Yoga is everywhere. Pick up any newspaper or magazine and you will find numerous articles and advertisements about yoga. A beautiful woman sitting in the lotus floating over the ocean. As well as finding bliss, this woman is also selling cars. What is this big fad of yoga all about? Is the ancient tradition of yoga being destroyed by Western commercialism? The body does die after all, so what else should we be concerned with other than tight butts or sculpted arms? Presently the majority of yoga is focused on fitness, but my hope is the inner teachings of yoga will begin to surface and permeate people’s lives as the original yogis intended.
Yoga helps a person identify with a Space within which is eternal, beyond the mind and senses. ‘Yoga’ or union can become a living reality. The word ‘yoga’ means two things at the same time; it is the path or the method, as well as the end state of realization or union. One can develop a disciplined mind/body complex and learn to live from a place of peace rather than from a place enslaved by the reactive patterns of the mind and emotional nature.
A healthy, strong, flexible body is the predominant aim of most people who take yoga. Underlying that, there is usually the unconscious desire for happiness and peace. Have you noticed that we spend the majority of life chasing objects, experiences or relationships? Generally speaking, on some level we believe that the answer to happiness, lies outside of ourselves. As a result of this belief, we keep looking outside for the answers to our pain and suffering. According to the yogis, all pain and suffering is created by our attachment and identification with thoughts, emotions, body, career, relationships etc. We identify with these things and think we are them.
What is left of you if you take away everything you identify with?
Now I ask you, if there was a way of truly living unaffected by pleasure and pain, would you choose it?
What yoga has to offer is that it gets you off the wheel of pleasure and pain. Pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. Once you realize deeply that all pleasure is pain, then your life can truly begin. Nothing in the temporal world is eternal, that is the pain of life. The yogis understood the human situation and the sufferings of humanity and as a result developed all the forms of yoga to help address the human situation. What was applicable thousands of years ago is still very relevant today, even more so. Today, Eckhart Tolle, a revolutionary teacher (forgive me for labeling him and his teachings), and author of The Power of Now, embodies the ancient teachings of the yogis in language that is accessible to our era. He doesn’t ever use the word yoga, but his teachings are pure yoga. “True freedom and the end of suffering, is living in such a way as if you had completely chosen whatever you feel or experience at this moment. This inner alignment with Now is the end of suffering.” i People just need to make the space in their busy lives, minds and hearts for what is always present. The Eternal is always present, but we are not.
The 2nd Patanjali Yoga Sutra states, “Control of thought waves in the mind is yoga”. ii Start by developing the witness consciousness within. One of the most important lessons that yoga can teach is the ability to truly observe and be present with whatever is arising in the moment. We see how our reactions to the thoughts that pass through our minds feed the emotional nature, and the ‘me and my story’ aspect of life. “Much suffering, much unhappiness arises when you take each thought that comes in your head for the truth. Situations don’t make you unhappy. They may cause you physical pain, but they don’t make you unhappy. Your thoughts make you unhappy. Your interpretations, the stories you tell yourself make you unhappy. “The thoughts I am thinking right now are making me unhappy.” This realization breaks your unconscious identification with those thoughts.” iii
Eckhart Tolle continues in his new book ‘Stillness Speaks’, “The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. It wants to draw your attention in completely. Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.” iv I ask you, What are thoughts? They are made up of words strung together, to form sentences. What are words? They are simply letters expressed with sounds. We make them important by believing them. If we learn to go deeper than the words themselves and discover the energy of what they represent, then the teachings of the yogis and present day mystics can be powerful guideposts in our awakening out of what the yogis call ‘maya’ or the illusion of life. “Spiritual awakening is awakening from the dream of thought.” v
Have you noticed that thoughts are always about the past or the future? Basically thinking keeps us out of Presence. Baba Hari Dass a silent yoga master writes in his book Silence Speaks,
“Life is not a burden.
We make it a burden by confusing ourselves,
by thinking, about the past and making plans for the
future, and not thinking of the present.
You are in the mountains
Where there is fresh air and water,
Where there are trees and plants and streams.
Sit with them and enjoy the creation of God.
God and creation are not separate.
The idea is to attain peace.” vi
It is interesting to notice the similarities between Eckhart Tolle’s new book Stillness Speaks and Baba Hari Dass’s Silence Speaks. They both express and share the Truth with different words. “Watch an animal, a flower, a tree, and see how it rests in Being. It is itself. It has enormous dignity, innocence, and holiness. However, for you to see that, you need to go beyond the mental habit of naming and labeling. The moment you look beyond mental labels, you feel that ineffable dimension of nature that cannot be understood by thought or perceived through the senses. It is a harmony, a sacredness that permeates not only the whole of nature but is also within you.” vii
Try an experiment with yourself the next time you are very stressed about a situation. Notice what is going on in the present moment, where are you standing or sitting, how the body feel etc. Then notice your feelings and thoughts and what they are about. Are you resisting feeling them or can you embrace them in the moment. If you can give them space in the moment then they lessen their grip on your whole being. We are so often resisting everything that is happening. Resisting is what creates the stress in our lives. “Whatever you accept completely will take you to peace, including the acceptance that you cannot accept, that you are in resistance.” viii
The yogis developed tools or tricks to help focus the mind, body, and breath, resulting in a state of inner peace and alignment with Spirit. “When body, breath and mind, work together in harmony, to achieve a spiritual goal, that is yoga.” ix
Some studios are now starting to introduce deeper aspects of yoga and some styles incorporate a more rounded approach than others. You have to do some research when you’re ready to start studying yoga. If you go to the local gym be aware. Many people are teaching after taking two day workshops and I honestly don’t expect you will get more than just an exercise class. If your goal is a healthy body, then that is what you will get. Yoga has much more to offer, if you so choose. “The body then becomes a doorway, so to speak, into the deeper sense of aliveness.” x
“In teaching you have to include mind, body, spirit relationship. It’s neither body postures, or pranayam (breathing) nor philosophy of yoga alone. Without the connection of spirit (Self) the other two will remain a physical exercise relating to good health, good mind, happiness etc.” In doing asanas there is a trinity of body movement, breath movement, and awareness of both (concentration). Otherwise asanas are just physical exercises. Contortionists in a circus do no get enlightenment. “In their method there is not trinity of body, breath, and concentration.” xi Baba Hari Dass.
Yoga works on many levels at the same time if you give it a chance. To make your experience of yoga alive and deep you must learn to be present both in your practice and in your life. This will allow the deeper aspects to take root and flower within. Take care that you don’t practice yoga on just the surface of your being and force poses or pranayams on your body with the egoic mind. A million techniques practiced for thousands of years will not help you if you have no awareness or connection inside and are not present in each moment of your practice. Remember that all the tools of yoga are meant to trick you into being present in the moment. For example; discover the miracle of simply breathing. How is the body responding to the breath right now? Who is watching the breathing? Consider the following yoga sutra of Patanjali translated by Baba Hari Dass , “ (posture is mastered) by relaxing tension and by meditation on the endless.” Another translation by Swami Hariharananda Aranya of the same sutra is, “By relaxation of Effort and Meditation on the Infinite (Asanas are perfected).” xii
Notice… pay attention to life as it happens. Wake up! Hiding underneath every thought and emotion, underneath every experience and relationship, every moment, there is a Space, an Awareness that contains and Is the Truth of your Being. Who is doing the asana? Who is thinking, feeling, moving, breathing the body? Who is watching the thoughts? These are all questions which make you Stop…. The mind cannot answer them. Something else beyond the mind …inside …Is the answer. To be fully with whatever is …is yoga.
Beyond the body-mind and personality,
Beyond all experience and the experiencer thereof,
beyond the world and its perceiver,
Beyond existence and its absence,
Beyond all assertions and denials.
Be still and awaken to the realization of who you Are.” xiii
Go to your local bookstore and check out some of the great yoga books out there. Delve deeper into the incredible world of yoga. Discover ‘the eternal consciousness that Is you.’ Contemplate the writings and truths of the ancient yogis and modern day mystics and watch your life open into Fullness and Love.
One can develop a disciplined mind/body complex and learn to live from a place of peace rather than from a place enslaved by the reactive patterns of the mind and emotional nature.
“The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. It wants to draw your attention in completely. Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.”-Eckhart Tolle
i Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks Pg. 118 , Namaste Publishing 2003.
ii Patanjali Yoga Sutras, trans. Baba Hari Dass, Sri Ram Publishing. California.
iii Eckhart Tolle Stillness Speaks, pg. 120, Namaste Publishing, 2003.
iv ibid.pg. 14
vi Baba Hari Dass, Silence Speaks, pg.41, Sri Ram Publishing, California.
vii Eckhart Tolle Stillness Speaks, pg. 82, Namaste Publishing, 2003.
viii ibid., pg. 73.
ix letter from Baba Hari Dass to Lakshmi
x Eckhart Tolle Stillness Speaks, pg. 21, Namaste Publishing, 2003.
xi letter from Baba Hari Dass to Lakshmi
xiiSwami Hariharananda Aranya, Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali, State University of New York Press, 1983, Albany.
xiii Pg. xxiii i, The Impact of Awakening. Adyashanti, Open Gate Publishing,2nd ed. 2002, California.