The editors of HTV online asked me to write a column about yoga and my life, so here I go! My intention is to use this column as a creative and yet structured expression on the practice of yoga and how it is integrated into my day-to-day life, on and off the mat. I pray that this will be a valuable experience for myself and the readers of the column.
What is Yoga?
It’s difficult to know where to begin, especially when my words feel so limited to share the personal and yet universal experience of being human. There have been so many inspirational teachers who have guided me through their books, through their practice, and those who have touched me with their presence. So I begin with giving gratitude to all the teachers I have and have had. Any wisdom you receive from my words is truly a gift from knowing others who live in a way that I can only aspire towards.
So really, what is Yoga?
I feel like I have been asked that question so many times in the last few years, and not surprisingly as my practice deepens, my answers keep evolving. But I’ll start with a simple definition. Today, yoga means to me, the sincere commitment to waking up from the deep sleep we find ourselves in. So in this article I want to focus on some simple observations about our human condition and one of the paths we may travel to wake up!
Historically? Yoga is a science that began with this timeless and very relevant question: Why do humans experience an ordinary unhappiness or a general unease, dissatisfaction with their lives and themselves? Through observation, inspiration, and spiritual guidance yogis outlined a path towards enlightenment – a path towards waking up to who and what we truly are.
In modern day yoga, like in so many other spiritual traditions, there has been a distilling of the true meaning of self-knowledge and discovery. So often yoga is now used as a way to chase after illusions of a perfect body ideal, or a perfect personality, rather than what it has the potential to show us: that we need to allow yoga to be a vehicle for looking within us. Perhaps instead of obsessing about our waist to hip ratio what we can perfect are attributes of acceptance, compassion, generosity, kindness and love within us. We are doing this not for ourselves, but for the sake of others; for the intention of creating peace within ourselves so that our communities, our world can benefit.
So how does yoga help generate these qualities in us? It is a science of the body, mind and spirit. We begin with using our breathing as an anchor to the present moment. Our breath connects us to working gently with the sensations in our body as we move mindfully and deliberately. The breath and body awareness support quieting the busy mind so that we can turn our attention towards what is beyond our thoughts, emotions and sensations. What is beyond? It is for many referred to as the observer within us.
Who is this observer in you? Spend some time contemplating this question. Focus on this awe-inspiring mysterious ability that we all have to watch ourselves (our thoughts, our words, our actions)! Yoga brings us to the quiet moments where we can connect with this observer. And is yoga the only way to get acquainted with this inner witness? No, there are so many ways, and as an old proverb says: “There are as many paths as there are travelers”.
As I read over this introduction to yoga, I know that many of you reading might feel confused but how will this help me in my life? I’ll only be happy when I find the perfect partner, buy the perfect car or house, or have the perfect body. But will you be?
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Jim Carrey (Hollywood Actor).
How often have you experienced this? You suffer when you get what you want, and you suffer when you don’t get what you want. Why are we so confused? It’s because what Jim Carrey so aptly points out: the condition of our unhappiness has nothing to do with what we achieve in the outward sense.
Like every other emotion and state, happiness is temporary and impermanent. When we are attached to being happy, or being anything except what we are in the moment, we create unnecessary or optional suffering in our life. When I came to this realization about my own life, I found myself attracted to not just yoga, but also Buddhism, Sufism and meditation. Find out more in Part II of the introduction to Mind, Body and Soul with Aisha Chapra!