Yoga is like a bright flame in the darkness of life, which lights up my path (Mona)
What is yoga and what does it mean to me?
An easy approach might be to sort out all the things that yoga is not. What is then left should be the answer.
Yoga is not a religion. Religions demand that one adheres to them exclusively, and they expect that one follow their specific dogmata, yes, all of them. Yoga is also not a form of gymnastics. In gymnastics, one strives to improve on physical fitness, and the element of competition may enter into it at advanced skill levels.
Yoga is not a means or way to some kind of physical perfection, and most certainly, it does not contain any elements of competition. The aim of yoga is also not to help the practitioner to become a juggler or contortionist. What we, however, can say is that in yoga, there is one element, where we are using our physical body to practice, and that we receive good health and a fit body practically as a nice perk or bonus.
What then is this practice? Yoga is the path to self-realization. It encompasses more than just the physical practice of asanas on the yoga mat. Most other elements in the school of yoga are non-physical, such as , for instance the practice of meditation, or the chanting of mantras. Physical yoga is one tool. Now, any good tool should have its field of employment. We can nail with a hammer, we can cut with a knife, we can tie something with a rope. Swiss Army knives are even multi-purpose tools, with too many uses to count here.
Contrary to the Swiss Army knife, physical yoga is a single purpose tool.
Now how should we use this tool? It is a good idea to figure this out, because even simple tools are better when one knows their detailed ins and outs. The word Yoga bears the meaning of “joining” or “junction”, or “connecting”. It serves to connect parts of our being into one harmonious entity. These parts are nicely lined up below:
In the role of main character:The Spirit Being, which is the true Self, the one who should always be the one speaking when we say the word “I”
.Next up, in the role of “thinker” and “tinker”, the Mind, which is somewhat like the software in our on-board computer, aka The Brain.
After that, in the role of “emotional powerhouse”, the Soul, which is in charge of our feelings, our emotions.
And last but certainly not least, in the role of all-imposing, self-consumed eminence, the Ego, which tends to consider itself the central figure, aka “I”.
That's about the entire little group of actors which make up a human being.
Yoga is the very best tool to join all these parts together into a harmonious, healthy and balanced single entity. Ideally, in it, the above constituents should all find their best place and play together in harmony, like a well practiced orchestra, where the conductor is the Spirit, not the Ego.
So, when we sit down on our yoga mat, we find ourselves on that little piece of real estate where we should be using the tool of yoga for the above purpose. This seems simple and straight forward enough, but - as most of us can confirm - it turns out to be quite a tricky undertaking.
The mind wants to always play the orchestration of what we are thinking, and mostly it wants to dwell upon shopping lists, last week's visit of the in-laws, the problems with the kids at school, the invoices that need paying, or what to cook for dinner, and quite a few other very important subject matters. It is not easily shepherded into a single focus attention of what we plan on doing on this mat.
The Ego, on the other hand, may chime in by telling us what we should be doing instead of being here, and how maybe it is too cold to be here, or that we have more important things to tend to, and also how we are not good enough at this, and how others on neighboring mats are doing so much better, or that we are too tired for this and should have better stayed in bed all together.
And our Soul will feel sorry for us that we have hold these postures so terribly long, that our muscles are hurting and can't take it anymore, so that we may want to give up and take it easy. Or it may orchestrate some feelings about any of the above topics from the mind section, such as anger over the argument with that teacher in school, or frustration at the constantly nagging in-laws who know everything better. Or we could just get the blues, because it is raining outside.
When we then apply the tool of yoga correctly, we should tell this little group that they are all hired on to play an important role in the orchestration of one harmonious hour of exploration of our Spirit-Body connection, and that it is of utmost importance that we can count on their diligent support in this venture, and how much we appreciate their undivided attention and unconditional support. The actors involved will all be orchestrated in a good, natural rhythm, the one that is proper to our existence since the day we were born: our breath! Inhalation: make the effort; exhalation: release. That pep talk should do it!
And to seal the deal, and to show that we mean business, we should set this as our intention every time we practice yoga. It is the best way to support ourselves. That way, as we continue to practice, we will grow imperceptibly but surely, from being a young and reckless, or insecure, or immature Spirit Being into a mature, adult Divine Spirit. This is our final destination, our true nature, which it is our task to discover, and to realize who we truly are. We are That!