The Essence of Yoga:
Tips for Making It Your Own Immersion into Reality
Yoga is an extremely complex and delicate subject, a global cultural phenomenon that has made its mark on the consciousness of the contemporary individual both in the East and West. So much has been said and written about Yoga, it has changed dramatically during the last one hundred years, in India and elsewhere, and it is being practiced in an infinite variety of ways all over the world. The practice sometimes fulfils its ancient promise of bringing more peace, more power and more wisdom into the life of an ardent practitioner, but more often than not it fails to achieve anything more than mere recreation countering the drawbacks of modern sedentary way of life, mostly providing temporary relief from stress, offering superficial “spiritual” entertainment or securing a “yogic” life-style pattern for practitioners and teachers alike. That is, if it is not hurtful. And too often it is painful, injurious and even destructive for a host of different reasons, mostly ignorance and ambition. It is very sad and utterly unnecessary.
Find a good teacher
So, how to make your Yoga truly effective, completely safe and deeply pleasurable? Well, simply by making it truly your own. First find yourself a really good teacher whom you can trust and start exactly from where you are. A good teacher really cares about your well-being, actually practices and lives what s(he) is teaching, and has a valuable experience of being properly educated in an authentic lineage of direct Yoga transmission from teacher to student (guru-shishya-parampara). Then assess your situation realistically and determine your immediate, short-term and long-term goals as clearly as possible with the help of your teacher. And then start practicing your Yoga for the sheer pleasure that a well-adapted personalized and personal practice inevitably brings with it. This pleasure will help you fall in love with Life over and over again and so it will motivate you to keep on practicing and, in time, widen and deepen your practice that will keep changing as your life changes and as you change through the practice. Concentrate on developing your regular home practice, and only secondarily and very carefully engage into group practicing if you feel like it.
Use the full spectrum of all Yoga practices
At first, especially if you have some health issues, and we often do, begin with something very simple or even practice Yoga as therapy (yoga-cikitsa), if appropriate or necessary. Or emphasize relaxation if you are tensed up or stressed out. Yoga practiced as a spiritual discipline (yoga-sadhana) aiming mostly at personal transformation is the next logical step. And it must be different for each individual simply because we are all different. You can enter the virtually unlimited spectrum of varied Yoga techniques through any of the following avenues: 1) you can start with some philosophical or psychological enquiry (darsana) if you have some burning questions that need to be answered or difficult problems to be solved; 2) you can start by exploring the limitations and possibilities of your body and breath (asana and pranayama) if that seems a reasonable way to delve deeper into yourself; 3) if you are intuitive, stable and healthy, you can go straight to meditation (dhyana) and get a direct insight into the workings of your mind or the depths of your Heart; 4) you can also experiment with the inherent power of human voice and sonic vibration (mantra) to affect the various aspects of your psycho-somatic organism; 5) if you are religious in any way and like ceremonies and rituals (puja), you can use Yoga as a means to support that interest or preference; 6) and if all that is not attractive or interesting enough for the time being or for any reason whatsoever, you can just hang out (sat-sanga) with your teacher, who ideally is your equal friend, or exchange ideas and experiences with the like-minded. The point is to use all the tools of Yoga in a meaningful and comprehensive way so that all your needs are eventually met and all the aspects of your personality are skilfully included into your practice.
Develop a personal practice that is right for you
However, for most people, a good way to start practicing Yoga is to pay closer attention to the way we breathe and move in relatively short, very enjoyable, highly individualized, well-structured, well-balanced and well-rounded practices, and so develop a deeper awareness of ourselves as natural, living and breathing bodies functioning in complex relationships with the natural world and social environment. Essentially, Yoga postures, or yogasana, are dynamic pranayama, or conscious breathing, supported by body movement whose main purpose is to enhance the breath in a way and at a pace that is appropriate for each practitioner. When the breath becomes conscious, deeper, slower, stronger, audible, rhythmic, refined and prolonged through simple movements that a person can do and the movements are coordinated with breathing in such a way that each movement is initiated and enveloped by the breath, the practicing individual becomes capable of transcending the limitations of the body and can focus exclusively on the movement of the infinite breath within. When it eventually slows down and gets more subtle, our mind automatically brightens up and our Heart gets purified. Then meditation, or dhyana, can start. Peace (santi) then infuses our lives and insights (jnana) simply dawn on us, and our creativity awakens, which enables us to find the right direction in life, win our autonomy and step more decisively on the path leading to true humanity.
Relax, regenerate and be transformed through your practice
A Yoga practice that doesn’t give us the strength (sakti) to live out our insights in our daily life as a being in relationship does not deserve its name and it must be reshaped to empower us to do precisely that – face reality whatever it is and cope with the challenges of being humans no matter how hard they are. This awakening of true strength happens only if we know how to relax and can actually tap into the source of the inexhaustible power of human emotivity located in our spiritual Hearts (hrdaya). Then transformation starts, and it is simultaneously an inward mutation and an outward revolution. So, everything starts with our relaxing into our reality – our body, our breath, our mind, our consciousness, our emotions and our relationships – and then regeneration or healing can take place in the innermost corners of our being. And we need this regeneration and this healing on a daily basis, just as the world needs love and kindness that we first have to give to ourselves, in this case through the practice of a Yoga that is right for us. In this way we can viscerally feel the merge of opposites in our Heart: the outer meeting the inner, the above fusing with the below, heaven merging with earth, and especially the inhale and exhale interpenetrating each other, and Yoga and life slowly but surely become one organic unitary process of continuous, harmonious and holistic human growth.
Tips for making Yoga your own immersion into reality
So, the essence of Yoga is personal (re)integration, moral integrity and cosmic integrality, for we are absolutely unique and absolutely beautiful human beings that are at One with ourselves, we are absolutely connected with everyThing and everyOne else, and we are absolutely united with the Whole of Existence. Yoga simply empowers us to feel it and live it, no matter what happens in our lives and in spite of anything or anybody suggesting otherwise. So, here are some practical tips for making Yoga your own immersion into the mystery and miracle of Life whether you are an absolute beginner or an advanced beginner, and beginners we all are, since every day we start anew:
1. Inhale softly into the chest by slowly expanding it in all directions with the feeling of stretching the spine up, relaxing the whole body and drawing the fresh energy from outside deeply into the body.
2. Exhale slowly from the base of the body by firmly contracting the lower abdomen between the navel and the pubic bone with the feeling of squeezing out all the dross matter you don’t need in the body and mind.
3. The inhale is the “feminine” receptivity from above. Feel it.
4. The exhale is the “male” strength from below. Engage it.
5. Move the arms to facilitate the breathing process. First do it in the lying position on the back, and then in simple standing, kneeling and sitting asana. Only when you get stronger (and softer!) through a sustained, well-designed and well-adapted Yoga practice that is right for you, you can experiment with strong asana too, without ever forcing your breath or overstretching your body.
6. While inhaling move the arms up, in circles if standing, kneeling or sitting, or up and down if lying on the back, and keep them soft all the time to be able to receive the inhale, as well as the belly, shoulders and neck. In time, you can introduce simple leg movements and combine them with other types of movements in more complex exercises done in all bodily positions.
7. While exhaling move the arms down, and feel the chest collapsing and the lower abdomen contracting. All forward bends, lateral stretching and twists are done on exhale, whereas back bending and upward stretching are done on inhale. If in doubt, always do a movement on exhale. Keep the knees and neck soft and avoid putting too much weight onto the joints. And never practice inversions without individual instruction and direct supervision of your teacher.
8. Feel the merge of all opposites in your Heart all the time while breathing and moving or just breathing.
9. Enjoy the process and give yourself some quiet time after the practice to absorb its positive effects and reflect on them, either by lying down or sitting up, or both.
10. First relax, then regenerate and finally be transformed through your practice.
Try it and see what happens. Be open and don’t let your previous experience in Yoga prevent you from getting it right for you. If, for any reason, you cannot move your arms or have any kind of respiratory or health problems, please consult with your physician before you start doing any kind of Yoga. Safety is the first priority, and joy is the first step towards freedom. And Yoga is about freedom!