A DOZEN OR SO STUDENTS gathered in the assembly room of the college dormitory for an introductory talk on bhakti-yoga. I got their attention and said we'd now do some yoga. About half of them pulled their legs up into some semblance of the lotus position, waiting for tips on breathing and concentration.
But instead of the sound of silence, they heard the sizzle of a small pair of hand cymbals. Eyes opened, jaws dropped.
It didn't take long, though, before the students got the idea. Soon many were singing along with the Hare Krsna mantra, their faces lit up with smiles.
After the demonstration, I asked the students to tell me what they thought yoga meant. I got the predictable responses, mostly having to do with sitting, stretching, twisting, and concentrating. Someone spoke of clearing the mind of all thoughts. Someone mentioned picturing yourself as "identical with the One."
"Bhagavad-gita says that yoga means to connect with God," I began my talk, "and that's why we chant Hare Krsna."
Their pleased expressions showed they were losing misconceptions. When people see Hare Krsna devotees singing in the street, they probably don't think we're doing yoga. But in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna teaches us how to make our whole lives yoga. Srila Prabhupada often said that his students were practicing yoga twenty-four hours a day.
Today's so-called yoga usually aims at a healthy body and a peaceful mind. That's fine if that's all you want. But the real purpose of yoga is to reestablish our relationship with Krsna clearly a much loftier goal. The word yoga means "to connect," and from it we get the word yoke. Krsna covers various kinds of yoga in the Gita, but they're all meant for the same thing: to awaken our love for Him.
Bhakti-yoga is not only the easiest type of yoga; Krsna declares it the best: "And of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion." (Bg. 6.47)
Since the goal of yoga is to concentrate on God, what better way to do that than by bhakti-yoga serving Him in love? Prabhupada would scoff at the practice of doing fifteen minutes of meditation in the morning and then spending the rest of the day in material pursuits. Bhakti-yogis take their meditation to work. Krsna tells Arjuna to fight and remember Him. "In all activities be conscious of Me," He says.
Prabhupada taught his disciples to mold their lives so they could never forget Krsna. He gave us a program of morning and evening practices focused on Krsna. He told us, as Krsna does, to offer the fruits of our work to Krsna. He told us to try to chant Hare Krsna always.
After my talk, one of the students, Mira, thanked me for clearing up some confusion.
"I was always attracted to stories of yogis," she said, "and now I'm happy to hear I can be a student and a yogi at the same time."
And I was happy to hear she understood.