The following questions were posed to students this week:
Why are you here?
What is your purpose?
What do you want out of life?
It was interesting to notice the lengthy pause after posing these questions. Most of us do not take time in our busy and complicated lives to ask these most important questions. When they are posed these questions can be a bit overwhelming. If we don't take time to ask them however, we may be failing to connect with our higher purpose, our calling, our Dharma!
A lack of connection to purpose and meaning is the root of unhappiness - regardless of the size of your bank account, the title of your job, or having the most amazing partner.
Some of the responses to the questions were: happiness, clarity, self-accpetance, joy, balance, etc. Perhaps because these are students of yoga none of them mentioned things like an ideal partner, a bigger house, a nicer car, etc. There is nothing wrong with material success, but it can become problematic when we grow attached to the stuff, its aquisition and then holding on to it.
Joy, clarity, balance, happiness - these are all the promise of yoga. If these are truly things that most of us aspire to how come they seem so elusive? Why are we unhappy? Why is there a "happiness" industry of books, seminars, etc.? Why are so many of us medicated? What is it that we are yearning for?
The teachings of yoga are quite clear, as were those of Gautama Buddha, we suffer - or lack happiness - because of attachments to our desires and the mental obstacles that get in our way. Patanjali has some great lists in the Yoga Sutras, he actually enumerates mental obstacles to "yoga". He tells us how pessimism, doubt, and lack of a calm mind are a big part of the problem. He alludes to breath as the way in, but doesn't tell us how to use it specifically. This is where lineage-based teachings are helpful, they can reveal the techniques.
The next question I posed to students was, "How does yoga help us find peace, happiness, love, etc.?"
Because those who study with me are such brilliant blossoming yogis they knew the answers:
- Cultivating awareness
- Bringing elements of stillness into our practice
- Building stability through practice
- Working mindfully with breath while doing physical practice
- Using breath ratios (inhale : exhale) to affect the mind
- Understanding the flow of prana, first to purify the physical and mental bodies, then to heal
- Using pranayama to affect change
I do have amazing students! They understand how the science of yoga can establish in us this amazing list of desires: happiness, joy, peace, love, clarity, ease, grace.... But it is how we practice yoga that makes a difference.
The way much of yoga is taught these days is perpetuating our lack of happiness, clarity, and ease.
Many who are teaching yoga don't really understand it beyond the physical practice. Group classes become about pushing participants on a physical level to achieve certain complicated poses, to do yet another vinyasa flow, having them hold poses for longer than is helpful or not long enough to experience, or to sweat profusely in an extremely hot room. With these approaches yoga may be replicating the imbalances in our lives, those very things that keep us from happiness. It may be exacerbating some of the issues we hoped to fix through yoga.
Students identified something esle: When we begin to "go in" it is challenging work. This is why the vast majority of us never do it. When we start to move through some of the stuff of the unconscious, much of which is not so pleasant, we face our darkness head on. This is why our practice, our approach to yoga, is so crucial; we need to cultivate stillness, our capacity to be in awareness or witness mode, and to let the "stuff" presents itself without becoming rattled by it. We simply observe it and let it go. As this process unfolds our lives become less driven by the dark stuff, the unhelpful stuff in our unconscious, but more by the light within, the light we are cultivating each and everytime we practice.
Over time and with practice we begin to "be" in the world differently. This is yoga! We've become so transfixed on doing yoga that we don't seem to understand how to be in the state of yoga.
In time we are able to rest in meditation, to hold the mind still (it's work trust me!) and find those moments of clarity. It's here where answers to some of the challenges that plague us may be found. It is here where we find a connection to the deeper part of our Being. It is here where we set the foundations for our Self Mastery.
Yoga is big. Have fun with the fancy-physical-fixation approach, but remember there is more. Find teachers who can assist you in your own unique journey. We can - and must - honour the work of the Sages and the gifts they've given us. The Tradition of Yoga is much bigger and richer than we realize. Getting a glimpse in is all the proof you need.