What is Yoga? Why Practice it? Step 1
This is a very hard question to answer. Yoga is a lifestyle. When you begin to act consciously and create a daily routine that supports and nurtures all aspects of your multi-dimensional experience you are practicing yoga. Of course most people, when they are thinking or asking what is yoga?.... they are mostly referring to the Hatha Yoga and practices of Asana and Pranayama. We will get to that in another chat,…Asana and Pranayama are tools of Yoga, not Yoga itself. Yoga is Awareness. If by practicing Asana you become more aware of the Mystery and Grand Scheme of Who you are, then you are practicing Yoga. If the practice of Asana does not open your direct perception and begin to answer many of your personal life issues, then there is something missing. The something missing is Awareness itself.
Yoga can begin and end simply with practicing Awareness throughout your day. I don't like the word Mindfulness, because it starts with the word Mind. Awareness is one aspect of the mind, but there is more to Awareness than what comes through your logical, thought process. So I prefer to use a word that does not put the Mind front and center.
So, what is Awareness and how do I develop it? You are Awareness and you can develop it just like you develop a muscle: by using it.
But, what good is it? What can I get from developing it? It isn't time for you to develop Awareness until you have experienced enough of your life without much of it. That is called Pain. Pain, suffering, unhappiness usually draws us to ask the question, why am I in such misery? Misery develops the interest you will need to delve deeper into åwho you are: this Awareness itself. Awareness begins with interest. How can one become interested in Awareness, when it seems like, awareness is boring, unexciting? Food, Sex, being liked, and famous, having tons of money and great looks... Now, if you could promise me that by increasing my Awareness I could get all of these things, then maybe I would be interested. Well, yes, I won't lie, and I won't speak platitudes, or be politically correct. So let me tell you the truth.
Yes, increasing awareness can give you better looks, more money, more friends, more sex and more food. If you are lacking in any of these, you are lacking Awareness. Now that I have your interest, let me say one more thing. There is a lot more fun to be had than the short list noted above. With increased Awareness, your moment-to-moment experience of life can be one of ecstasy, bliss, and the "peace that passeth all understanding".
Shall we start developing our Awareness?
It's simple actually, but you have to be honest, you have to be more attached to developing Awareness than developing your ego. Awareness will annihilate your ego and you will have to re-learn everything you thought you knew. But hey! With a little sense of humor, or a lot, it can be fun! Any way, we really do not have a choice unless, of course, we choose to remain in suffering and misery, and turn into old, cranky men or women.Once your Awareness of What Is, begins to develop, you naturally begin to make lifestyle changes according to what you have discovered through this simple practice of seeing, hearing, observing, not what you "think", but What Is. In other words, slowing down your immediate judgments of what is, to see what is truly present, instead of what you have been taught through your enculturation. Awareness is the opposite of what you have been taught about anything.
For example, through living a day with some Awareness you might begin to discover: "Boy, I have a lot of aches and pains". Or "Gee, when did I get so tight, I can't even touch my toes?" "Gosh, my wrist is hurting from so much computer gaming."
Whatever is uncomfortable, you begin to acknowledge it. Now the ordinary acknowledgment would be some kind of self-judgment like "Boy am I getting old!" That is a thought coming from enculturation. It is usually the first thought, because we are so programmed to put ourselves down or to blame something outside of ourselves that we have no power to change like my age. So if you stop at self-judgment or accept a cultural thought like "getting old" you disempower yourself immediately and are less able to take any kind of positive action, or less likely to see something "As It Is" not as you have been taught it should be.
The TRUTH is usually the exact opposite from what you have been taught. So, with Yoga you don't judge a situation or experience, you slow down and get interested in it as if you know nothing.
With this example of becoming Aware you`re tight or achy and sore, if you don't judge it, just feel it for what it is, you won't expect someone or something to come and "heal" you, and you begin to feel it instead of thinking it. If your wrist is sore because you have been computer gaming for 10 hours, you don't take on the normal "judgment" like "Darn, I shouldn't be gaming so much, what a waste of time.." etc. etc.
Whatever your self-judgments are, you shut them up. With Awareness you now say: "Isn't this interesting, my wrist is really sore right now. Let's see how much range of movement do I have, what does it feel like to move it this way, twist it this way". You get interested, what would it feel like to squeeze the wrist, stop the blood flow, etc. There are tons of ways to slow down and get interested in your actual experience, not your judgment of the experience. Then you might come up with, I think I will go to the store and buy a wrist brace and give it some support and rest for a few days. All done with self-love not self-judgment.
Self-love will begin to HEAL the wrist. Self-judgment will increase the stress hormones and will not allow relaxation at any level of your being, which effects even the level or your wrist. And self-judgment will slow the healing process.
This entire increase of interest and sensation is an act of increasing Awareness. You are practicing Yoga during this entire inquiry into your wrist. How would you show up with this wrist experience in such a way that it is not Yoga? You would sink, once again, into self-judgment or cultural judgment. That is not Yoga. Keep it simple. This moment is about your wrist and only your wrist. Take little experiences and stay with the little experiences. Don't make your wrist pain all about what a jerk you are that you played a game non-stop for 10 hours. That is not the presenting symptom. Stay with the symptom, nurture your wrist and a slow unraveling of your entire multidimensional self will begin. That is Yoga.
What about the other example of "Oh Boy, I have so many aches and pains, I sure am getting old"? Stop yourself right there. That is not your Awareness speaking, that is your unawareness speaking, which is the culture speaking through you. "Take an Advil, that will relieve the pain"… oops… there goes that Culture Think inside your head. Again.
If you practice yoga you would get on the floor or couch and begin to touch, breath, manipulate your body, roll around, grab some pillows and play with yourself. You would move and follow the sensations, like you are not doing anything, not performing anything, no one is watching. Interestingly, you would begin to look like an infant on the floor or couch. An infant knows first their bodies and then their minds. An adult knows their Mind first and then their bodies if ever, after puberty. And which state, the infant state or the adult state, learns and grows, heals faster, is more flexible and happy? Is it the Infant or the adult? I think you would agree it is the Infant.
So, with your aches and pains, go be an infant. Get on the floor and start rolling around. If you are not 150 years old, then you don't get to excuse yourself because YOU are Too Old. Science has confirmed that the integrity and engineering of the physical body has an expiration date of around 150 years. So no more excuses about you're too old. I have heard 20-year olds, say this, I have heard 30, 40, 50, and 90-year-olds say this. Sorry you are living a lie. The aches and pains you are feeling in your body and the stiffness in your body has nothing to do with your age. It has everything to do with your lack of Awareness. So here we return to Yoga, how to develop this Awareness, so that we don't have to fall back on and loose our Power by saying I'm Too Old.
When you begin to practice Awareness through Hatha Yoga (and that's a good place to start) don't get intimidated by the images you see in Yoga Journal or on the Internet. Before you take your first formal yoga class, get on the floor, bring your knees as close to your chest as you can, take a few conscious breaths, close your eyes and relax. Just be there on the floor, no trying, no fixing, just being. And see what happens. Get interested in who you are on the floor. What does it feel like to be on the floor? When was the last time you laid on the floor? Let all the images, feelings and sensations take over. You are becoming the Magical Child again, where all the health, healing, and passion for life begins and ends.
Welcome to the World of Yoga.
You are now a Yogi
You have returned to yourself
You have left your culture way behind in the dust.
Much love, amba