We all want that feeling… where we are overflowing with so much joy that we cannot contain it. In the end, after we scrape away all the fluff of our desires, wants and needs, we ALL 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, coming from the Sanskrit root word yuj, it’s important to understand that we’re also working to unite with the Universal Consciousness, which is all-encompassing.
This uniting 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 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 may 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 have morphed into what has become a translation of what yoga is. It’s like a game of telephone, where the message gets translated a little differently each time. 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. Then, when church is over, we come home and take off those fine clothes and without a second thought. We 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 daily practices and choices should lead us toward the 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 focusing on their breath. To notice if the mind is patient and aware.
How many times have you been talking to a friend on the phone only find yourself surfing the internet or watching TV?
I remind my students regularly to truly be on the mat.
To truly be in the pose they are in, not the one before. Not beating themselves up because they fell, or anxiously predicting what pose will be next.
And what I have discovered is that for many, doing 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. Their practice is engaging with their own mind, to stay calm and be present.
But then is it really yoga? Is it really the connection with the Universal Consciousness? Is it really a connection with the Self?
What we do on our mats is a unique and sometimes unflattering reflection of who we are.
Yoga is this dance between the body, 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. How can one be happy or feel content when the body is sick, weak or crumbling?
With so many pressures from peers and social media displays as to the ideal and the perfect body, even in yoga there is a warped perception of a perfect yoga body.
We have confused feeling, sensation, and function, and have 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. Sadly, most of the yoga community has played into this display as believing that this is what yoga is.
And for those that don’t fit this unrealistic mold, they may face the fear that yoga is not for them because their body is not ideal for practicing yoga. Here in the West, asana (movement) is what people most commonly associate yoga with. This is how most 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 transitions in a yoga class can’t be yogis?
Do you 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 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. It brings us to an admirable way of life – A way of life that can be followed without fear by everyone in the world.
Sadly this yogic world, especially in the West, has lost the concept of rules, values, guidelines.
It seems that this has all gone out the door.
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 chickenpox, but we are exposed to an unhealthy culture that has been socially accepted as normal, with no urge 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 only to gossip about friends? Or are you treating your yoga practice or lifestyle like a one-up on everyone else, a fashion show, a contest on the mat?
I am nowhere near perfect. Yoga to me is so much of who I am, not what I do. Even when I have a poor choice of words to express myself or if I make a choice that is not the best, I allow myself to learn from it and am not afraid to take responsibility for it. This type of 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 seem to scratch the surface of. We never really change our being to be one with it.
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 love and eventually merge into eternal love.
A love available to everyone, all-pervading, and so joyous. Aspiring to be Divine, to be Supreme, means that one loves the Divine, sees the Supreme is everyone, and that Union first starts with the Self. It is 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?
This blog is adapted from a post I wrote for MindBodyGreen; it was updated on 9/20/19.