James Russell's Blog

© James Dylan Russell 2017

Because its not just about asana..

In the last twenty years there has been an explosion of yoga in our society. The physical practices of the Hatha lineage have been embraced by a new generation of yogis and yoginis. Modern yoga is often characterised by an emphasis on postures and breathing techniques. Once we begin this practice regularly, we soon discover something much deeper than physical exercises alone. The practice of asana, (postures) when approached with awareness, creates the right conditions for self-enquiry.

The word yoga comes from a sanskrit word ‘yuj’ meaning ‘to yoke.’ A simple, useful interpretation of the word is: ‘to join’ or ‘to connect.’ This prompts the question: what are we joining together? Is it the mind with the breath? The body with the mind? The mind with the soul? The soul with god?

The answer will be different for each practitioner. That which remains constant is the idea of ‘connecting.’ We are making a connection with something that in some way has been lost to us or dis-connected from us: whether it is the mind, the body, the universe, or God.

We have become separate and a part of us yearns to be whole again.

The really interesting question is: who is it that yearns for this connection:
‘Who am I?’ ‘What am I?’ ‘Who is the joiner?’

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali gets right to the heart of the matter in book one:

“Yoga is the stilling of the waves of the mind.
Then the seer abides in their own nature.”
- Patanjali 1:2,3

Patanjali is saying that when we make our connection, we still the waves of the mind. Then the ‘seer’ or ‘the connector’ abides in their own nature. So it is through the practice of yoga that we are able to see a part of us that was obscured by our busy minds. Our true identity. The mystery ‘I’.

The waves of the mind: our worries, desires, fantasies, egos are not a natural part of our being: they are artificial ideas we construct that obscure and conceal the truth of who we really are. Our true nature.

The word ‘nature’ is derived from the latin word ‘natura’ meaning ‘essential qualities', or ‘innate disposition.’

The idea of uncovering this innate disposition is found throughout traditions of yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells his friend Arjuna that his real identity is actually an immortal self: a spirit soul that is transmigrating through various bodies having an experience of the material world (BG 2:13). The Upanishads speak of the ‘Atman’, the immortal, perfect self. Even in the more hands-on literature of the Hatha yoga tradition, we find the concept of the ‘Jiva’ or immortal essence of each living being.

Each tradition seems agreed that this true self is essentially eternal and filled with bliss.

An analogy that springs to mind is: imagine a window in the morning that has been steamed up with condensation: we look out of the window and can see outside but its a distorted image of whats really out there. This is how we see the world most of the time. When we practice yoga we learn different techniques that wipe the window clean. At last, we can see the universe as it really is through clear glass. However, the window doesn’t remain clear for very long and soon things become steamed up again... and so we keep practising. Hopefully what starts as the odd glimmer of sight will become a longer, more sustained view of clarity. If we keep on practising, then surely there will be no more condensation and the window will remain permanently clear. Eventually, with enough practice, we will learn how to open the window and climb through to step outside.

Namaste



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