top of page
ocean surface samsara what is spiritual yoga benefits.jpg

What is Spiritual Yoga?
Part Three
The Spiritual Benefits of Yoga

This is the third and final part of a three-part series introducing spiritual yoga.

In the first part, we discussed the basic spiritual problem that yoga “solves”: the feeling of inadequacy, of not ever feeling “complete” or “whole”

In the
second part, we explored the yogic “solution” to the basic problem that problem: no longer fleeing yourself.

We recommend that you please read the previous two articles before reading this one.

What are Yoga’s Spiritual Benefits? What are the Benefits of Using Yoga Practice to Cultivate One’s Spirituality?
Wholeness. Connection. Self-Realization. Peace?

Self-interested motivations try to secure a vulnerable, wounded, individual self. These motivations further reinforce the individual self’s sense of separateness, which further removes it from experiencing the sense of wholeness that it craves. This is precisely because the wholeness it pursues is purely personal: it is my wholeness, what will make me in-finite, myself bulletproof, fill my wounded/empty heart.

But seeking personal wholeness is often no different than seeking personal immortality. The self doesn’t exist in a vacuum but in a world. Wholeness demands reconciliation, both of “inner” and “outer” othernessess. Wholeness is a reconciliation and is not the result of self-elevation or fixing the terms of one’s situation so that the existing (craving) self feels better. Any “reconciliation” admits the will of more than one thing (in this case, freedom and determinacies—puruṣa and prakṛti in the language of sāṃkhya yoga); wholeness is not the consequence of the world bending to “me” and my personal will.

The yogin recognizes that it can never be “whole” or “complete” (on its own) but rather recognizes that it is always already a participant in wholeness that precedes and exceeds itself and its personal will. The yogin participates in wholeness.


To be sure, as a habit that runs deeper than any other habit, self-interest is not something that you will turn off once and for all; in fact, trying to accomplish this is precisely a manifestation of our original problem: the quest for permanent personal wholeness/completeness—this time by purifying oneself of self-interest. Instead, self-interest is released—gradually, more often than not—as we deepen our capacity to sit with the inadequacy that motivates the desire to become perfect/complete/whole/pure. In other words, we cannot dispose of self-interest, but we moderate it by no longer fleeing ourselves.

As a participant in wholeness, the yogin is more connected (but didn’t seek connectedness in order to fill its personal void).


As a participant in wholeness, the yogin is more open (but didn’t seek “openness” in order to remedy its sense of being “closed”).


As a participant in wholeness, the yogin is more authentic or “pure” (but didn’t seek “purity” in order to remedy its disgust with its body/mind/self).


And as a participant in wholeness, the yogin directly feels/experiences wholeness or completeness or authenticity. And as it deepens its participation in/as wholeness, the yogin realizes how it itself is an expression of wholeness that had previously been attempting to make wholeness its own (and experienced suffering as a result).


This is the irony of self-awareness, self-realization, self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-love, etc.: they are the result of releasing the self-interested motivations borne of our reaction to our inner lack (i.e., seeking a permanent sense of personal completeness in the world). This is “accomplished” only by being able to sit with the anxiety of being incomplete. In other words, these modes of “self-care” are not things that you “do”, but are rather the results of freeing ourselves from the limitations imposed by our habitual self’s desire for unlimited recognition and/or security. 


Furthermore, as we develop the capacity to sit with our inner sense of lack, we are given to the cultivation of such qualities as generosity, loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, etc., while remaining “detached” from expected outcomes around the cultivation of these qualities. It is our capacity to sit with ourselves that allows for releasing self-interest and to seeing directly—to knowing or even “realizing”—our self (and all that this contains/entails), including the ways in which our attention is always already (and irremediably) wrapped up in our material existential situation (which are also our “self”).


So, what is spiritual yoga and what are the spiritual benefits of yoga? Yoga is what remains when we’ve abandoned the impossible quest for permanent personal wholeness/completeness/purity and when—unencumbered by toxic self-interest—we make contact with Reality itself: the singular Reality that does not conform to our individual will, the absolute Reality that gives me my will and of which me and my will are but an expression—the very flesh, so to speak, of the world. Yoga is realizing just this, my whole Self, the Self of which I am a part. It is fulfilling the Self, being the Self, myself. Yoga—spiritual yoga—just is no longer fleeing yourself. 

Further Reading

This is the third and final part of a three-part series answering the question, what is spiritual yoga? In the first part, we explored the purpose of yoga, answering the question, what problem does yoga solve? In the second part, we explored the central practice of yoga spirituality that is the yogic response to the problem of inner lack. Collectively, these three articles introduce our guide exploring the meaning of spiritual yoga.

The work of David R. Loy (mentioned in previous parts of this introduction to spiritual yoga) remains relevant, especially his 2008 book, Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution (Wisdom Publications).

bottom of page