In the Western world, yoga has recently evolved into a phenomenon that appears to be all about making unusual shapes with our bodies, with the ‘aim’ of being as physically strong and bendy as possible.
Traditionally, however, yoga asana (postures) form only one of the eight limbs of yoga, as outlined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is significant, but more of a stepping stone towards the subtler aspects of the body-mind-spirit experience.
So if it’s not about the postures, then what are we practicing?
Picture a circle, with a line through the middle; above this line is consciousness, below the line is the subconscious.
Writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell emphasised the concept of connecting to an awakened self as living ‘above the line’.
Above the line, we are truly aware of thought and action.
It’s a state of being where we are connected to experience, accepting of the present, free from desire for what’s not here, and capacious enough to imagine possibilities beyond what we know first-hand.
In essence, think Neo from The Matrix.
Most likely, we will not be able to bend the rules of gravity like he does. So what makes it worthwhile for us?
We learn to lean in, to look closer.
To delve deeper, even when it’s uncomfortable. To expand what we perceive as boundaries, whether it’s physical, mental or spiritual. It can be a bit like holding up a mirror, and observing what you choose to look for or avoid.
(Seriously, next time you look at a mirror, notice how your eyes travel. It’s surprising how specific we can be in looking for something we expect or want, rather than really seeing the whole picture.)
We learn to accept our own nature, as it is.
This is a sense of honesty that firms the ground of your character. What we see and learn is not always what we want, but learning to work with this shapes us into more compassionate people, towards our selves and towards others.
We learn to get out of our own way.
Our minds are funny creatures that plays tricks on us, including putting our own fears or judgments into the voices of other people. So much energy can be spent feeling ‘stuck’ behind barriers of our own creation.
Wake up! Or do you wish to stay behind these safe, but stagnant walls?
If you find yourself dismissing your own capacity for change or growth, ask yourself: Where does this idea come from? Is it really true?
Meet the sensation of discomfort, hug it, move through it, and you might just realise the other side is not as scary as you thought.
In real life, this way of being makes us more alert to our internal environment, so we can respond more intentionally and intelligently. It makes us more perceptive and compassionate to those around us. It helps us reframe new and challenging situations with a broader mind. It alleviates anxiety and stress, because we feel more rooted in our purpose and place.
Yes, yoga makes us stronger, more bendy, more aligned in body and mind. But more importantly, yoga is a practice for the art of being ourselves.
You not be able to stay in this conscious space of zen all the time. But through daily practice, you can reach beyond the weather of the mind and remember, even for a few moments, that you are not the clouds or the rain, but the vast sky beyond. And those moments are totally worth it.