Normally when we think of “yoga” we consider it to be some specific set of specialised practices used by an individual for achieving benefits for physical health, stress reduction or spiritual development. Sri Aurobindo, however, asks us to take a step back to look at yoga in its broader and more general sense, with the following definition: “…a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the potentialities latent in the being and a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos.”
This very broad definition implies that all life, the entire evolutionary development of Nature, is in fact a process which can be called “the yoga of Nature”. The development through successive stages of Matter, then into the evolution of plant and then animal life, represents this process, which accelerates and becomes “self-conscious” when it enters into the various stages of human development.
“Yoga, as Swami Vivekananda has said, may be regarded as a means of compressing one’s evolution into a single life or a few years or even a few months of bodily existence.” This bridges the general “yoga of Nature” with the more intense, focused efforts that can be made by the self-aware human seeker.
Any specific yogic system, then, is the selection and application of one or more specific powers or movements available to the seeker to encourage, speed up and enhance what otherwise might take millennia to evolve in the natural order. “It is this view of Yoga that can alone form the basis for a sound and rational synthesis of Yogic methods. For then Yoga ceases to appear something mystic and abnormal which has no relation to the ordinary processes of the World-Energy or the purpose she keeps in view in her two great movements of subjective and objective self-fulfilment; it reveals itself rather as an intense and exceptional use of powers that she has already manifested or is progressively organising in her less exalted but more general operations.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 1, Life and Yoga, pg. 2