Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Whitney Richardson / New York Times
Yoga. A word that has its history buried deep into the fabric of this world. Today, yoga has come to be associated with the various exercises, stretches, and purifying techniques that can be found in most gyms and yoga studios. In the past, yoga was mostly associated with people of the various religious orders and sects, secret societies, and ascetics that roamed about the Earth: and it is still associated with these groups. However in our western society, yoga is not secret. It is practiced openly and freely. It is practiced in parks and field grounds in the summer time. It is practiced on television for talk shows and the respective audiences. It is practiced at big conferences and seminars abound in order to introduce new practitioners to the beautiful practice, and to impress upon the advanced practitioners the advancement and the evolution of the practice itself. Every bookstore, supermarket, and airport terminal has books and magazines on yoga. Ancient texts
and sacred knowledge that were once hidden from the inexperienced practitioner can now be found freely and easily with the right keyword search on the internet. And because the teachings of yoga are so open and available, there are more opportunities for us as a evolving species to learn and absorb more about the practice and put these once secret teachings into play in our everyday lives; it is very accessible. Yoga will take our average mundane lives and make them exciting, powerful, and supernatural. With the right teacher, the average forward-folding stretch can awaken all sorts of dormant energy in the body and bring the body to a full state of alignment and balance. With the right teacher, the average breathing technique can heal the body of every ailment known to man. With the right teacher, the average meditation technique can make you calm and powerful, and enlighten your life both internally and externally. With the right teacher, you can experience the true power and mastery of yoga. 

So we show up at the yoga studio. Depending on where you show up, you could be kissed with the  fragrance of incense, spiritual mala beads, wide-eyed hippie love, vegan snacks, and a poorly ventilated yoga studio that smells like sweat. Or, you could be introduced to the chic, creme de la creme of yoga studios: luxury yoga clothes and mats, beautiful model-looking teachers with gorgeous bodies, sweet smells of lavender and green tea, uber clean showers with laundry service, and of course the pricey teacher trainings. And of course, there are many others that fall in between all of this. At the end of the day, the student is attracted to the studio that will hopefully bring out the best in them. The student is attracted to the teacher(s) that inspires them to practice. The student is attracted to the yoga clothes and mats and people within that environment that will hopefully bring out the best in them. The student is attracted to the surroundings of who they are. We are attracted to these things because they represent our comforts and discomforts. These things represent who we are at our core: our internal world. All that said, the first true teaching of yoga is in our surroundings. What we see in that studio or in that gym, it represents who we are. The reason we choose to go to this particular place to practice yoga is that it represents a scattered version of our true self. And because we have yet to fully understand that, we are attracted to the studio and all of its magnificence. The people, the mats, the clothes, the teachers, the teachings, the smokin' hot bodies, the "oh-so sweet" and tight yoga pants on those curvaceous booties, the way everything looks, the way everything smells, the way our senses interact with the whole place in general, it is what we need to grow and expand. The place of practice represents what we want our internal world to look like: and it also represents what our internal world will look like. What we see outside will represent what we see inside. This is yoga. 

A few minutes into the class session, we begin to stretch and breathe. The commands and cues for us to breathe and move in a particular way are given by the teacher: and we follow. We follow without question and without doubt: because the teacher knows best. As practitioners, regardless of how many years we have or have not been practicing, it is important for us to surrender our entire body and mind to the moment in front of us. By following the teacher, we will hopefully gain some of the  knowledge and understanding of this yoga practice: unless our beautiful Ego gets in the way.  And, this goes on and on for days, weeks, months and years. But, let's think for a second. Why do we practice so much? Why do we go back to class? To breathe better? To be more flexible? To go deeper in our forward folds? To stay in headstand longer? To sit more quietly in meditation? To brag and showoff? To get a good sweat? Because it's good for our health? To fit in with the trend? Why? Why do any of it? What is it that we are trying to gain? But an even bigger question: what the hell are we doing when we do all this stuff? Special stretching, special breathing techniques, special ways to sit, what's the point of it all? Did you ever think for a second why do people do these things? Why do we send our bodies through all these crazy and sometimes extremely challenging techniques? Now, we may not have the answers to all of these questions, nor may we really care to have the answers to these questions. Because the truth is, we practice yoga for all the reasons above. Who cares. But interesting to note, most people have somewhat of an addiction to the practice: whether it's to check out hot bodies and ogle round booties and tight abs, or to improve our physical prowess and show off about it, we love it. And that's because it does something to us. It does something to our senses: to our internal world. It nourishes us in a way that is beyond words. It purifies us in a way that makes us sleep better at night and better handle the stresses of our lives. It is almost as if the special stretching and breathing does something to our internal and our external world: something powerful. 

The goal of yoga is to join something that is not connected to another thing: or to join something that appears to be disconnected from another thing. The practice of yoga can bring awareness to the idea that oneness is possible. And we can experience this oneness by joining our internal world with our external world. So where does breathing and stretching come in? Well, this is the part that is sometimes hard to understand: so hang in there with me for this one. When we stretch our body, we loosen it up. We make it malleable. We make our body receptive and docile. We make our body easily pushed and pulled. We learn to be unattached to the body and all of its little requests. Stretching and breathing make us feel good because it loosens up any tightness in the body. And when there is tightness in the body, the body can't really do much and is prone to sustained injury over the course of time. That sucks. So the stretching part of yoga keeps our body free from tightness so that it can become more like an open channel or like a glass cup: easily filled and easily emptied out. And when our body can be easily filled or easily emptied out, we always have the choice to hold firmly or let go completely of any and everything. For example, say you decide to stop practicing yoga, and your body gets tight again. You always have the choice to start practicing again and alleviate that tightness: because you now understand that the tightness that the body experiences is temporary. And that tightness can only exist because you allow it to exist. The moment you decide that you no longer want that tightness to exist in the body, you have the choice to get rid of it. When we bring awareness to the freedom and the tightness (respectively), we become completely liberated in all of our actions of the body. So anything we experience is because we choose to experience it: tight or free, it is our choice. So when we practice yoga, we prepare our body to be connected to something. And for some reason, we are not able to connect to it if we are knotted up and tightened up with other things. In order for us to connect to this thing, we must be completely free from any sort of restrictions and limitations: and stretching, in cooperation with active breathing, has the potential to free our body. And that "thing" is our inner world. Stretching happens outside. Breathing happens outside. Untangling happens outside. Freedom happens outside. Happiness and bliss happen outside. Yoga happens inside. 

When the body is breathing and stretching, what is our mind doing? Is the mind doing anything? Maybe. It is quite possible that the mind is responsible for all of the functions of the body. If mind and body are truly linked, everything that we do in the external physical world is being controlled by our mind. At a very subtle level, our mind is creating the power to carry out a particular function, and then we do it. It order to walk, we must first learn to walk: and then we begin walking. In order to speak English, we must first learn what English is and how to use it: and then we begin speaking English. The body must first learn how to perform a function, practice that function, and then we perform it without thinking. But when the body is learning, the mind must also be learning. The mind must be creating a deeply powerful foundational program so that the body may function off of it effortlessly. And when the mind creates an amazingly strong and powerful program, the body will carry it out perfectly: just as it has been programed to do. So it is us that is programming the mind and in turn we are programming the body. When we allow awareness to enter into our mind, we can see that everything is happening by the initiation of our own will power. Everything is happening by the stimulation of the mind to command the body to behave and act according to our wishes and desires. So when we are breathing and stretching, we are loosening up the binds in our physical body so that we can loosen up the binds in our mental body. If it's happening in the body, it's happening in the mind. If we become flexible in our body, our mind becomes flexible. If our breathing capacity becomes expansive and powerful, our mind becomes expansive and powerful. So when we stretch, our mind stretches. When we breathe, our mind breathes. And in order to become completely and fully aware of this, we must start with what can be seen: the actions of the body. We can't see the actions and functions of the mind without total awareness. Yoga starts with the external and allows us to work our way back to the internal. Always connected, the body and mind appear to be disconnected. Yoga is the rope that connects that body and mind. It is the chariot that holds the two horses together. It is the force that brings the left hand to the right hand. And when the body is joined, the mind is joined. Yoga gives us the awareness to see and experience the joining of the body. Of the mind. And of the two together. Yoga is the eyes to see all things as one. But it starts with stretching and breathing. 

Our life will always challenge us and present us with obstacles. Life will always test us and rattle us to our core. And luckily for us, we have our practice of yoga. We have the ability to take refuge in the comfort of our neighborhood studio, or in our very own sweet space at home. These challenges, obstacles and tests will always present themselves. And these tough circumstances can and will back us into a corner: they will threaten our being, and potentially create tightness in our mind and our body attempting to restrict and limit our power over and over again. But when this happens, we have the ability and the choice to return to the mat. We have the ability and the choice to loosen the body and mind up with our stretching and our breathing. We have the ability and choice to loosen the body and mind up with the stimulation of our senses. Remember the hot bodies? The cute yoga booties? The sexy poses? The luxury spa-like yoga studio? The incense drenched yoga rooms? The model-looking teachers? The sweltering hot studios? All of these things are a part of our practice. Some of these things will serve us for a short time. Some of these things will serve us forever. Some of them will only act as reminders of our own true internal and external power. And when we realize that no circumstance can conquer us, we become the conquerers. We become masters of the internal and external world, as we are creators of them both. Upon supreme realization of ourselves as Master, Emperor, Empress, King, Queen, Ruler, and Supreme Deity of our internal and external world, yoga practice becomes a joy. Because at the end of the day, we must be liberated and free from the practice itself. We must be liberated and free from the body, from the mind, and from our lives. Yoga has the potential to free us and allow us to realize ourselves as an entity controlling the every move and every expression of the body and mind.

Yoga is not mastery. Yoga is a tool. When the broken pipe needs to be serviced, we get the necessary tools to fix it and replace it. When the pipe and the rest of the water channels are functioning correctly, the tools can be put aside until needed. But we don't carry around the tools. That would be foolish. They are just too heavy to be carrying around all the time. We can just keep them in a place where we can find them if we ever need them again.

But of course, you can always help others to fix their broken pipes. In that case, you are not a yogi. You are the super of the building. You are the yoga of the yogi. You are the yoga for the yogi.

So, you better stretch. And breathe. And practice.

Curious about meditation, learn more: DEMYSTIFYING MEDITATION
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