Yoga is a state of being. The real yoga cannot be seen with the eyes alone. It is a way of connecting with our inner world, purifying body and mind, and revealing our true essential nature.
Be like the flowing water...
To give a proper definition of yoga, we may consider leaving the entire page untouched and blank, for yoga is born from stillness and emptiness. It is an emptiness that encompasses all aspects of existence, it is the source of existence and the background of every experience. At the same time yoga is a very practical path that describes thousands of practices for the purification of the body and mind to ultimately reveal higher states of consciousness. Our consciousness and full potential can be compared to an iceberg. Only a small section of the top of the iceberg is visible. The major part of it is hidden underneath the surface of the ocean. To see it we have to dive under the water. Similarly, to understand our subconscious and unconscious nature we have to dive deep within ourselves. Yogic practices like asanas, pranayama, mudras, bandhas, meditation techniques, purify our vision and structure so that we can see ourselves and reality clearly.
The most suitable practice or method for purifying the body and mind is very individual. There are as many paths, as their are people. And the best one to find out what works for you, is you! Although we can get inspired from friends, teachers and anything or anyone around. All I can do, is to share what a daily yoga practice does for me.
If we are honest with ourselves, we may often be seeing ourselves in a situation of confusion and with a blurred vision. Before we can really see clearly what works for ourselves, we have to be able to relax and connect to our expanded state of awareness, or call it the natural state of awareness. As long as we stay locked up in fear, doubts, anger or anything that feels contracted, it is unlikely that we will make the best decisions and find out what works best for us. Therefore, a necessary step in our evolution, is to first relax the body, mind and create a feeling of spaciousness. For me, everytime I roll out my yoga mat or sit on a meditation coushin, I try to first invite this feeling of spaciousness and connect to my inner being. Yes, thoughts may be sometimes like a raging river, but that is even more a sign that it is time to practice:)
Hatha yoga has been the most powerful method I know for creating this preleminary step. We are continously storing memories on the cellular level in our body. Some of these memories can serve us to judge situations in life more maturely and accurately. The problem arises when our reaction to a current situation, due to our comparison to the past as memory, is not matching or isn't suitable. For example, it may have been very useful as a child to numb ourselves when we got bullied or hurt. We simply didn't have the resources to deal with the situation. Now, on the subconscious level, we may keep on reacting in the same way when we are adults. When we feel pain, we may numb ourselves or some people start to work even more and ignore the inner world. The problem is that by numbing ourselves from pain, we close ourselves as well from joy and from the very source of our being. Life is a continously interplay of joy and pain, they are simply the otherside of the same coin.
Practicing Hatha yoga will contribute to the purification of our mind in at least 2 ways. First of all, the memories that are stored on the cellular level, may be triggered and come up to the surface. For example when performing hip opening postures, many people experience a strong emotional reaction of saddness or anger. Secondly, Hatha yoga invites us to keep witnessing our sensations, breath, emotions, mind. Through Hatha yoga we train ourselves to find comfort, even when discomfort arises, or to relax, when tension builds up. Learning to detach from the likes and dislikes of life and its compulsive reactions can be usefull in every aspect of life. Practicing Hatha yoga isn't meant to become an Indian gymnastic, although increased strenght and flexibility can be a great by-product. And it doesn't mean we have to be very serious, just sincere! Playfullness can be a wonderful medicine as well.
So far, I have only been speaking about the spiritual, emotional and mental aspect of yoga. But many people don't come first to yoga for these reasons. Most people that start practicing yoga, do it for physcial reasons or because they are desperate to find peace within. And this is again the beauty of yoga. All seekers, no matter from where they approach yoga, are welcomed. If you practice yoga for physical benefits only, and you practice with awareness and alignment, you will be very likely to find proper results. Even more, once there is health and harmony in the body, the mind will be more transparant and clear, and we can intuitively experience the true meaning of yoga: Union.
Through yogic practices like asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha, we can balance all the functions of the body. These functions include the endocrine system, muscular system, nervous system, respiratory system. A lot of research has been done in these fields, and it has been proven that a regular yoga practice (and meditation) can greatly benefit the health on every level.
My invitation to you, is to find out what works for you. If you feel attracted to Hatha yoga and haven't developped a self-practice yet, you may find a competent teacher close to where you life or follow classes online. Once you have learned some techniques properly, having a daily yoga practice can bring health, energize, deeply transform and bring peace and self-awareness. What works for me is to approach a yoga practice not as a self imposed obligation, but as a divine moment. Initially, it may need willpower to show up every day to sit or practice on the mat. But very soon, we may feel that it is actually the most joyful time of the day and that it keeps on shining light throughout the day. So, rather then fighting to 'do yoga', connect to 'beingness' and see what movement, posture, breathing pattern, prayer or inner state of being wants to express itself. Move from the source and enjoy the journey!