What is Yoga? From an Essay by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati written in 1987

Yoga means union, the union of individual existence with cosmic existence, union of the individual "I-am" with the cosmic "I-Am." This union is eternal. You do not have to create it. You cannot create it, because it always exists. You have to feel it. How? Not by an emotional feeling of the thinking mind, but by feeling the original mind, the silent mind with which you are born.

No individual is independent from the rest of existence. We depend on food for eating, on water for drinking, on space for dwelling, on air for breathing. We depend on Nature every moment. As a matter of fact, the individual is in every way the manifestation of Nature. And there is no distinction between outer and inner nature. The universe is like an organic living tree, and the sun, moon, stars, zodiac signs, humankind and all creatures are its leaves, flowers and fruits.

The mind is the world, and the world is the mind. All problems, all wars--whether individual, domestic, social, national, international, political, religious or economic--are the result of the disturbed mind, Thus, the mind is the cause of our happiness and unhappiness.

What is the cause of the crisis and lawlessness present throughout the world? It is lack of union between the body, mind and soul. We need to change our hearts. This is the work of Yoga, which means the holistic union of the body, mind and soul with our heart by means of love, without regard for caste, high or low, gender, creed, color, or country.

Is Yoga a religion? No. What is the religion of earth, water, fire, air, the sun, moon, stars and space? They have no particular religion. They belong to everybody, to the religious and nonreligious alike. Similarly, Yoga is beyond religion and politics. Electricity belongs to everybody, because everyone can use it. In the same way, Yoga belongs to everybody. Yoga is cosmic religion... Yoga deals directly with ultimate reality, pure awareness, pure consciousness beyond the body and mind, beyond time and space.

One who uses the body and mind properly in time and space, with proper motive for the common welfare of humankind, is a yogi and is practicing Yoga, whether he or she knows it or not. There is no choice between using and not using the mind. There is only the choice between proper and improper use, between unselfish and selfish purpose. One who uses the mind to unite humanity's heart, not only to create unity between the East and the West, but to experience that unity with all existence--he or she is a yogi.

Yoga is the holistic way of life, in which union and harmony of the body, the mind, and the soul or consciousness, "I-Am," are fundamental. Accordingly, Yoga has many branches, including physical, mental and spiritual forms and disciplines. In fact, each of life's activities is a Yoga when performed in a natural, harmonious way, attentively, to balance and unite the body, mind and spirit. Yoga is balance of the mind.

What is the reason that Yoga is becoming popular in the West? It is modern science which is making Yoga popular in the West. Due to discoveries, inventions and modern technology, this whole planet has become like one home. Nations are like family members. We are unconsciously married together by modern science, like partners wedded in a parent-organized marriage in India.

What is the difference between science and Yoga? Science deals with objective reality, while Yoga begins with subjective reality and ends in transcendental reality. Science is involved with all types of discoveries and inventions, while Yoga is interested mainly in the discovery of the discoverer, that is to say, the discovery of pure awareness, pure consciousness, the Absolute "I-Am." When you have the Self, pure consciousness, pure awareness, then you know the whole universe, objective and subjective, the past, present and future, because you are beyond time and space.

Now our old ways of living are dying, and humanity is searching for the new way. Our predicament is like that of fish which have been thrown out of the water but which still have not adopted a new way of life. The earth is suffering from crisis, disorder, confusion, disharmony, pollution, nuclear weapons, high-jacking, terrorism, and mistrust between the East and West. We have the choice between death and life. If we prefer to die, then we do not have to do anything. If we prefer to live, then we have to change our hearts completely--from disunity and disharmony to unity and harmony. This transformation is the work of Yoga.