You want to keep the commitment you have to yoga, you’d like to maintain your asana practice, you have been practicing for years and have done a lot of reading on yoga. You want to be a part of a vital yoga community. You care about yoga and have found something of both meaning and value in your relationship with yoga. It’s personal.
The problem is, you’re finding that you’ve been running into fellow yogis in classes where it’s all about who has the best bind. Or, whether you can do a triple garudasana backflip off the yoga blocks and land on your feet without messing up your hair. You’re tired of being talked ‘at’ or sold on the idea that the physical body is the end all and the be all of the yogic path and yours better be up to snuff and dressed in good-looking, popular brand yoga wear from head to toe. It’s not what you signed up for.
Understandably, the direction yoga has or is taking has you in a dither, a lather, a conundrum, an existential yoga funk. It’s not unlike what happens if you’ve grown up in a beautiful town that is getting bulldozed into a shopping mall.
Granted, not all classes honor the fullness of the teachings, not all teachers have experienced or worked with them and not all students are aware of them.
While the practice of yoga absolutely involves the physical body, which needs to be purified, refined, strengthened and trained, it doesn’t stop at sinew and bone. Yogic anatomy, if true to the teachings, must necessarily consider the subtle bodies, and we are encouraged to become educated about these bodies, to train and refine them as well. That requires quite a commitment: sincere interest, perseverance, and some time, about a life time is my estimate.
As practitioners we are encouraged to understand as much of yoga as we can, to test it and use it as a tool for deep self-investigation. We are encouraged to understand it for its deep capacity to transform us, to turn the limiting ego and the small mind into an instrument that can perceive the interconnection of all things, the energetic nature of all things, pure consciousness. Self- realization, not perfect abs, is the goal. Patanjali was quoted to have said that as we practice yoga dormant talents and virtues will awaken within us, and that we will find ourselves to be far greater than we ever imagined. Think about it. That’s powerful. Or how about the Upanishadic promise, that as the knot of ignorance breaks in the heart, all doubts vanish.
Can you imagine being completely, purely and blissfully doubt free?
Indeed, beyond the small ego self, beyond our confusion, beyond thinking that we are our things, our jobs, our bodies or even our minds, there lies a non-dualistic state of union towards which the practice of yoga gently-and if we are lucky, constantly- nudges us.
If you have sensed that, or teach that or study that, you have undoubtedly been blessed by the great power of yoga as a path for self-realization. As we become more familiar with the nature of chitta, as we learn where thoughts arise, how to track them, what value to accord them, as we experience and observe it in our own bodies, emotions and lives, we become alchemists. We begin to stay on the saddle of consciousness. We are able to access more and more subtle states of awareness. The more we do, the more that awareness is used to improve not only our own worlds, but the lives of those we encounter. We become better citizens of the world.
I think it is wonderful that after so many thousands of years, the teachings are as fresh and as vibrant and as powerful and as relevant as they were in the days of the first yogis.
The call for self-realization, when we hear it, sets off a yearning for liberation so deep, so strong and so wise that it informs our lives.
The poet Mary Oliver, in her poem “The Journey” asks the question another way:
“…tell me,what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The poet’s question is the very thing about yoga that I love. It puts me face to face with the kind of questions I can love, cherish, and one day, understand enough to answer.
Yoga raises questions. It is an internal vehicle that takes me, the practitioner, into pause and reflect mode. And here is where I learn something about crucial, vital and moving about me.
I am part of a natural world with both physical and metaphysical laws that operate within and without, I am suite of components, a perceptually fragmented parcel of pure being I refer to and call ‘me’.