The First Necessary Step in Preparation for the Practice of the Integral Yoga

One can clearly appreciate the unique nature of the integral yoga when one reflects on the preparation needed for the practice when compared to the preparations required for numerous other paths of yoga. The 8 steps set forth in Patanjali’s yoga sutras include two preparatory stages, called yamas and niyamas. These set forth purifications of the physical, vital and mental being so that the further practices can bear fruit and not wind up harming the practitioner. Similar requirements are set forth for many paths of spiritual discipline, one way or the other, to ensure the individual can focus, not become distracted and hold the energy without spilling it or breaking down the body-life-mind complex. Some individuals, like Milarepa, require extensive preparation through hard physical labor. Others are asked to practice silence, or devotional prayers, to quiet the mind and open the heart. Some require extensive preparation of the physical body so as to have it acquire a perfect ‘seat’ (asana) that is steady, firm and which can be maintained for long periods of time as meditation develops. Every yogic path, every spiritual discipline, asks the practitioner to first undertake exercises of this sort so as to ready the being for the arduous efforts and tests that arise along the way.

For the integral yoga, all of these preparations are subsumed under a more general prescription of becoming conscious. The process and the result of becoming conscious inevitably lead to the type of purifications asked for in the numerous other paths of spirituality.

The other day, a seeker asked what role Hatha Yoga or Raja Yoga plays for a practitioner of the Integral Yoga. Neither of these are necessarily required for the integral yoga, but may become part of the process, at some stage or another, as the conscious seeker addresses issues that arise in the course of the sadhana. Every science, every branch of human knowledge, human activity and human energy may be called to play a role at a certain stage. The conscious individual learns to wield these tools to address difficulties or to support progress in the mind, life-energy or the body, to the extent that he finds they will aid the process, and without being attached to them as permanent stages. For instance, the disciplines of Hatha Yoga may help to train the body, aid in the increasing awareness and consciousness of the body, and make it strong, flexible and resilient. The disciplines of Raja Yoga may do something similar for the nervous envelope and the mind. Yet, in the end, once the need has been dealt with, the practitioner can, and should, put aside the tools in order to continue to progress into the next phase or stage of yogic development. It must be remembered that the goal of integral yoga is not to become a perfect Hathayogin or Rajayogin, but to open the consciousness to oneness with the divine force and to support that force as it carries out the evolutionary transformations that take place in the world.

A disciple asks: “What is one to do to prepare oneself for the Yoga?”

The Mother observes: “To be conscious, first of all. We are conscious of only an insignificant portion of our being; for the most part we are unconscious. It is this unconsciousness that keeps us down to our unregenerate nature and prevents change and transformation in it. It is through unconsciousness that the undivine forces enter into us and make us their slaves. You are to be conscious of yourself, you must awake to your nature and movements, you must know why and how you do things or feel or think them; you must understand your motives and impulses, the forces, hidden and apparent, that move you; in fact, you must, as it were, take to pieces the entire machinery of your being. Once you are conscious, it means that you can distinguish and sift things, you can see which are the forces that pull you down and which help you on.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pg. 13

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