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My understanding of yoga
Over the years I have come to be known as a Yoga teacher, even though I do not teach asanas and pranayama. So I thought it would be a good idea to write an article on my understanding of Yoga, what I do and how the two are related to each other.
The first time I noticed people practicing Yoga was in Rishikesh. I had gone there to study Vedanta at Swami Dayananda Ashram. I saw a group of people, mostly foreigners, doing asanas in a small hall. They moved, twisted and flexed their bodies to get the right pose. Watching them from behind I wondered what the purpose of doing this was? I saw myself as a sincere spiritual seeker. I believed I would get self-knowledge by studying the scriptures. How would moving my body into different positions help me attain self-realization?
And that’s how I saw yoga for a long time. A physical practice. Exercise. I wasn’t alone in that perception. Most people see Yoga as a form of exercise.
But that changed when I did my teacher training course at The Yoga Institute.
A new realization
As I started learning Ashtanga Yoga through the Eight Fold Path elucidated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I began to learn how to train my mind and consciously cultivate healthy samskaras, neural pathways. For the first time I understood how the mind functioned, and what practices could help me to regulate its impulsive behavior and channelise its energy towards purposeful goals. My training was literally a life project to recreate the mind through self-discipline. And I did. I rewired my brain through new routines, habits and practices. I moved my energy from tamas lethargy and rajas feverishness to sattva harmony.
Yoga, I realized, is a science of mind management.
Then something traumatic happened.
I became depressed. My mind crumbled. It no longer listened to me. I had a hard time following my routines and practices. I who had prided myself on the exercise of my will power could no longer use it.
But even though that was one of the scariest phases of my life, it was a blessing in disguise. It transformed my understanding of Yoga from the science of mind management to a practice of transcendence.
Let me explain.
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj, which means to unite. Most people interpret this as union of the individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness. But no one seems to have an understanding of when it happens, how it happens or whether it happens. Like a spiritual fable we believe it has happened to some humans — Buddha, Christ, Ramana, Ramakrishna and few others — and it may happen to us if we diligently do our Yoga practice.
So what is this union Yoga is talking about?
Yoga teaches us to become one with Life .
What is Life?
What is Life? Life is what I experience in the present moment. If I see a sunset, then that seeing is life. If I hear the twittering of birds, then that hearing is life. If I eat a cucumber, then that taste is life. If I smell toast burning, then that smell is life. If I feel the warmth of the water on my skin then that touch is life.
Life is the experience of being alive. Being Conscious. Being Present.
In order to be alive, what does one need to do? Nothing. Other than bringing one’s attention into the present moment, where life is happening. And that is the practice of Yoga.
Practice is the goal. The goal is practice.
The first step is the last step.
The means is the end.
If you understood any of the above statements, you have understood Yoga.
As practiced today, Yoga can be classified into three categories:
This is Yoga taught in most Yoga studios. It is primarily physical. Improve flexibility, tone the body and enhance agility. It is the Yoga of trying to look good. It includes regulating your breath and meditation, but they are just seen as tools to manage stress. Nothing more. This is the Yoga practiced by corporations on International Yoga Day.
This is the Yoga taught in recognised schools of Yoga. Yoga is seen as a holistic science of living a well-balanced life. It stresses the importance of correct diet, life purpose, daily routines and positive thinking. It includes an understanding of the philosophy of Yoga. It involves ethical behavior, faith, self-regulation, introspection and selfless action. The goal is to develop a concentrated mind that can contemplate a higher reality. This is the Yoga practiced by most spiritual seekers for evolution and enlightenment.
Yoga of Consciousness
I have coined this term, since there is no recognised nomenclature for this form of Yoga. This is the practice of mindfulness every waking moment of our life. This is the Yoga I practice. This is the Yoga I teach.
There are very few spiritual teachers that teach this form of Yoga. Amongst the spiritual teachers I know Eckhart Tolle and Jiddu Krishnamurti best exemplify the Yoga of Consciousness.
The essence of this teaching is to realize our true self as Consciousness by being Conscious.
Yoga is the realization there is no doer. Life happens.