The practice of yoga has exploded in the United States in the past 5 years. You can take yoga virtually anywhere including the workplace and in churches. But what is yoga and what are you really practicing?
In ancient times, ascetics practiced yoga poses and yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) to be able to sit for long periods of time in meditation without experience aches and pains that would distract them from their practice. These devout were not sitting in gyms or taking a break from work, they were interested in connecting with the highest part of themselves at the most spiritual level. The idea of exercise, losing weight or feeling the “burn” wasn’t even the point.
In observing many yoga classes, centers and in listening to clients’ comments, what yoga has become today is extremely different from its intended use and its meaning.
The word yoga comes from a Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to yoke” or “to join together”. In our yoga practice we celebrate the union of our mind, body, soul and spirit. When we practice yoga asana (poses), without mindfulness and honor toward our body and the connection between all aspects of ourselves, we are nullifying the effect of our practice.
A practitioner of yoga asana can become quite good at the physical poses with practice. It suffices to have a strong body and will; which includes dedication to repetition of movement. That is when you will hear Western students refer to themselves as “advanced” or “intermediate”. When they say this, what they mean is that they feel they have mastered the physical poses. They may be able to get into an aligned down dog pose and sustain it or master a headstand. But this is not yoga. It’s gymnastics.
Yoga goes much deeper. Yoga is mastery of the mind, body, sense organs, will and desire. Yoga is a surrender to a much deeper level of who you are. It’s a recognition of the infinite nature of your spirit. And this takes years, if not a lifetime to master.
So we are all beginners and we must look at ourselves as such. For, if we think we have mastered yoga, we are fooling ourselves. In Ayurveda, this is called pragyaparadha or “mistake of the intellect”.
Once we realize how little we know, we’ve then begun to encounter our inner yogi.
Wishing you a lifetime of enlightenment.