation of the minute soul from the entanglement of the material atmosphere.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhavagad-gita, 2.17 Purport)
Yoga has become a very popular phenomenon in the modern age. One can find classes, books, and videos on yoga everywhere. It has become such a profitable business that people are even inventing their own forms of yoga and marketing it to the masses. Though there are many different forms of yoga, today the term is generally associated with the system of hatha-yoga, which involves various sitting postures and breathing exercises.
People generally take to yoga so that they can improve their overall health. Athletes take to it as a means of increasing their stamina and flexibility. That in turn relates to longer careers and greater earnings. Yoga’s effectiveness lies in its requirement that one be steady of mind. We see examples of this in our daily lives. If we are concentrated on our particular job or hobby, then we are more likely to be successful at it. Superstar golfer Tiger Woods is known for his impeccable concentration. When on the green, he says that he pictures the ball going into the cup prior to putting. This technique allows him to visualize his putts prior to striking the ball. Being lost in the moment or being in the “zone” as athletes call it, is a wonderful feeling. The mind is always hankering or lamenting, but when concentrated on something, it is at peace.
These activities represent a form of yoga, as it defined today, since the mind is steadily brought under control. However, real yoga actually means linking our consciousness with God. It was a system invented by God and passed down through generations by the great sages of India. It shouldn’t be surprising to find out that a system that was intended to bring spiritual benefits will also have accompanying material benefits. The various breathing exercises and sitting postures are all aimed at eliminating the effect of the senses and towards controlling the mind on Vishnu, or God. Gradually over time, the system has degraded into nothing more than a set of gymnastics exercises.
People saw the potential material benefits afforded to yogis, so they jumped on the bandwagon, eliminating God from the picture completely. Many students in the modern day yoga classes are even accustomed to reciting the syllable of om, though they have no idea what it really means. Some even go so far as to say that om is just a peaceful sound that helps one in their practice of yoga. From the Bhagavad-gita, we get the true definition:
“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bg, 7.8)
Om, which stands for omkara, is the original transcendental sound. It is non-different from Krishna. Therefore all important Vedic rituals begin with this sound.
“…the omkara transcendental sound used in the beginning of every Vedic hymn to address the Supreme Lord also emanates from Him. Because the impersonalists are very much afraid of addressing the Supreme Lord Krishna by His innumerable names, they prefer to vibrate the transcendental sound omkara. But they do not realize that omkara is the sound representation of Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg 7.8 Purport)
In this day and age, the hatha-yoga system is very difficult to perform successfully. Lord Krishna describes the strict rules required for success at such a system in the Bhagavad-gita. One is required to live in a secluded place, and completely abstain from sex life.
“Persons learned in the Vedas, who utter omkara and who are great sages in the renounced order, enter into Brahman. Desiring such perfection, one practices celibacy…” (Lord Krishna, Bg 8.11)
With the hustle and bustle in today’s society, practicing yoga in such conditions is very impractical. Therefore, Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s incarnation in the Kali Yuga, advised us to simply chant the holy names of God: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”. This process, executed with love and devotion, is known as bhakti-yoga. It is the best form of yoga because it involves the two direct processes of sravanam and kirtanam, hearing and chanting. By lovingly repeating the Lord’s name, we control our speech. At the same time, we purify our hearing as mundane noise is drowned out by the sound of God’s names.
By steadily chanting, we raise ourselves to the platform of loving God, which means always thinking of Him. If we’re always thinking of Him, then we’ll be performing the highest form of yoga. Playing sports, listening to music, or exercising may give some temporary comfort for the mind, but real happiness comes when we focus our mind on God. If we make loving God our number one occupation, then we reap the rewards of the all yoga systems combined.