I can remember almost every moment of my first Yoga class. It was at Swami Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga Institute in New York in 1974. After all these years I can also remember how I felt after that class. There was a physical calm and mental clarity that I had never experienced in my life. It was as if a door had opened and I was able not just to see through that door but to walk through it into a place within myself that I could never have imagined existed.
This is the gift of Yoga. It is the gift that allows what you have been pushing toward and holding onto to fall away. It is about learning how to be honest with yourself and how to recognize what you have been suppressing. It is not a power of building up the body but rather it is the gift of letting go of willfulness and letting go of struggle. It is about discovering how to relinquish the ego’s need to assert itself.
Because we are human beings we collect a multitude of junk thoughts, junk emotions, junk memories and egoistic delusions in our lives. What do I mean when I say junk thoughts, junk emotions, junk memories, and egoistic delusions? They are things like this. “I’m not good enough.” “Why did he or she say that insulting thing to me?” “I am better than those people over there.” “Those people over there are better than me.” “My mother did not love me as much as my brother.” “I need to control all of the things in my environment to feel good about myself.”
We become weighed down by this junk in our heads and in our hearts. It is the junk that haunts us and keeps us from experiencing the easefulness that exists behind the stuff that gets stuck on the surface. When we see ourselves and our world through the distortions of this junk, we become heavy and depressed and angry and confused. But, when we practice yoga in the ancient, traditional way in which it was designed to be practiced, we become lighter and begin to free ourselves from these useless things. After all, Yoga in Sanskrit means to unite. What are we uniting? The experience of what exists behind that door with the experience of your everyday life. That is what Yoga means. When you practice Yoga with this in your consciousness the burden falls away from your shoulders. You see that reality is not what you thought it was. We tend to filter our experiences through a mind contaminated by that aforementioned junk and then the junk becomes perceived as reality.
There is a traditional Yogic chant in Sanskrit. “Asato Maa Sat Gamaya.” The translation of this is “Lead us from the unreal to the real.” That says it all. That is why we practice yoga. It is to experience reality uncontaminated by what we think reality is. Which is, more often than we would like to admit, habits of negative thinking and the wail of the ego. Perhaps at this point you would like me to tell you what reality actually is. I can’t do that for you. I can tell you that it is right here under your nose right now. Reality is not something that anyone can tell you because it does not lend itself to words. It lends itself to experience. You can’t think it but when you allow yourself to pass through that door you can feel it.
In Yoga it is finding the directness of the experience of who you really are and what everything really is by shedding the delusions of junk thoughts, emotions, memories, and false perceptions. However, when practicing the physical form of yoga with the asanas (yoga postures) reality can only be experienced when you approach the asana by not focusing on the body as the be all and end all of the practice. The body is simply the vehicle. By focusing exclusively on the body you alienate yourself from the expansiveness of the Self that everyone has the potential to experience.
If one continues to practice yoga in a way that is exclusively limited to the physical, one may never be able to realize the gift of realization that Yoga has to offer. When we see (what, at first may seem like a paradox) that the body is simply a vehicle to move past the body and the asanas are vehicles to move past the superficial perceptions of the mind, the experience of Yoga changes dramatically. The real freedom in Yoga is not in where the body goes or what it does in the asana. If you allow yourself to look deeper into the nuance of the asana you will eventually arrive at the place where you are no longer focusing on the body, no longer focusing on the illusions precipitated by junk thoughts and feelings. You will begin to experience in every asana and throughout the entire practice what is moving through the body – the dynamic energy of the flow of your aliveness and the awareness of the fundamental identity of your being with all that is. You are like a river following its course, wholly in harmony with the way of things in a completely natural and uncontrived way.
It is not where you go in the practice.
What is important is the realization of what is moving through you in the practice.
This is the amazing transition that you have to look forward to. As you continue to practice Yoga, one day it will happen to you. You will find yourself going effortlessly deeper into the mystery of yourself. That is when yoga becomes really interesting!