For over 20 years I have dedicated my life to the study, practice and teaching of Yoga. Much has changed over this time, (none the least of which is me but that story is for another blog). Yoga is about change but what doesn’t change are the principles that make a yoga practice, Yoga. As the popularity of Yoga practice has grown in the west it seems as though the understanding of Yoga has diminished. Aligning the effort and intention of yoga practices with the principles of Yoga’s wisdom is how we are able to experience the greatest of all Yoga teachers, our own experience.
The guidelines for Yoga Practice are based on the over arching principles of Yoga’s Philosophy. The practices can, and should be, adapted to the needs of each individual’s circumstances and situations. The principles are universally applicable and guide the individual application in order to align a persons practice to benefit them in the manner best suited to their own needs.
Yoga is a vast field of study that focuses on all matters related to the human experience. Yoga reaches into all manner of human life, art, science, body, mind and more. It is an ancient, eternal and universal body of knowledge that is as current and relevant today as it has ever been. This wisdom has evolved over centuries of humans questioning, reflecting, and seeking to understand the true nature of the human being. The ongoing pursuit of truth has resulted in this vast body of knowledge that we can benefit from today, here and now, in our own lives. Seeking to explore and thereby benefit from yoga is markedly enhanced when the background from which yoga has risen is integrated into our own study and practice of yoga.
The philosophical quest behind the practices of yoga provides the context through which we can explore its deeper meaning. The practices are a way of experiencing ourselves in the world as an unified being, inseparably connected to the entirety of existence. It is through the personal experience of Yoga, that we come to know ourselves as much more than an individual and separate entity.
There are many meanings to the word Yoga. Included in these meanings is; “to achieve that which has not been achieved before”, “to unite all aspects of the self to experience a unified whole”. It is the pursuit of the experience of this truth that all the practices are intended to help us discover. Yoga practices are given as a means to pursue the experience of truth. When we experience Yoga, we know our self to be inseparably interconnected with the grandeur of the entirety of existence. As we come to know who we truly are through Yoga, one can begin to be free from the suffering that not knowing this truth causes.
If the practices of Yoga are separated from its fundamental purpose, which is to consciously awaken to the true nature of our reality, then how can they, (the practices), still be considered Yoga?
As the popularity of Yoga practice has grown in the west, without of the basic understanding of the principles of Yoga, I believe the possible benefits it can bring to our lives is compromised. Yoga has the potential to help us grow, heal and experience the fulfilled joyful potential of each human life, in the here and now. It is in this moment, in the here and now, that anyone experiences anything.
The pursuit of practice for its own sake will never provide us the freedom from our suffering. However, even a small bit of understanding of how to integrate the principles into practice can change our intention so that our efforts become more aligned with the goal of Yoga. A disciplined practice can aid in creating a healthy body and a calm mind, but these effects are not the ultimate goal.
The practices are based in a fundamental axiomatic belief that the essence of the human being is a consciously aware eternal and universal energy (or spiritual) being that has a mind and a body. The crux of our suffering is a result of a basic misidentification of ourselves as a mind and body alone. Yoga can lead us toward experiencing ourselves beyond this limited notion and as such offers us a pathway out of our suffering.
It is my hope, that through a series of short teachings on the philosophy, the history and the principles of yoga, I can provide you with a little understanding of the larger context of Yoga. I believe that a little understanding will lead to a well informed intention. The intention we set for our practice is the inspiration that will guide how we do our practice. It is in how we do what we do, that we can actually move toward the desired result of experiencing Yoga.
Yoga is not a physical or a mental fitness activity for the body or mind alone. It is a profoundly in depth philosophical exploration of the Human condition. Through yoga one seeks to discover the ultimate Truth of what a Human Being is, what is the source of our suffering, and what we can do to move away from suffering to Freedom. A disciplined principled practice suited to each person’s personal circumstances enables one to experience freedom from suffering.
Yoga is not, and never has been a one size fits all exercise system for the body alone, or a practice for the mind alone. It is through the body, by the way we use our mind, that yoga can be experienced.