Originated in India some 8000 years ago, this ancient practice of Self-realization and transformation has become a much needed practice of the modern times. The undeniable health benefits of this practice are what draws about 20 million people in the US who have made Yoga a regular part of their health regime. The practice and teachings of Yoga are as wide and as deep as an ocean and provide an endless reservoir of self-exploration and deep wisdom for all of humanity and is free of any discrimination of age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, religion and belief. It is important to point out that what was meant to be an individual practice where the teacher imparted the knowledge to the student based not only on the physical needs but also on the mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of the student, has evolved into a mainstream practice accessible to all.
What is Yoga? When asked this question, even the seasoned practitioner and the teacher tend to fall short in the explanation as the true explanation lies in one’s experience. Derived from Sanskrit, Yoga means to “yolk” or to unite. Unite us with what? The explanation that is most commonly understood is that it unites us with our body, mind and spirit. True, but a more insightful question to ask is what have we become separated from? What we have become separated from is who we are and what we are. We can call this our true essence or the Self. Other names are the Source or Pure Consciousness. While it is true that Yoga is an integrated practice of mind, body and spirit, but there is more. Mind, body and spirit is the trinity that comes out of Pure Consciousness. Our own consciousness is part of the greater Consciousness which unites all of life and is infinite. The ultimate union then is of our finite self with the Infinite Self.
Consciousness is universal energy and life force. Our journey into the physical body begins with consciousness just like a tree begins with the seed. However, it transcends the human life as we know it and beyond the earth, in other words, it does not end when our human life ends. It has no beginning and no end and is beyond the concept of time and space. It is the source of all thought, emotion and our liveliness and contains the energy, information and intelligence. Healing comes from connecting with this source and disease arises when we disconnect from this source.
How then can a simple asana practice deliver such a union? How can simply being in a posture connect us with our true nature? Here is my attempt in explaining it. Through a system of breath work and body movements, we come in direct contact with our strengths, weaknesses, and with what we are holding on to. The continuous flow of the breath beckons us to let go and to find ease. This letting go happens at the cellular level and gets deeply embedded in our muscles, tissues and bones, creating memory, stirring parts of us that we may have tucked away. We move through the body to move beyond the body. It is subtle yet powerful. We find a resolve in letting go and experience the relief and the stillness that accompanies it. We may find a place that is of pure love and acceptance, a place that is complete and whole. This is our true essence. Nothing needs to be said, all is experienced in this inner silence and calm. The connection heals with the realization that we were never broken to begin with.
We walk away feeling lighter, freer and happier and ready to infuse our experience into our lives and becoming more and more of who we truly are, Pure Consciousness. It is this experience that shatters our judgments of ourselves and others, gravitates us towards health promoting habits, lifestyle and relationships. This is how simply taking a yoga class to relieve back pain can result in finding our true purpose, serving as a pivotal point in our spiritual journey. This is the story of numerous practitioners who have come before me. We have to know nothing, we simply have to practice and the results will unfold for us when we are ready.
The word Yoga, “union” implies that there are two opposing forces or concepts at play. Yoga is the art and science of bringing these opposing forces into a more harmonious existence. Yoga is the balance between fluidity and integrity, mind and body. finite and infinite. Why balance is sought after, spoken about and is out of reach for many is because of the allure or the temporary stimulation the extremes hold. Budha discovered that living in the extremes is the cause of suffering and real growth and happiness only comes from the middle path. Doing too much would be to push into challenging postures in spite of the strain, pain or fatigue that one may experience, doing too little would be barely even trying. The place in the middle is the point of steady pleasantness in the body and ease in the mind, truly experiencing going with the flow. Life becomes effortless as it was meant to be. We feel free. This is how we know that we are experiencing Yoga.
This heightened awareness serves as a preventative measure. Chronic psychological stress that caused blockages in the flow of this energy and intelligence begins to dissipate. This in turn helps us face our difficulties and not allow them to overwhelm us as they have in the past. This increased ability to choose our own response fosters a renewed sense of control over our lives. It gives us strength to do the right thing at the right time and in achieving self-control and self-fulfillment. When we are at peace with our inner world, our outer world reflects the same back to us. And that is what adds richness and fullness to our life experiences. We can feel being alive in every fiber of our being. We can begin to move from surviving to living. It is then no longer about what we do, but how we do it. We now set up the ground for healing and health. What we need to do to heal again becomes clear. We become open to making changes that were not possible before. We tune in to what we need and we find ways to get it. We begin to believe that healing is possible and begin to trust in the bigger picture. We move towards acceptance, which spares a lot of our energy that was tied up in worry, control and conflict. Where we begin in Yoga and where we end up is hardly the point. It is all the stuff in the middle of the journey that has the lasting effect on our lives.
The practices of Yoga and Meditation are intertwined. Yoga practice itself is a meditation. It uses the body, and the breath to train the mind and then to transcend it. This happens at the end of a yoga class, in the corpse pose. We observe without the struggle to figure it all out; we see all in its perfection, we restore our wholeness and trust. When we begin to give to ourselves what we seek from others, we fill ourselves up to the rim to the point that we naturally overflow. We forgive ourselves for the same qualities that hurt us in others. It becomes easy to let go of past grudges because we realize how much energy it took to hold on to them.
My approach to anything in life is a pragmatic one. If doing something serves us, then do it. As our life changes, our needs change and so do our rituals. Yoga is not about an external ritual or practice, it is about creating that inner attitude and experience that is important. We remember these experiences at a cellular level and seek to create those experiences in all aspects of our lives. Yoga is about cultivating an ability to open ourselves enough that we can find something positive regardless of what we experience. This ability to change our perspective, to be positive, is central to our psychological and emotional health, which in turn makes us better people. As our inner life evolves, what matters more and more is how we are being with whatever life brings us. We acknowledge and accept that the outcome is ultimately beyond our control.
We are in everything alive; we shine in every star. When we can connect with that part of ourselves which is beyond the body, mind and spirit, we see ourselves in all creation and we see all creation within us. It is at this point where we realize we have begun to heal.
There is a deep connection between spirituality and healing. To become more conscious is not to control the outcome of our actions; it is rather to co-create with that which is larger. It is to harmonize with our higher self and let nature do what is for the highest good. We regain our power when we harmonize with nature. We heal when we reconnect with the source out of which all life arises. When we become that tuned in to who we truly are, there is no longer an attachment to a desired outcome, instead we feel okay with whatever happens. We realize that what is in store for us is far more than we could have dreamed of.