We have come to where we are today due to our past thoughts and actions. Our karma continues to unfold, often only to be re-enforced, sometimes to be released. We are blind to the workings of karma which provide us with opportunities to overcome our conditioning - otherwise we would avoid these painful encounters. This is an aspect of maya which serves our evolution.
Within the confines of the state our karma generates, how can we live in such a way as to experience yoga?
According to yoga and ayurveda, there are four aims of life: these are dharma, artha, kama and moksha:
Dharma - Originally the word dharma meant living life in such a way as to be in complete harmony with one's prakriti (constitution) and the environment: the condition of perfect health - the result of which is the capacity to experience samadhi in addition to the other three states of consciousness (waking, dreaming and sleep). Today, the word has come to mean "duty" - to perform one's duty according to one's position in life.
If the condition described by the original definition is established, knowledge of what to do and what not to do (one's duty) is clear. Today, fulfilling our dharma is much more difficult, especially in the West - it requires education, analysis, life experience and de-conditioning.
Artha is commercial activity - the way we earn and spend money.
Yoga and Ayurveda suggest that we intelligently adjust our lifestyle, including our profession to be in accordance with our own constitution as well as to work in an environment and field which does not conflict with the yogic view of life.
Most of us do not assess our constitution when choosing a job - many other factors play in to it. According to yoga, if your job matches your constitution, your work itself may become yoga.
Here are some examples - a vatta type person decides to become an accountant - for what ever reason. The vatta type has to move his body, otherwise he will experience stress, he likes to have many diverse thoughts and variety in his work - he is thoroughly unsuited to the sedentary, careful calm work required of the accountant - this work is much better done by the Kapha type.
The Kapha type would not be at home as a stock market trader - he would be too slow, the stress would be too much, he would develop heart trouble but the vatta type would be in his element, making deals left and right.
We seldom take these things into consideration. Most of the time, if a job becomes available which pays more money, this is motive enough.
Then how should we spend our money? The ancient wisdom suggests: 20% to cover the cost of living, 20% for education, 20% for investment/saving, 20% for charitable donations and 20% for pleasure.
As with many ideas which come down from antiquity, we need to make some adaptions: today we may pay something for education, health care and the support of the needy through taxation. For some of us, rent can take up 50% or more of our income, for others, there is no spare cash once basic essentials have been taken care of.
Yoga also teaches that we should not waste. All actions result in some violence, it is inescapable, therefore yoga teaches one should minimize ones actions and cause the least harm possible. Each individual is allotted a span of life, some actions to perform and some specific amount of resources depending on individual karma and constitution.
Taking more than one needs, is a violence to others, but is also a violence to oneself. Since each individual has a limited resource, when that resource is exhausted, that life comes to an end. In other words, greed leads to a premature death.
Kama - pleasure!
Yoga does not teach that pleasure is bad - after all, the purpose of yoga is happiness. Excessive attachment is a problem and leads directly to pain, but there are many pleasures in life which are healthy.
Any one who has undertaken a fast for more than a couple of days has experienced the exquisite pleasure of the first few mouthfuls of food after breaking the fast. We have been told since childhood to chew our food 30 times before swallowing and yet with all the eating we have to do, this has easily been forgotten.
I once heard Osho say: dont eat your food, drink it! Chew it until it becomes liquid - then the process of assimilation starts to happen in the mouth. The first few mouthfuls after a fast do not prompt one to devour food in a greedy binge, but rather to savor each mouthful with mindful and sattvic pleasure.
Pleasures which come to us easily and which are healthy (as defined by the yama and niyama) need not be avoided. Prakriti is there for both enjoyment/experience and liberation. Only through experience do we gain knowledge. Spiritual teachings can help to guide us, but the raw material of our transformation is our personal experience and the knowledge we gain from it.
According to yoga, the key is not to struggle for pleasure - it should come naturally, then it is healthy. If we work with excess stress to buy the object which we think will give us pleasure, we are not enjoying today! Tomorrow may never come and we will have wasted all our efforts.
"Artha (commercial activity) and Kama (pleasure) are like mischievous cows which give you a kick when you attempt to milk them. Tie up their legs to the pillar of Dharma on the one side and the pillar of Moksha on the other. Thus controlled they yield you Amrita (milk, nectar) in immense measure." - Sri Ranga Mahaguru
The rishis say - the whole purpose of life is liberation. All desires are nothing but the one desire for moksha, which not finding its target, attaches to objects. These objects never give the desired pleasure which would result from the fulfilled desire for liberation.
If the foregoing three aspects of life are in healthy balance, then liberation is also possible. Being healthily established in one's dharma, one's means of earning and spending and one's pleasures, a healthy human being has the capacity for realization.
In fact, the healthy relationship between these three leads directly to the fourth. Being healthily established in the body, having performed one's duties to one's self (such as yoga practice) and to others, one is then well prepared for suitable work, from which one may derive appropriate pleasure.
It is possible that the happiness derived from harmonious and healthy living naturally starts to merge our minds in samadhi. Samadhi is a birthright and dis-harmony, ill health and distress prevents its appearance.