14 Jun 15 Things You Realize When You Fall In Love With Yoga
By: Jessi Kohlhagen
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”
-The Bhagavad Gita
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning union, communion, and to bind, join, direct, and concentrate one’s attention on. Mahadev Desai, in his introduction to the Gita according to Gandhi defines yoga as “the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God; the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will.”
While yoga is indeed a physical practice, its main intention lies in the union of body, mind and spirit. It transcends the mere physical realm and supports us mentally, energetically, spiritually, morally and holistically.
To the yogi, the body is the prime instrument of spiritual enlightenment and oneness with God. It’s the palpable vehicle for our spirit. If the vehicle breaks down, the traveller cannot go far. The yogi knows that the needs of the body are also the needs of the divine spirit, which lives through the body.
Ultimately, a yogi’s life becomes focused on the question: “How do I become free, whole and alive?”
Through a dedicated yoga practice we discover the inexhaustible number of answers to this profound question. This article serves to share some of these answers.
Whether you are just beginning your yoga journey, or being called back to a lifelong practice, yoga is sure to change your life again and again.
“By profound meditation, the knower, the knowledge and the known become one. The seer, the sight and the seen have no separate existence.”
Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment, exactly as it is and exactly as we are experiencing it, without judgment or reaction. It’s a simple yet profound experience of observing… of inhabiting… of allowing. Mindfulness is bare attention.
In yoga, mindfulness is about total acceptance of the moment we’re in. It’s about clearing the mental clutter, severing our bonds to the external world, and suspending ourselves in the vast openness of our internal world. In this place, we inevitably bump up against tension, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional. Inhabiting this tension — breathing through it and into it, and embracing all sides of our feelings without trying to resist or control them — is the essence of mindfulness. And yoga is the ultimate training ground for this divine practice.
“While good habits, like bathing, purify the body externally, asana and pranayama cleanse it internally. The practice of asanas tones the entire body and removes the toxins and impurities caused by over-indulgence. Pranayama cleanses and aerates the lungs, oxygenates the blood, and purifies the nerves.”
Impurities in our body and mind greatly affect our wellbeing and inhibit our receptivity to awareness, wisdom and spiritual liberation. Through yogic practice, the body and mind become cleansed inside and out, and as a result, our spiritual development is greatly accelerated.
The reason can be attributed to an increase in the flow of prana (universal life force) through the whole body, improving our capacity to work, think, digest, breathe, move, feel and experience life.
It is true that we are physical beings, but we are also energetic beings, and as we seek and dissolve all of our energetic resistances, we open our inner channels and increase the flow of vitality in every area of our lives. Not only does this make us feel significantly more alive, but it also fosters our spiritual development, inner awareness and equanimity.
“We are constantly invited to be who we are.”
-Henry David Thoreau
The yoga mat is a place where we are invited to engage in a process of discovery as to who we are in this moment, and then the next, and then the next — and to find and unlock the inherent joy that exists within us through all of these changing currents.
When what we think, feel, do and say are all in alignment, something transformational happens – it’s called authenticity, and it offers us a feeling of wholeness and peace that we simply cannot find anywhere else.
We discover this experience in yoga when we realize that living our truth and embodying our authentic selves is far more important and rewarding than looking “good” (whatever the heck that means). We learn to follow what feels right for us, and discover that suddenly we are living in the flow of life, and no longer struggling against the current.
And of course, over time, this wisdom starts to transcend our mats. The more we embrace authenticity in our yoga practice (or anywhere in our lives for that matter), the more we unleash our divine inner nature, align all aspects of ourselves, and act as a clear, open conduit for the universal life energy to flow through us and into our world. This is the essence of being “in flow.”
“Nothing brings down walls as surely as acceptance.”
“Form before Depth.” This is a prevailing philosophy of yoga, and one that can translate in beautiful ways to other areas of our lives. In essence, it means achieving the proper alignment in a pose first and foremost, and then slowly deepening our expression of that pose over time.
In our instant gratification, grass-is-greener, keeping up with the Jones’s culture, we often overlook this simple yet profound truth, and end up with too much of the wrong thing, which can be destructive to our bodies, our relationships and our planet.
True yogis place far more value on proper form than they do on the depth of that form. They understand that form requires an active effort, where as depth is mostly a natural evolution. This takes awareness, patience, and a profound acceptance of where we are. Oftentimes it means pulling in a block for extra support, staying with a simpler variation of a pose, or taking child’s pose when we feel taxed and need to return to our breath.
(If a pose has taken your breath away, or inappropriately compressed any part of your body, you’ve sacrificed your form for depth and are missing out on the benefits and the essence of the practice.)
Yoga helps us take our time, pay attention to what our being is telling us, and embrace where we are with wide-open arms.
“Reduced to our own body, our first instrument, we learn to play it, drawing from it maximum resonance and harmony.”
Our lives are filled with dualities. Effort and rest. Elimination and assimilation. Yin and yang. Day and night. Grounding and reaching. Inhale and exhale. If we move to extreme in either direction, it can be destructive to our health and equilibrium.
And while yoga does help us create greater balance (physically, mentally, and energetically), it also continually reminds us that balance is a moving target. It’s not something we reach and say “I’ve got it, now I’ll stand still.” Indeed, when asked to stand perfectly still in a simple mountain pose, we quickly realize that there’s nothing still about it… our breath inflates and deflates, our chest rises and falls, blood pumps through our veins, subtle releases and contractions occur in our muscles.
Maintaining perfect and permanent balance (in life or on the mat) is simply unrealistic. We are moving beings living in a moving world, and our equilibrium is constantly being challenged.
But practicing yoga helps us see that these challenges to our harmony actually help us improve our balance over time – if we learn to be nimble, adaptable, and focused — and we remember to consciously breathe through all things, and to take them moment by moment, as they arise.
Yoga poises our soul in such a way that enables us to see life, in all its aspects, evenly, while we continue to shape-shift through them. And before we know it, we’re able to lift off into those challenging positions, without fear of falling, and learn to “fly.”
“Just as an unbaked earthen pot dissolves in water, the body soon decays. So bake it hard in the fire of yogic discipline in order to strengthen and purify it.”
Discipline leads to liberation. It takes us beyond our immediate desires and distractions and enables us to overcome our limited mode of being by transcending into a more expansive and spacious state.
Yoga inspires a burning desire to make ourselves pure, strong and healthy. We seek to conquer the body and render it a fit, clean and clear vehicle for our soul’s work on this Earth. We achieve this through the power of self-discipline and commitment to the practice.
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Yoga is most potent when we are wholly present… not rushing to get to the next pose, the next place, the next task. We release all expectation of “next” and fully inhabit “this.” We use the breath as a barometer for our physical and mental state, as well as the foundation for this mindful presence. The breath quite literally fills us up.
In yoga, we learn to release the past, and take no concern for tomorrow. On the mat, we live in the eternal present, and we are calmed and purified by the stillness. Only within this “still mind” can the beauty and ecstasy of the true Self be reflected and illuminated. Only in stillness can we know ourselves as the very truth we have been seeking.
“Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak.”
-Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
In order to experience who we are at our deepest level we must get quiet. Yoga helps us get underneath the internal mental noise so that we can discover and realize the true divinity that exists within. It is in this silence and willingness to be with ourselves that we discover how to be guided by our own source of clarity, authenticity and love. Yoga helps to lead us there.
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Yoga is a science of subtleties. In it, there are a million layers we explore within ourselves, each seemingly more subtle and microscopic than the last, yet each of them intertwined and mutually supportive of all others.
As our practice progresses, we start to unlock tiny little treasure troves of wisdom within — like the effect of sending our breath to the back body, or lifting evenly amongst all four sides of our torso, or planting our fingers and palms in just the right way to completely transform a pose.
These are simple adjustments. Some of them may seem obvious. But until we truly know something from our own enlightened experience, it remains just out of our realm of understanding.
These subtleties exist all around us – on and off the mat. Yoga helps us awaken to the power they hold. We begin to see the universe that exists in a single task — the endless potential in a single action. And we begin to act accordingly.
“When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
Yoga is one of the most powerful gratitude practices, because its very essence is gratitude in motion. We learn to savor every passing experience – the breath in our lungs, the shaking of our muscles, the air on our skin. We sink into deep intention and emerge clearer and more peaceful than ever before. Each movement becomes an offering to our higher Self.
From this place we realize again and again that real peace is unshakable. True bliss is unchanged by gain or loss — difficulty or ease. Joy is our birthright, and it is always available to us.
Allow gratitude to flood into your practice. Let it flow through every vein in your body, leaving no cell untouched.
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
It takes a certain amount of will to practice yoga, and the same is true in life. But excessive willfulness creates tension and hardening. In yoga, we learn to strike a beautiful balance between effort and ease – between causing and allowing.
Yoga helps us awaken a sense of lightness and freedom in our body, mind and emotions. On the mat, we’re invited to find a sense of ease standing in who we are – to find a sense of ease, even as the intensity builds. We take it to the edge of our potential, while remaining light and free, and never letting it take our breath away. And then, we carry this practice out into the world.
“Each of us must carve a path through our inner wilderness.”
We have the power to become fully aware of who we are, and the primary energies that are coursing through our lives — to know the contours, the patterns, the dynamics of our existence — to understand what we focus on and how we move.
Now more than ever we need to return to ourselves for guidance and to rely on long-buried instincts and intuitions. Yoga is a beautiful opportunity for us to traverse our inner reality and explore our inner wilderness. As seekers, we must penetrate many layers in order to come face to face with our true self. Yoga helps us peel away these layers, one at a time. Our body unlocks our inner nature, and the mat becomes our mirror.
“Each cell in your body is a whole world in itself, passing on genetic memories to the next generation of cells. If only you took the time to really listen to your body, you would find that it has a lot to tell you about the mystery of life. In fact, you don’t have to travel any farther than into your body to collide with the divine.”
With unflagging patience we refine and animate every cell, unlocking and liberating our physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual capacities, and uniting them together into a beautiful symphony of alternating movement and stillness. As yogis, we do not look to the heavens for God, for we know that God is within. We do not offer burnt sacrifices, but simply ourselves raised to our own highest potential. We stand on our own alter, and the poses become our prayers.
“The yogi understands the faults of others by seeing and studying them first in himself. This self-study teaches him to be charitable to all.”
The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Yoga helps us experience oneness with all things. It inspires us to use all of our resources – physical, economic, mental and moral – to alleviate the pain and suffering of others — a suffering that we are familiar with because we, too, are having a human experience. We are compelled to share our strength with the weak until they become strong, knowing that someday we may need to borrow someone’s strength as well. We believe that every creature has as much a right to live as we have, and we look upon all of creation with the eyes of love. When the mind bears hostility for none, it is filled with compassion for all.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
One of the greatest challenges we face as humans is that we have a heart which seeks union, and we also have a mind / ego that wants to protect, defend, and maintain separateness. At its worst, the ego resorts to blame, jealousy, domination & control, comparison, and judgment.
The heart, however seeks to surrender, to allow, to lose its separateness and to merge. Where the ego is hard and contractive, the heart is soft and expansive.
In yoga, we have the opportunity to open our heart – quite literally. We are called to dwell in the love, and let it burn away all of our resistances. We are invited to turn our entire lives into a dance with the Beloved – with our own limitless Source of Love. The experience of love is the truest sign of energy flowing rightly.