On Yoga Practice and Change.
In the West, the word ‘yoga’ often makes people think about gentle stretching and chanting ‘Om,’ but this is far removed from the essence of what yoga really is. It is a process of gradual expansion of consciousness, where we can slowly become aware of the patterns that govern our thoughts and actions, and work towards ridding ourselves of the subconscious conditioning that dictates how we will act. There is a vast body of varying yogic techniques that serve to bring steadiness to the body and to the mind, allowing us greater clarity to see the world as it really is, and not just a version of it coloured by our own subjective experiences. The practices of yoga serves as a mirror to reflect back to ourselves our true nature as a silent witness, which is not dependent on nor governed by the fleeting thoughts and impressions that the mind is constantly bombarding us with. It is not about twisting and contorting your body to try and make certain forms, but more about what the act of repeated action with full awareness on a regular basis over a long period of time (a life-time) may tell you about yourself. This is where the power of yoga lies; it’s all in the process and not about the results; it’s not something that can be measured externally but is instead about the internal shift that occurs.
What initially got me hooked on to the practice of yoga was the silence I experienced whilst practicing. The mind eventually stops its incessant chattering and you become, if only for a short period of time, completely present with where you are and what you’re doing. All thoughts, fears and anxieties about the past and future melted away and I was able to tune in, through the medium of the breath, to the subtle unfolding of the present moment You start to learn, slowly, how to sustain this level of focused awareness for longer periods of time and to bring this concentration and steadiness with you into your life off your mat. Many people begin a yoga practice because they want to create positive change in their lives, be it their bodies are too stiff; they have back pain, they are too quick to anger, too nervous, too anxious, want to loose weight etc., but these reasons are seldom why people continue. Through sustained practice, we can begin to understand our fundamental connection to the natural world and its processes, and begin to appreciate that we ourselves are part of the changing nature of all phenomena. What keeps me coming back everyday is knowing that, slowly, one breath at a time I come closer to clarity. The closer I get to clarity the further behind I can leave unnecessary suffering.
The insight born of seeing things as they really are on each given occasion, and the compassion and acceptance that arises from doing so are in a nutshell, the fruits of a sustained yoga practice. All yogic techniques strive to ultimately allow us to step out of the way of ourselves so the radiant clarity of clear perception can shine forth and eclipse our false judgements born out of our egoic self-striving. Yoga is about seeing the fundamental union between all of life and through the practice I learn to listen less to what my preference may be in a given situation, and instead tune in to what the best course of action for everything and everyone involved could be. Yoga is about dissolving barriers and fostering greater connection, but this takes time and patience, and can sometimes even be painful, but this is all part of the process.
Yogic practices will ultimately alter how we see and act in the world. As our consciousness expands and spreads away from ourselves, we grow in understanding of the needs of all different forms of life, and compassion increases. In the initial stages, yoga practice is a about initiating positive change in your own life and that of your surroundings. As your practice matures, it becomes not so much about initiating change yourself, but more about accepting that everything is change. Embracing this shift in consciousness frees up space in our being; we don’t have to always think we are the star player in the epic of our lives; sometimes it’s okay to sit back in awe and watch life unfold around you in all its perfect splendour. We cannot always change the events around us, but we can change our reactions to them. Bad things happen in life; it’s a fact we are powerless against. Our power lies in the control we have over the way we choose to act. Action is a choice; reaction is not. Bringing full awareness to every facet of our lives means that, hopefully, we can become less reactive human beings, grow in understanding of ourselves and use this knowledge to reduce suffering, and better serve our community and all life around us.