Yoga studios are popping up everywhere, which is amazing. We are seeing, hearing and experiencing all kinds of hybrids from acro, SUP (standup paddleboard), and hip-hop, to beer/wine tasting and even goat therapy yoga!
What are you practicing and is it yoga?
The more important question to ask yourself is do you truly want to grow and evolve on every level; physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual? How does one measure the success of their yoga practice? One of my yoga teachers years ago, who was recently featured on a yoga magazine cover, would say in class, “you measure the success of your yoga practice by the length of your breath.”
What a beautiful and untrue sentiment.
Mastering every kind of pranayama out there will never master the mind. The mind is what masters the breath. Controlled breathing temporarily calms and energizes the body, creating a more conducive environment to think clearly. If you've been told or believe that yoga practice is about deep breathing and posing, then yes it would make sense to think you are practicing yoga.
Yoga comes from the root word “yuj” which means to yoke, join, bind, unite. To join with what? Your real Self. Not the self we think of or have come to know, not our flesh and bones, perceptions, actions, emotions, thoughts, gender, religion, job, or any of the roles we play in our lives. The Self, with a capital S, refers to your higher Self within. Synonyms for the Self are divinity, light, potential, Godhood, or whatever transcendental name you prefer. The mere meaning of Yoga assumes we are separated or divorced from our true Self. Yoga brings us back home to where we belong, to the Self. The scriptures tell us that this is the point of life! Anything we take up that moves us closer to our Self is yoga, PERIOD. If goat or float yoga, straps, blocks, or swinging from silks does this, so be it. Is it though? Is our so called “yoga practice” really getting us to our higher Self or is it getting us more entangled with our material layers and caught up in the mundane world, and how can we tell? Are we going in circles as we hop around to every studio and class for a better deal, latest style, best personality, flow, or playlist, who can get us off, or the studio that can make us sweat the most? Perhaps we are just spiritual shopping, going everywhere else but inside ourselves. Spiritual growth cannot be measured physically. The only way to gain the Self, which is a state called enlightenment or Self realization, is to remove all that is in the way. What stands between us and our real Self are desires. The practice and process of eradicating desires is called yoga.
Desires veil the Self. In every religion, they are what stand between us and our Godhood. Etymologically religion and yoga have the same meaning! They both were designed to bring us back to our origin. Funny how WE humans took these practices and messed them both up.
Here is an equation: desires - human = God and God + desires = human.
The goal of yoga is to remove all our desires to get to our true Self within. If a yoga pose could get us there, that would be wonderful. But it doesn’t, and yet in our Western culture this is the main focus. The poses will aid your physical health, which is an essential prerequisite for spiritual evolution, but will never get rid of desires. We believe that a means to an end is an end itself and it’s time we wake up if we really want to grow.
This may be news to your ears, even though you have taken innumerable yoga classes and perhaps even yoga teacher training! The teacher and knowledge will appear when one truly wants it.
If you are still reading...you want to know the truth.
According to the ancient yogis, Hinduism and the scriptures, human beings came into the world from our past unfulfilled desires. We can spend our lives increasing our desires moving away from our Self or decreasing desires and moving towards our Self. The choice is ours. Enlightenment is a state of desirelessness. We are not born enlightened. Because of this we feel a void within. That void is our unknowing/ignorance of our Self. This void within causes our thoughts to flow towards the world to fill it up! The thought currents are called desires. Initially it may feel good to fulfill a desire, but no sooner fresh ones spring up. How do we get out of this cycle?
Yoga, just like everything else, seems to be slipping so far away from its roots that it has lost its meaning and has become a mockery. People sell poses and meditation as they are the easiest to communicate and make money off of. Meditation is the highest practice, top rung on the spiritual ladder, yet the masses who are not even close to being prepared for it are meditating! Just because you feel good after yoga, open up your hips, shed some tears, get in touch with various emotions, finally nail a pose after months of effort, or sit quietly ohming does not mean you are practicing yoga or meditating! There is nothing wrong or bad about any of the above. Building our bodies, increasing our awareness, confidence, patience, and compassion are beneficial but will not burn desires...
So what now?
We educate ourselves on the subject.
We have three marvelous equipments; body, mind and intellect. There is a yoga practice for all three!
- Karma yoga, yoga of action, was prescribed to the body.
- Bhakti yoga, yoga of devotion, was prescribed to the mind.
- Jnana yoga, yoga of knowledge, was prescribed to the intellect.
These three disciplines must be practiced daily in the correct proportion, according to your nature, to dissolve desires and eventually gain the Self. When desires are gone, all that is left is YOU, the Self. Physical yoga breathing and postures are meant to keep our body healthy and fit enough to do the three yogas above! Most students remain stuck in physical exercises achieving nothing more than physical gains. If that is all you want than you have no problem. But if you think you are practicing yoga, think again. You may have your yoga face on during class and after, but how long does that last? How long does it take to agitate you, for stress to build back up and to need yoga class again?
- Using our body to serve is called karma yoga. This means to be of service! If you open the door for someone or let them pass in front of you, you’re practicing karma yoga! Karma yoga has nothing to do with a pose. However, if your body is unfit you won’t be able to serve anyone so that is what asana and pranayama is for!
- Using our mind to be aware of divinity splashed everywhere is bhakti. You can practice this anywhere. While getting out of your car, take a look up at the sky and notice how incredible it is. Notice the change of seasons, humanity, everything and anything. Being in awe, followed by a feeling of gratitude is bhakti. No need to chant for inspiration, although if it works do it!
- Using our intellect to contemplate on higher values of life is called jnana yoga. Study and reflection, meaning your own thinking, on true knowledge from the scriptures. When we take the time to reflect upon, absorb, and apply eternal values of life and living directly to our lives, this is jnana!
The three yogas are a methodical way to gain the Self. How you measure your yoga practice is by measuring your desires and sanity! When you have a bundle of desires you will be agitated or stressed and your senses will run towards the world for pleasures while the world pulls you in. When your desires decrease, so do agitations. As you turn more introverted, you need less from everyone and what the world has to offer. Joy automatically increases as well as clarity of thought, objectivity, and an overall sense of peace!
This is just the beginning.
If you want to learn more check out EnSoul Yoga. Our study groups and teacher trainings help to educate on this topic. Going straight to the source is always best. For the true masters visit vedantaworld.org and vedantamidwest.org. We have a teacher right here in Detroit, Amit Kinikar.
Here’s to practicing yoga!