What Is Yoga? Are We Really Getting It?
We all want it, that feeling, where we are overflowing with so much joy we cannot contain it. In the end, after we scrape away all the fluff of our desires, wants and needs, we all do really want the same thing: JOY. Pure blissful joy; a joy where our hearts sing and dance free from judgment; pure and simple joy.
If yoga does really mean to unite, a uniting coming from the Sanskrit root word yuj, it's important to understand that we're also working to unite with the Universal Consciousness, that which is all encompassing.
This uniting in some ways may have become a new catchphrase in yoga, an assumed understanding that we are one. And if you are like me, it can be difficult to truly understand this yoga without understanding the all-encompassing truth of what yoga is.
If you have ever traveled to India or have met someone from India and have had the ability to have a conversation with them about yoga, you may have discovered something quite astonishing. They laugh and haven’t a clue what you're talking about.
To them yoga is a way of life: do you not breathe every day? Do you not interact with the world around you, eat your food, drink your water? Are you not listening to your body’s daily needs? This is all yoga.
To me, yoga is simply a way to live, a guide to keep me moving forward, not just a once a week asana practice.
Our many adaptations of the asana practice I believe, have morphed into what has become a translation of what yoga is. I wake up, go to my job, come home, feed my family, get my yoga clothes on, go to yoga, come home, take them off, watch TV and do it again tomorrow, or maybe not until next week.
It’s kind of like the "Sunday Best Syndrome." We put on our Sunday best, including our best attitudes and smiles and then, when church is over, we come home and take off those fine clothes and without a second thought, put them away until next Sunday, along with our best attitude.
Part of the practice of yoga is to allow our minds to steady, and allowing us to know the Self is none other than the Supreme Reality, the Universal Consciousness which is the same as yoga.
Our practices and our choices we make on a daily basis should lead us toward a betterment of our own self and a betterment of the Universal Consciousness that surrounds us.
I often remind my students on the mat to check in to make sure they are not just trying to look like the poses, to check in to see if they are all perfect on the outside, and then to notice if for them the mind is doing the same thing.
How many times have you been talking to a friend on the phone only find yourself surfing the internet or watching TV or God knows what else?
So I remind my students regularly to truly be on the mat, to truly be in the pose they are in, not the one before, beating themselves up because they fell, or anxiously predicting what pose will be next.
And what I have discovered is that for many, this is their practice. Their bodies are following but their minds are somewhere else, and sometimes without a real urge to even bring the mind back.
But then is it really yoga? Is it really the connection with the Universal Consciousness? Is it really a connection with the Self?
Because what do on our mats is a unique and sometimes unflattering reflection of who we are and what it is we do off the mat.
Yoga is this dance between the body and the mind and the spirit. Our bodies are a unique canvas for the true practice of the yoga sutras (and our belief system). A healthy body is absolutely essential for the practice of yoga. Because how can one be happy or feel content, when the body is sick, weak or crumbling? With so much pressures from our peers and what social media displays as ideal and the perfect body has eluded us, even in yoga to a warped perception of a perfect yoga body.
We have confused feeling, sensation and function and traded it for size, look and shape. I have even heard the editors of Yoga Journal at a conference admit that certain body types sell, and they are in fact in the business of selling magazines. So sadly most of the yoga community has played into their display as what yoga is.
And for those that don’t fit this unrealistic mold, and fear that yoga is not for them because their body is not ideal for practicing yoga. And here in the West, asana is what people most commonly associate yoga with, and for most how they come to a yogic way of living.
So does that mean all those people who can’t touch their toes, or are overweight or are unable to do 200 Push-Up, Up Dog, Down Dog transition in a yoga class can’t be yogis?
I question if just going to a yoga class is enough to call yourself a yogi? Does going to church each week make you Christian, or even prove that you believe in God? I am simply posing this question because this has been a question I have asked myself and also ask my students.
Moreover this poses a critical point: some come to yoga through asana and others come through meditation or pranayama, it does not matter how they come to yoga, but it is important to remember that the integration of all the eight limbs of yoga is what truly makes it yoga, bringing us to an admirable way of life, a life in which can be followed without fear by everyone in the world.
And sadly this world, especially in the West has lost the concept of rules, values, guidelines; it seems that this has all gone out the door. And it is no surprise to me that we are a country and a world that is sicker than ever, we may not have measles, polio or even chicken pox, but sickness that has been socially accepted as normal, with no urging to get well and to change our polluted lifestyles. (There is a difference between finding a cure and changing your way of life to rid your body of disease or sickness.)
How many of you go to yoga and then after go get hammered at the bar, or go on a yoga retreat to only gossip about friends, or are treating your yoga practice or lifestyle like a one-up on everyone else, a fashion show, a contest on the mat?
Now I am nowhere near perfect, but yoga to me is so much of who I am, not what I do, that even when I have a poor choice of words to express myself or make a choice that is not the best, I allow myself to learn from it and am not afraid to take responsibility for it, which is a yoga we could all use in this day and age.
See, our bodies reveal our mind's choices: in action, on and in our skin, in our eyes, our lifestyle, our relationships, our food choices and the relationship to our food choices.
Plus our mind and body in relationship with each other and the world, show our spirit’s relationship with the Universal Consciousness; that union we all say we understand, but never even seem to scratch the surface of and really change our being to be one with.
Because in the end, yogi or not, we all desire to experience this supreme version of joy, we all crave to be One. We all yearn to intertwine ourselves with the love that is the original source of creation, which leads us to an understanding that all things grow by love, live by live and eventually merge into eternal love.
A love available to everyone, a love all-pervading, and a love so joyous that aspiring to be Divine, to be Supreme means that one loves the Divine, see that the Supreme is everyone, and that Union first starts with the Self, something that first comes from within and can then be shared in an external way. This is the yoga I know, this is the yoga I live, and this is the yoga I desire to share with all those to allow me to.
Om or Amen, don’t they mean the same thing?