According to Yoga Journal, approximately fifteen million people in the United States practice yoga, usually of a type that consists of controlled breathing and various poses that stretch and align the body. While many people do yoga as a spiritual practice, it is gaining in popularity especially for its health benefits, becoming a genuine contender in the fitness industry.
We bhakti-yogis tend to cringe when we see how yoga has broken free from its spiritual moorings. You’re supposed to practice yoga for spiritual enlightenment, we protest, not to improve your digestion or libido.
But why limit our disdain to the misuse of yoga? After all, from the viewpoint of our scriptures and spiritual teachers, aren’t most people misusing everything?
The Vedic scriptures, especially the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, inform and guide the lives of Srila Prabhupada’s students. For those who don’t have his guidance, a cursory overview of the vast Vedic literature can leave even well-intentioned seekers dazed and bewildered. But an overriding message weaves through the confusing complexity of ideas, stories, and personalities: Human life is meant for discovering the truth of our existence, and everything we do should serve to achieve that goal.
We decry the misuse of yoga because yoga is supposed to be a concentrated attempt to uncover the Truth and live in harmony with it. But since all aspects of life should support that attempt, all activities devoid of a spiritual connection are condemnable.
Take eating, for example. While we Hare Krishna people are happy to see more and more people take up vegetarianism, thus decreasing the amount of violence inflicted on God’s innocent creatures, we know that a vegetarian diet is not by definition spiritual. To spiritualize our diet—so that it truly aids our spiritual progress—we need to connect it with God by offering Him whatever we eat before we eat it.
This principle of connecting our actions with God is the essence of yoga. It’s what the word yoga means. Fitness yoga shares in the fault of materialism, which connects everything to limited and temporary ideals, especially the ideal of happiness centered on the body—and on people and things related to the body.
When Lord Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita to offer everything we do to Him, He’s showing us how to make our life a continuous yoga session. When we do yoga to promote a healthy body for use in Krishna’s service, then it’s a spiritual activity; it’s real yoga. The same can be said for all other aspects of our lives. Working, traveling, reading, raising children, listening to music—they’re all yoga when done to support our spiritual quest.
The entire way of life promoted in our scriptures is a kind of yoga. Srila Prabhupada began spreading Krishna consciousness in the West just as yoga was becoming popular here. He would often point out that a short meditation session to begin the day would do little to help people make spiritual progress. On the evidence of Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad-gita, the words and examples of previous spiritual teachers delivering those teachings, and his own realization, Srila Prabhupada was convinced that even today’s best yoga regimens can’t match the transformative spiritual power of connecting all of our activities to Krishna by the practice of bhakti-yoga.—Nagaraja Dasa