Where is the Yoga?

padangustasana front farYoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. This sounds like a simple thing, but it is by no means easy and must be approached gradually through dedicated practice. A translation of the word yoga is “to yoke”, which implies a union with the whole, the infinite, beyond dualities.

While some of the intentions behind the practice of  yoga are to quiet the mind chatter and transcend the illusion of separation, this is not always what is actually going on in the practice room. I’ve spent a lot of time in a number of yoga studios as a student and a little time as a substitute teacher. Here are some common things I hear from practitioners during practice:

  • “Its too cold or too hot in here.”
  • “Its too bright or too dark in here.”
  • “Can you turn on, change, turn down, turn off the music?”
  • “Its too crowded in here – I need some space.”
  • “You are in my spot.”
  • “When you do that it drives me crazy! Can you please stop?”

These things come up in meditation quite a bit as well:

  • “Its too noisy or its too quiet in here.”
  • “My seat is too high or too low or too hard or too soft”
  • “My posture is too slouched or too rigid or too crooked.”
  • “This guidance annoys me – its too slow or fast, soft or loud, a poor quality of voice.”
  • “I must relieve this itch or ache or pain or thirst or hunger.”

If you find yourself saying or thinking things like these on occasion during practice, welcome to humanity. We all have our preferences as well as our little annoyances and complaints that can come up here or there. If you are new to yoga and other mind training practices, you probably experience these thoughts and urges quite a bit and that is not unusual.

It takes time and consistency for attachments and aversions to begin to recede into the background so we can focus concentration more steadily on the higher intentions of yoga and meditation. Creating a pleasant, distraction free environment can be very helpful in the beginning. More seasoned practitioners understand that when aversions arise, they are merely fodder for practice. They present opportunities and can be worked with if we are open to them. We eventually discover that no amount of adjustment of what is outside of us can bring ultimate happiness. In this way we cultivate equanimity – a calm, balanced state of mind, regardless of circumstances.

If you have been practicing yoga and/or other meditative practices for quite some time and you are still frequently plagued by these thoughts and urges – especially if you often feel compelled to interrupt your practice to comment or act on them – it may be time to ask yourself, “What am I really practicing?” You may be placing your body into postures with skill and ease, but are you really practicing yoga? You may be sitting on a cushion for extended periods, but are you practicing meditation? We all can benefit from this reality check from time to time. Otherwise, our practice just becomes another unconscious habit, further intrenching us in the cycle of attachment, aversion, dissatisfaction and suffering.

If there is no peace in the minds of individuals, how can there be peace in the world? Make peace in your own mind first. – S. N. Goenka

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