Many paths of yoga teach a fixed method that everyone who takes it up is asked to follow in a precise and standardized way. Whether it is the use of a fixed set of asanas, pre-determined pranayama routines, set routines of prayer, mantra, japa, or devotional practices, everyone is given essentially the same starting point and are set to reach essentially the same result at the end of the process. For many, this involves the abandonment of the life and motives of the outer world and a focus on spiritual realisation and achievement of states of consciousness, such as samadhi, that unite the seeker with the divine in either a Transcendent, a Universal or an individual Self.

Because the goal of the integral yoga is not simply to depart from the world, but to actually bring down and put into action the higher powers of consciousness in the evolutionary process, to transform the world, not abandon it, such a fixed and uniform method of yogic practice is not feasible. Rather, each individual who takes up this path starts from their own unique circumstances, developed capacities, and limitations. The seeker is then asked to systematically deal with all of the complex elements of the nature, and make each level of being receptive and ready to manifest the new consciousness that is trying to express itself. The number of variables and the complex interaction of these variables in each individual makes this a daunting task that requires awareness, flexibility, adaptability and patience. There is no easy way to simply shut down the elements of mind, life and body to achieve a set form of realisation, when each of these needs to be supported and enhanced, modified to respond to the higher force, and brought into a state of harmony that does not exist in the current configuration of mind-life-body. There is also no way to avoid the interactions in the world and the pressures exerted by the environment. For each individual the specifics of the steps, the path and the working out of the issues and difficulties must necessarily be both varied and quite fluid. The traditional methods and practices may each find their role at a specific juncture of the sadhana of the integral yoga. They may, however, be left aside when a new phase comes into focus.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The way of yoga must be a living thing, not a mental principle or a set method to be stuck to against all necessary variations.”

“What is a perfect technique of yoga or rather of a world-changing or Nature-chaing yoga? Not one that takes a man by a little bit of him somewhere, attaches a hook, and pulls him up by a pulley into Nirvana or Paradise. The technique of a world-changing yoga has to be as multiform, sinuous, patient, all-including as the world itself. If it does not deal with all the difficulties or possibilities and carefully deal with each necessary element, has it any chance of success? And can a perfect technique which everybody can understand do that? It is not like writing a small poem in a fixed metre with a limited number of modulations. If you take the poem simile, it is the Mahabharata of a Mahabharata that has to be done. And what, compared with the limited Greek perfection, is the technique of the Mahabharata?”

“The general principle of self-consecration and self-giving is the same for all in this yoga, but each has his own way of consecration and self-giving. The way that X takes is good for X, just as the way that you take is the right one for you, because it is in consonance with your nature. If there were not this plasticity and variety, if all had to be cut in the same pattern, yoga would be a rigid mental machinery, not a living power.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 5 Bases of Yoga, Not a Set Method, pp. 96-97

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.