Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Does Yoga Mean to You?

In my post before the soup, I suggested that we do yoga every day, working towards a life-long "Yoga Month." Thinking about it since then, I have realized that "doing yoga" is very vague. What a daily yoga practice looks like in my life today is going to be very different from the Indian guru who has been practicing for 80 years or the high-powered attorney who does Ashtanga to power up before court. As a matter of fact, my yoga practice today isn't going to be the same as my own practice 20 years from now. So, what does it mean to "do yoga?"

Western cultures put a lot of popular focus on Asana (postures), because they are the easiest to see, feel, teach, and, for the able-bodied, easiest to do. They are the external tools for internal change. The rhythms of squeezing and releasing, bending and extending help us be more mindful of our breath, the purifier and facilitator of meditation. Of course, Asana has all of the side benefits of flexibility, strength, circulation, detoxification and general health, which are awesome by themselves, but we mustn't get wrapped up in the pursuit of them. There's a very cute animated short that has been circulating the net for a while that sums this up nicely.

The external rewards should not be the ultimate goal. Asana alone is not yoga. There are seven other limbs to choose from in our daily pursuits, the sweet fruit of sweaty Asana. They are:
  • Yama (abstentions)- not harming in word, action or inaction
  • Niyama (observances)- austerity, contentment and non-grasping
  • Pranayama (breath control)- using the breath to purify and facilitate meditation
  • Pratyahara (abstraction)- resisting identification with external stimuli
  • Dharana (concentration)- fixed attention on a single object/idea
  • Dhyana (meditation)- intense contemplation on the true nature of existence
  • Samadhi (liberation)- merging consciousness with the whole of existence
Of all of the yoga limbs, the one that is most prominent in my life is my commitment to non-harming. I am drawn, at a level of vocational compulsion, to facilitate life and health for all beings. Sounds great, right? Sure, on a conceptual level, who actively wants to cause harm to others? Very few of us, I would imagine. On a practical level, however, it's less simple. It is not active harm that I need to check myself about, but my unconscious reflexes. I'm not about to go eat a big greasy beef burger, while driving a giant, gas-guzzling SUV and splashing old ladies with puddles. What I do need to worry about is the harm I can cause with my words and apathy. I must be constantly mindful to never be complacent towards harm or allow myself to do things that cause harm to me or anyone else. I am rambling a bit now, but my point is that, we can do yoga every day without necessarily stepping foot on a mat. We can do it in our speech, with our temperance, with meditation and concentration on our breath. I like to expand it even beyond the 8 limbs to include anything we do with kindness, selflessness and intention is yoga. My daily practice includes mindful speech, keeping my home clean to provide comfort to my mate, guests, and students, cooking nourishing food for my family and taking a few minutes to find peace in my breath. On a perfect day, my practice also includes lots of Asana, a trip to the gym and a blog entry, but life isn't perfect. There is no universal daily ritual to "do yoga," because every day is nuanced and different. The beauty of yoga is in its all-encompassing flexibility in what it means to be yoked to existence in its holy pursuit. I'm very curious to hear what leading a yoga life looks like in your world, so please comment about your daily practice!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Where I've Been!