In our modern world, we see the wide dissemination of yoga, primarily as a means of gaining some measure of control over the body, through the postures developed and taught under the rubric of ‘hatha yoga’. In many instances, teachers of hatha yoga have taken the step of teaching their students about breathing techniques, called ‘pranayama’, as well as various forms of meditation, chanting and devotional singing. Hatha yoga is taught as a means to obtain health, fitness, wellness, and flexibility of the body and potentially as a way to address stress, insomnia, and lack of peace in the mind. The focus is primarily therefore on the effect that these practices can have on the outer life and the individual’s ability to optimize that life.

If we look back, however, to the historical practice of yoga, we see a quite different picture. Numerous specific paths and practices of yoga developed, many of which were directed at gaining an ability to understand the action of consciousness, and learning to separate one’s true self from the ever-changing surface personality that represents how most people view themselves. Raja Yoga systematically developed a science of quieting the mental noise and focusing the power of concentration. The triple paths (Knowledge, Devotion, Works) of yoga each respectively took up a specific aspect of the human instrument and utilized it to transcend the external ego-personality. This reveals the deeper truths that stand behind the human being, and moves yoga from its focus on the external being and its well-being, to a new focus on understanding and enhancing the power of consciousness in the individual’s life, and thereby enlarging the being and shifting the standpoint to that of the Divine.

Dr. Dalal writes: “Yoga is generally associated with certain set practices such as postures, breathing exercises, meditation and the like. In addition, yoga is understood as consisting in certain rules and norms pertaining to aspects of one’s outer life, such as diet, habits and acts of conduct. However, as taught by Sri Aurobindo, yoga consists essentially in inner psychological work aimed at the change and transformation of consciousness. As he states: ‘Yoga is nothing but practical psychology’; … the whole method of Yoga is psychological; it might almost be termed the consummate practice of a perfect psychological knowledge.’ “

“This book, meant primarily for the general spiritual seeker rather than for the practitioner of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, deals only with the initial and preliminary steps towards the radical change of consciousness aimed at by the Integral Yoga. These initial tasks of psychospiritual growth consist in: emerging progressively from the unconscious state in which one is more or less a fused part of the collective mass rather than an independent individual who is ‘a truly mental man who thinks for himself, is free from all outer influences, who has an individuality, who exists, has his reality’; developing an increasing understanding of oneself by becoming more and more conscious of one’s being in all its complexity in order to discern the springs of one’s actions arising from the different parts of one’s being so as to be able to exercise self-control and attain self-mastery; bringing harmony and order among the diverse parts of one’s being which normally are in a state of conflict and disorder; discovering one’s true self and unifying one’s being — which is normally characterised by division and disunity — by organising all other selves around the true self.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Preface, pp. ix-x

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 17 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.