Why Practice Yoga? [Why I Practice Yoga!]
I have spent too many years trying to build a daily practice of yoga. I was trying to achieve that nirvana of yoga—a consistent daily practice. Going to a yoga class every day proved to be impractical and too expensive for me and I found I did not have the discipline or dedication to practice every day on my own.
I told myself that I did not know enough about what to do and that I did not have the expertise to practice on my own. Of course neither of these issues actually stopped me, I stopped myself because I was, apparently, not willing to go to that place inside, I was not willing to put practice above all else.
One of the reasons I was not willing to go there was because I did not know or understand why I would need or want to do that. What I saw that people could achieve with yoga was impressive. The ability to bend and twist the body into extraordinary shapes was amazing, but I was not convinced that I wanted that. I saw and heard about all the reasons that people practice, and with a dedication that put it above all else.
Going on Instagram or Youtube you can see what people are trying to achieve, and that they do achieve what they set out to do. On this level yoga—that is Hatha Yoga—can build strength while creating flexibility. It can help you develop a sense of physical balance while enfusing yourself with deep energy through developing your breathing. Practicing yoga enables you to sit in meditation—while not actually developing your ability to meditate.
So yoga was the pathway to achieving physical perfection, peace and a spirituality that you did not otherwise have. Sounds like a great idea. But is this what yoga is for? I had always sensed that yoga was not about being competitive, it was not for personal glory. If this is the case, what is it for? Is this yoga at all? Are all the people who diligently practice what they call yoga getting it wrong? Are they missing the point?
Scott Barry Kaufman in an article The Science of Spiritual Narcissism said,
Self-enhancement through spiritual practices can fool some of us into thinking we’re evolving and growing when all we’re growing is our ego.
As has been observed by many spiritual leaders, spiritual practitioners and psychologists over the years, the ego has an incessant need to be seen in a positive light, and will eagerly hijack whatever flow of consciousness it can use for its own enhancement.
That's a bit tough! It maybe true but it does rather trash the whole idea of yoga, or does it?
The Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo noted,
At every moment [the seeker] must proceed with a vigilant eye upon the deceits of the ego and the ambushes of the misleading Powers of Darkness who ever represent themselves as the one source of Light and Truth and take on them a simulacrum of divine forms in order to capture the soul of the seeker.
That is perhaps more accurate. It is necessary for the practitioner to challenge themself on why they practice, especially if their intention is spiritual. People who practice yoga for purely physical reasons, building strenth and flexibility, are perhaps safe. The difficulties come for those who go beyond this and practice for spiritual reasons.
So this is where I found myself, wanting to practice yoga and telling myself that this was for 'spiritual' reasons, whatever that meant. Eventually I dug into the texts and attended regular classes and started towards my 'goal', a regular daily practice.
So how did I eventually achieve it and why did I expend all the effort in trying to create it? What does it mean to me to get onto the mat every day and practice? What did I change to make it happen? How did I get over all the obstacles I put in the way of achieving this?
Self-discipline is not a restriction: it’s a path to freedom.
This was an important idea for me, freedom was a worthy aim, one worth fighting for.
Asana variations are not just for people with specific physical problems. They can help all yoga practitioners remain open to discovery.
I had physical problems that yoga could help with, but it was the idea of discovery that became critical for me.
The shift, for me, came when I started practicing a form of yoga that let go of achievement, that ceased to be about where it could get me. I found a depth in yoga that transcended the ego and made me care about myself and my motivations for doing anything.
Practicing this different approach to yoga along with a daily meditation practice enabled me to let go of any thought about success or even where I was going. I started to understand that the seeking that had been obsessing me for most of my life merely turned me back to the beginning, to myself. Everything I was looking for was inside me all along. That was an almost devastating discovery.
In my writing over the past decade I had come to lay out the idea that I was here for a purpose, but one that I did not necesarily understand, one that I did not need to understand. My inner being, my soul or my spirit, had a purpose that came from its connection to a Universal Consciousness. So what I did in my physical representation was all designed to work towards that deeper purpose. Once I connected my yoga and meditation practice to this idea it began to fall into place.
Practicing yoga and meditation helps me tune into my inner soul and my inner purpose. They do not enable me to achieve whatever it is, but they do tune me into it.
Developing My Practice
I still find I want to develop my physical practice and get better at it, get deeper into it. But now I do not feel that says I am no good, or at least not good enough. As an extension of the Universal Consciousness I exist in my physical body, at least for the time being. I feel I have a duty to preserve and look after that body as well as the mind that is part of it. On one level I practice to extend and care for this body, so that I am able to do what I am here to do, and enjoy it on the way.
I have developed a mantra that I say out loud before my Yoga practice every day. It encapsulates why I do it and what it means to me.
I am absorbed with the universal power of Yoga. Through it my practice dispels the darkness that comes from the absence of knowledge. From it I dwell within the heart of my Soul with the light of knowledge that glows like the sun. My yoga practice protects and nourishes me. I work with deep energy that enlightens me and results in peace and harmony for me and those around me.
The darkness is not understanding that I am part of a Universal Consciousness, the light that comes with that understanding is why I practice yoga, in fact it is what yoga is for. I believe this and embue my practice with it.
Comment by J:
I think we could all benefit from further consideration of goals and accomplishments....
Goal setting is a beautiful thing. Accomplishments in life are meaningful and vital. Whether or not the pursuit of them is worthwhile is contingent on the context in which we engage and understand them. This is often encapsulated in the axiom: "No steps need to be taken." Doesn't mean we are not going to do stuff. It refers more to what is happening in us while we do.