My first yoga experience came in the form of a VHS tape that my parents bought for me when I was around 14. I was having trouble sleeping at the time, so relaxing before bed with this 30 minute asana practice seemed to help. Little did I know at the time that yoga would continue to find it's way into my life in many forms always leaving a desire for more, mostly more understanding.
Now, more than ten years later here I am in Rishikesh, India, trying to dive deeper into the experience of yoga. Although I am halfway through my teacher training course, I feel as if I am only seeing my own reflection in the vast ocean that we call yoga. It may sound strange, in fact many things I'm about say will probably sound strange, but yoga is an infinite concept; it always has been and always will be. For this reason, yoga can be described and experienced in an infinite number of ways. Lucky for you, I don't have an infinite amount of time or understanding and I believe that the best way to understand yoga is through experience. After all, that is what brought me here in the first place. I experienced that there was more to yoga than a one hour asana (posture) class.
As a side note, I realized recently that my emails to family and friends usually go something like: "everything is great, there is too much to say, I'm learning a lot, etc etc." I try not to include too many philosophical ideas, but they sneak in from time to time. I'm sure these emails have left some confusion, or maybe people just think I've really lost touch with reality at this point. I definitely have lost touch with what was my reality. I would like to write something that others could contemplate on, but truthfully I'm writing this for me. With all the information that is coming in, it's somehow necessary to do some thinking "out loud."
Since the beginning of this year I came to rely on yoga for many reasons. It became a great way to let go of stress, increase my concentration, and become more aware of my body. Of course, the physical benefits are great too, but a healthy body cannot exist without a healthy mind and this was a struggle for me over the first half of this year. Although every day here my understanding of yoga is being challenged and evolving at the same time, what I'm finding to be key factors in the understanding of yoga is balance and awareness.
There are so many things that we discuss here that come back to balance and/or awareness. We practice asana to bring awareness to the gross aspect of the body so we can eventually expand that awareness to gain control of the mind. Through regulating our thoughts in the mind, we can further regulate the body and preserve the flow of prana (energy) in that body. Furthermore, we influence the flow of prana through pranayama (breathing exercises). In these practices we bring our awareness to the breath to help calm the thoughts and to balance the activity between the right and left brain which is necessary for meditation and advancement in yoga. There are also cleansing techniques used specifically for bringing about this left and right brain balance, which is manifested in the body when both nostrils are open. It continues like this in a network pattern of everything effecting every other thing on the subtle mind and consciousness level and the gross body level.
In case you didn't get the message through the last confusing paragraph, yoga is more than a 90 minute, three times per week, get a hot body workout. The physical body will look better for sure, but that is not the aim of yoga. It's a journey of you meeting you time and time again, on and off your mat. It's about finding balance between the two opposing forces that exist in everyone. It's about expanding awareness of mind, body and soul (or consciousness, or whatever you decide to call "it"), where the ultimate goal is free will. You may say that you already have free will, but think about that next time you have road rage that seems out of your control and get back to me.
For me (and for now), free will means that I am influencing any given situation and all of my actions are voluntary, as opposed to involuntary reactions. I don't know a single person who has achieved this, but it's told here that those who do achieve this go to the Himalayas for renunciation. I think it's not because they don't want to help others, but because they have the understanding that each person is responsible for his or her own path in yoga or any other tradition.
As one of my teachers here says, "if you are confused, need not be." Just start experiencing an asana class from time to time and see what happens. I'd be happy to help when I'm back in November :-)
Until next time remember that yoga is always happening.