Q: The teacher at my yoga studio has told us that the meaning of the word yoga is “union.” My question is, union with what? The body with the soul? Union with consciousness?

A: The central focus of yoga is not the soul and not the body—it is the mind. The body is external and the soul is internal, but the mind, which stands between the body and the soul, is neither completely internal nor completely external. You have probably been told that consciousness is all pervasive and lies at the core of your being, but until you are able to still the mind, this is just another sweet statement. Our problems are not created by consciousness, nor by the body. Problems are created by the mind and can only be solved by the mind. That is why the scriptures say, “Mind is the ground for both bondage and liberation.”

While it is true that the literal meaning of yoga is “union,” for all practical purposes yoga, as defined by the great master Patanjali, refers to the attainment of mastery over the dynamic forces of the mind. This mastery begins with cultivating a peaceful and concentrated mind. Normally the mind vacillates, jumping from a disturbed state to a state of distraction and from distraction to stupefaction. These three states lead us nowhere. A disturbed, distracted, and stupefied mind is unable to employ the body and senses to undertake a purposeful task. A jumpy monkey mind has no chance to accomplish anything, or even to figure out what is right and what is not right. With such a mind you cannot work with your body, you cannot work with your consciousness, you cannot work with your relationships, and you cannot even work at your job effectively. More to the point, such a mind fails to claim its innate right—mastery over the body and the surrounding world. That is why, before we can learn to unite the mind with either the body or with consciousness, the mind has to be purified, disciplined, and made one-pointed.

When the mind is calm, harmonious, and concentrated, you gain right understanding of yourself and others. Your comprehension expands, enabling you to see the world and your place in it. Your list of complaints begins to dwindle. You are no longer uncomfortable with others or with the circumstances of your life, and you begin to bask in a positive and joyful atmosphere, both in your internal world and in the world around you.

A tranquil mind is purposefully creative.

A tranquil and one-pointed mind is purposefully creative. With such a mind you get more done in less time, and what is more, because it is done with clarity and purpose, the work you undertake is not a burden and does not become a source of misery.

A confused mind is not fit to follow any path. It is not even in a position to tell the body and senses what is good for them and what is not. That is why we go on complying with the urges of the body and senses, even when these urges serve no useful purpose. A confused mind also fails to recognize its own inherent potential. Lacking complete understanding of itself, it fails to summon the power of will and determination—the two forces necessary to accomplish any task, sacred or mundane. Such a mind has no way of deciding what it should unite with or what it should separate from; this confusion is what causes a person to live a purposeless, meaningless life.

In contrast, a peaceful, one-pointed mind has a natural ability to see itself, its role, and its place in relation to both body and soul. This ability allows the mind to command the body to discharge its duty to hear and heed the voice of the soul. The practices that help us acquire a one-pointed mind are called yoga. Reaching that state is the goal of yoga.

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