What is Yoga?
Yoga is about meeting yourself, on the mat in this very moment of time. Contrary to the majority of western thinking it is not about the ‘glory of the pose’. There is a very real hangover from the decades when yoga become fashionable in western societies. Yoga came through in a very pure way from a culture that had had this style of body-work common place for hundreds of years. Still today many older folk remember yoga of there twenties as strange, difficult and often harmful contortions. Sadly some yoga teachers today hold the pose as prize and still students are getting hurt and leaving behind what I’ve come to know as the most beneficial physical practice for self knowledge, spinal health and general well being available bar none.
I often come across people who say yoga is too physical in the west and not used as a spiritual cultivation tool as it was originally intended. To that my answer is always the same. Weather or not the student is looking for a spiritual dimension in their Asana (pose) practice they will find one. Simply, because a body that is cleansed, open and strengthened regularly is intrinsically connected to the greater whole. A person cannot help but get closer to their intrinsic ‘true nature’ when they are involved in regular Asana practice. On the other hand I find people often unnerved by the possibility of meeting some form of spiritual dogma in Yoga. This is tricky to answer because yes its there, but it, like the Asana is not a goal. So what is the point of Yoga with out a goal? that is as personal and varied as the people who practice yoga across the world.
Yoga is knowing who you are and what you are made of in both the literal and metaphoric sense. It is about charting and mapping the personal territories of self. Starting at the gross, reaching into the subtle realms of existence. How far can you map the influence of that breath in that body? How does the Asana grow when subtle fundamental principles are acknowledged and allowed to exist or applied and observed? How can the edge of asana be used to bring the mind into the uncomplicated now? Where can I gleam physical information and how do I react with my mind? In the temple of Apollo in Delphi the words appear ’gnothi seauton -Know thy self’, this is what I think yoga is, a method of understanding and cultivation the self. Yoga in the physical practice of Asana seems to be the re awakening of curiosity and the application of play, there are rules, because the body is a known quantity, but know these rules, understand the principles and clear messages can be found in very small places.
In exploring the body we become more aware of the influences of the mind. The two are interconnected and sometimes very hard to untangle. The body often yells at the mind, the mind yells back and we have a schoolyard brawl to contend with. But give our selves permission to enter Asana with ease and when that alone becomes our objective, then the mind and body set about working in harmony. Patanjali, the author of yoga sutras says that yoga is achieved when the pose becomes effortless. This could mean after years of painful practice when finally can put our foot over head in ‘pretzel pose’ with ease, or it could apply to the very next Asana you do. Like everything in life Yoga is a subjective discipline with many different reasons for practice, but when the practice is safe and mindful the results are usually uniform. I could tell you the results, but that would be like trying to describe a sunset, nothing like seeing it for your self.