The Relevance of Yoga in the Modern Age Is Being Tested

The challenge of modern society with the speed of change, the technological developments that bring about virtually instantaneous global communication and interaction, and the issues that arise as humanity tries to determine what direction to take and what its purpose for living may indeed be, has raised the question of relevance for all traditional teachings, religions and societies.

The practice of yoga, with a history going back thousands of years is also being challenged to demonstrate its relevance in the modern world, and at the same time, to adapt these practices to the circumstances and needs of modern time.

Sri Aurobindo described the situation early in the 20th century in a manner that remains fully accurate today: “We are in an age, full of the throes of travail, when all forms of thought and activity that have in themselves any strong power of utility or any secret virtue of persistence are being subjected to a supreme test and given their opportunity of rebirth. The world to-day presents the aspect of a huge cauldron of Medea in which all things are being cast, shredded into pieces, experimented on, combined and recombined either to perish and provide the scattered material of new forms or to emerge rejuvenated and changed for a fresh term of existence. Indian Yoga, in its essence a special action or formulation of certain great powers of Nature, itself specialised, divided and variously formulated, is potentially one of these dynamic elements of the future life of humanity. The child of immemorial ages, preserved by its vitality and truth into our modern times, it is now emerging from the secret schools and ascetic retreats in which it had taken refuge and is seeking its place in the future sum of living human powers and utilities. But it has first to rediscover itself, bring to the surface the profoundest reason of its being in that general truth and that unceasing aim of Nature which it represents, and find by virtue of this new self-knowledge and self-appreciation its own recovered and larger synthesis.”

Yoga has developed over the course of ages with many highly specialised paths and practices for the purpose of harnessing and uplifting the various powers of human life. Yoga, in order to remain relevant, has to show itself capable of providing real value to modern humanity in addressing the need for meaning, and the requirement to adapt to the stresses and issues put upon it by the technological age in which we live. The essential core purpose and message of the yogic tradition is being restated for the modern mind, and at the same time, the practices of yoga are being adapted to the needs of modern life. The result is a refreshing of the yogic tradition, a “rebirth” of yoga into new and modern forms, and a broadening of the active role that yoga can play in today’s world to help mankind survive the crises that it is facing.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 1, Life and Yoga, pp. 1-2