If you’ve ever been interested in yoga or have been practicing for a while, have you ever stopped to ask yourself what yoga means to you?
The word “yoga” itself means union. But what exactly are we trying to unite?
Yoga’s original intention was never meant to be a physical pursuit. Yoga is an ancient science discovered by seekers and sages thousands of years ago, as a path to Self-Realization. Yoga practice prepares for you, the consciousness, the indwelling being, to drop all false associations and realize your own innate nature, which is peace and happiness. Through steady and consistent practice of yoga, consciousness becomes fully established in the Truth of its own Being.
One doesn't need to look far to see that most of yoga's original intention has been lost and replaced with a trendy way to "get a workout." The original yoga postures were simply variations of seated meditation poses. The primary purpose of yoga postures (asanas) was to harmonize the body so that it would be comfortable being still for a long period of time, in order for the deeper inner practice of yoga to take place. The yogi realized that the realms of mind and matter are always changing, but underneath them is the Absolute Truth which alone is unchanging.
True yoga is really for everyone, because ultimately yoga is not a physical activity, but a means to return to our natural state of being.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the state of Yoga as the end of identification with the fluctuations of the mind. Then in sutra 1:12, he gives a 2 step method for how to stop those fluctuations.
“Identification with the fluctuations of mind is stopped by practice and non-attachment.”
~Patanjali's Yoga Sutras I.12
PRACTICE & NON-ATTACHMENT
Even though it takes time, it is it crucial that you start regular, earnest practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya) if you are serious about realizing and remaining established your own true nature. We will only be able to see who we truly are with steady practice and non-attachment. But practice of what? Non-attachment of what? Is Patanjali suggesting that we should practice yoga in order to become non-attached to objects, desires, and states of being?
It’s important to remember that yoga is not limited to the physical aspect of practice. So how can we practically apply Patanjali’s 2 step method of practice and non-attachment to achieve a state of “yoga?”
Patanjali says a state of Yoga is the end of identification with the fluctuations of the mind. Therefore, yoga is an active acceptance, observance, and responsiveness to the moment as it is without labels, concepts, descriptions, or conclusions. It is a state of openness and receptivity. If yoga is an active practice of acceptance, observance, and responsiveness to the moment as it is, then having non-attachment during practice would mean that there is no desire or insistence for any particular outcome. There is only a state of presence to what is.
“Non-attachment is the spaciousness to allow any quality of mind, any thought or feeling to arise without closing around it, without eliminating the pure witness of being. It is an active receptivity to life.”
The more we practice becoming very still and very quiet without engaging with the voice of the mind, the more we will allow a sense of spaciousness and openness to permeate our experience. This type of practice is more of a feeling state rather than a thinking state. Can you pause for short moments throughout the day where you take the time to relax your focus, and just feel without thinking? If you stop identifying with thinking, then where does your attention go? It is important to understand that the objective of practice is not to get rid of thoughts, suppress thoughts, or replace bad thoughts with better thoughts. It is simply to notice that thoughts constantly arise, but that you are the witness of those thoughts. Most yogis and spiritual aspirants know this on an intellectual level, but typically forget this distinction when it comes to daily life. A useful question to ask yourself is, what percentage of the day am I the observer of my thoughts, and what percentage of the day am I getting lost in my thoughts and therefore ruled by my thoughts? In all your free time, practice being the observer of your thoughts, feelings and emotions, rather than getting swept up in them. Create space between you the observer and what is being observed.
Our attention has been conditioned to have a natural out-flowing tendency towards thoughts and objects. We can break this pattern of conditioning by ceasing to energize our thoughts and stop focusing on objects. There is then a change in polarity. We can redirect the mind’s out-flowing tendencies into an inward-moving current that emphasizes illuminating pure Consciousness itself. Practice of disidentification of mind does not have to be limited to the time you spend on your yoga mat, but can be applied in every moment of your life.
“The spiritual journey is one of constant transformation. In order to grow, you must give up the struggle to remain the same, and learn to embrace change at all times. One of the most important areas requiring change is how we solve our personal problems. We normally attempt to solve our inner disturbances by protecting ourselves. Real transformation begins when you embrace your problems as agents for growth.”
The key is to relax behind whatever is arising in your experience, however pleasant or unpleasant it may be. If we relax the body and mind from its rigid judgments of reality, then we'll open to allowing all of our experiences to pass through our hearts where they are transmuted and then released.
When you are engaged in the physical practice of yoga, intense and confronting sensations and emotions can arise, pain can arise, even causeless happiness and joy can arise. The physical aspect of practice is an excellent tool to teach us how accept, observe, and respond without become attached to our present experience.
“This too shall pass.”
-Writings of the medieval Persian Sufi poets
Our yoga practice is a tool for self-inquiry and investigation. Asana relaxes and harmonizes the physical body and can help us to overcome all disruptive ways of thought and emotion, which only arises from identifying that we are the body/mind. In addition to using the body as a tool, we can practice observing the breath to remind ourselves that life force energy happens all by itself. Nature gives us breath moment by moment, and with the observation of breath, comes great peace of mind. When we lay down at the end of our practice and prepare for savasana, the final relaxation, we can observe with certainty that what we are is other than the body. The body is an object, and I am the witnessing subject. That which is subject cannot be object. Therefore, who am I?
Questions to reflect on:
Who am I?
Who or what is the witness of sensation, breath, thought, feeling and imagination?
How can I create more space in my life for earnest practice?
What am I holding onto that is holding me back from allowing more peace and happiness into my life?
How can I remove the obstructions in my life that keep me from realizing and abiding in my own true nature?