When we set out on any journey it is necessary to know, as clearly as we can, what is our intended destination. Knowing our destination makes it easier for us to keep our sense of direction in the midst of distractions. Our Yoga practice, this lifelong pursuit to better know our true selves, is the quintessential human journey.
Mistaking the vehicle for the destination
As it tends to happen, sometimes we get so absorbed in the details of our day-to-day actions, feelings and thoughts that we may end up confusing the road and the vehicle for the actual destination. For instance, somehow we learn that performing some yogic postures (asanas) might help us find relief of pain and stress resulting from our habitual patterns of posture, movement and thought. Then we decide to start practicing asanas to create a greater sense of ease in body and mind. Over time, consistency in our practice most likely will bring about a better balance between strength and flexibility. It is likely that our practice will also help us develop greater sensitivity. However, as we feel the improvements resulting from our practice, we might start thinking that the goal of the practice is to achieve more complex or fanciful postures. That is, our exploration of asanas may become a vehicle to appease our ego’s insatiable appetite for achievement (usually related to external recognition) at the expense of a greater sense of ease throughout our being –our intended destination. Whatever posture, regardless of how it looks from the outside, will only serve us if it facilitates a greater sense of clarity, balance and interconnectedness between all aspects of our being. In other words, the technique, be it posture, breathing, chanting, meditation, etc. is useful if it contributes to create a greater sense of centeredness and clarity. Otherwise, we embark on a never-ending quest towards mastering a more elaborate or complex technique. Given our goal orientation and inclination to achieve, how can we stay focused?
Staying on course
Even when we think we are very passionate about a particular idea, practice or journey, it happens, at least in my experience, that we tend to get distracted, impatient or frustrated along the way. For instance, given the continuous flow of external stimuli we have in our day-to-day lives, it is challenging for our minds to stay focused on one goal for a long period of time. Also, since many of us have grown accustomed to the idea of instant gratification, the gradual, step-by-step results from Yoga seem to take way too long.
It is good to remember that even when we think we are working ‘only at the physical level’, Yoga can only work in gradual steps to help unravel the habitual patterns we have cultivated consistently for years or even decades. It is necessary to work gradually, so that we can develop organically the necessary strength and flexibility in our bodies, minds and hearts to transform our lives and move away from mechanical and mindless actions, thoughts and feelings towards a life that truly feels more centered and balanced.
Along the way is helpful to find ways to maintain our flexible focus on the destination. For instance, I often ask myself why do I practice Yoga? or I remind myself that the journey of self-discovery is a lifelong process. Another simple way to stay on course in our practice is using a simple definition of Yoga.
A simple definition of Yoga
I like to find easy ways to remember why I do what I do. So, I try to create simple and easy ways to remember and verify that I am oriented towards my intended goal. Here is one definition of Yoga that works well for me:
Yoga is Sincere Effort Towards Clarity
What I like about this definition is that it is made up of only 6 words that encapsulate well both the practice and the objective. I also like that the definition is general enough so that it is not restricted to only one aspect of Yoga.
Let’s take a look at each word in the definition,
- Genuine, open and honest. I like to think of this as a reminder that the practice starts in our hearts.
- The use of physical or mental energy to do something. Our actions are earnest and conscientious, so we do as much as we can, no more and no less. This is also a way to remember that there is work involved and that the fruits of our actions accurately reflect our intentions and the quality of our participation.
- In the direction of. We are aware that Yoga is a journey of self-discovery that takes a lifetime. The practice is a process that changes over time because it reflects our specific circumstances and that it adjusts to changes in ourselves and in our environment.
- Lucidity, being clear. Our goal is to reduce obstacles to the flow of life in our bodies, our breath, our minds and our hearts, so that we enjoy greater awareness.
Bringing The Definition To Life
Of course, this definition is only good if it helps us stay on course. In order to do this, we need to incorporate it into our practice. As I mentioned, in my opinion this definition can be applied to any of the techniques used in yoga such as asana, pranayama, meditation, chanting, cleansing practices like neti or fasting, etc.
- As I set up to start my practice I think about the definition and try to plant it as a seed in my mind, heart and body.
- During the practice, I ask myself and verify if the technique is resulting in greater clarity.
- As I am bringing the practice to a close I observe the effects of the practice in body, breath, mind and heart.
I also like try to apply this definition as I engage in my daily activities in order to bring yoga into my life. Quite often I find that it doesn’t take long for me to forget my destination. However, as I try to bring the definition to life, in itself the act of asking remembering the definition becomes a source of clarity and of encouragement to stay true to the practice.
I hope that this idea may help your practice be mindful, joyful and fulfilling.