What is Yoga? It’s challenging to find a definition that all lineages of yoga would agree with, but one basic premise is well known and agreed upon.
The definition of Yoga, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is “the settling of the mind into silence” or “the condition of still mind so that we may experience our essence.”
Which begs the question: why do we want that? How does this benefit us? Again, answers can vary across the board, and of course there is more than one benefit we get from practicing yoga, but ultimately our intention is freedom. Liberation from suffering, and an overall reduction in universal suffering.
The discipline of yoga has always been “spiritual” in the sense of “self-realization.” It shows us who we are not, while encouraging us to remember our innermost essence. However, Yoga is not a religion. Some paths of yoga will argue that it is Hindu in origin, or that it originates from a God-centered culture. But historically, there is plenty of evidence that shows yoga grew out of a counterculture movement, which will be discussed in future blog posts.
Many lineages refer to the practices as a codified way to explore human potential. A science, one that has been tested and retested through the years. A map to get us out of our programmed doing-ness and into our potential being-ness.
Yoga is experienced by – and available to – all human beings and occurs spontaneously without needing to be named. It’s actually easy to access. We’ve all had those moments when we are so focused on our art, our music, the way the wind rustles the leaves, etc. that we drop right into the “yogic” realm.
The training of Yoga gives us the ability to abide in what Buddhists call our “essence nature;” to choose to experience a mind that is free of fluctuation. We learn that we can – at will – decide to drop out of the analyzing, worrying, dreading, reviewing mind and into pure awareness. Consistent practice builds strength, which allows us to remain in a state of “beingness” rather than reactivity when faced with triggers or situations that have habitually rocked our world or affected us negatively; what the yogis call “hindrances.”
Western society doesn’t value this skill set. In fact, we refer to this state of being as laziness or a “waste of time.”
Doing nothing makes us uncomfortable because we’ve learned that only through accomplishments are we of value to the world. Our worth is measured in accumulation.
Thus, to allow ourselves to abide in our true nature more frequently and consistently is a massive pattern interrupt. Any time we can take ourselves off of auto-pilot, we have an opportunity to let go of our stories, self image, expectations and identity so that we are no longer subject to limited beliefs, misunderstandings, and habitual reactions. This is the freedom that comes from awakening.
The understanding that we can still experience thought – because Yoga doesn’t mean the absence of thought, just the absence of being subject to thought – while choosing which thoughts to utilize and which thoughts to dismiss, is incredibly freeing. We learn we can allow thoughts to arise spontaneously without identifying with or fearing those thoughts. We no longer suffer under the belief that we are the thoughts; now we know those thoughts aren’t even “our” thoughts. We see the patterns for what they are.
When we relax in awake awareness, we get to use our mind as a critical tool. It serves, rather than subjugates, pure awareness.
Because here’s the kicker: Awareness itself does not react. It just IS. Awareness has no limits. It is an expansive, open space. This presence places no judgments or values on ANY thought, feeling, emotion, etc. It just allows the organic flow of the pattern of thought or feeling or sensation to BE.
The question that has probably arisen for you at this point might be “well what IS true nature?” As the Tao Te Ching says, it cannot be defined. It must be felt, viscerally experienced. Tangibly understood. However, it is actually the simplest “part” of a living being. The yogis refer to it as the “fundamental” awareness of aliveness. It is NOT personal. It doesn’t imply uniqueness, specialness, superiority or hierarchy. It is the ground zero of our collective being, it is the same in all beings, and we share it with all beings. Patanjali describes it as “Awareness folding back on itself, awareness that is aware of itself.” It IS the seer.
I invite you to practice paying attention to your thoughts, without judgment, just practice seeing them.
Notice how your mind wanders away with stories, justifications, and evaluations. Notice that all of that is simply more thought. Nothing needs to be believed. No thought needs to affect you or define You. Once you realize You – the pure awareness of you – are watching your thoughts, your subconscious mind and then your consciousness realizes you are NOT your thoughts. That’s when you get to abide in essence nature: that’s when freedom is experienced. Try it!