We don't practice Yoga, we are Yoga
Action creates a reaction, simple concept to remember but so very difficult to take responsibility for, we want to believe that we are not responsible for the things that happen to us in life unless they are good things but the reality is that we are responsible for everything that occurs to us, everything!
What determines the result of any action in life is the intention that lies behind it as well as the path that we have created. Some paths are smooth and direct while others are bumpy and curvy with huge hills and valleys. So what's an intention? Intention can be defined as something that you want or plan to do, in other words, an aim that has a goal. To do something intentionally means to do something on purpose, to act in a conscious way. At the beginning of many yoga classes, the teacher may ask the students to set an intention for the class. To act with purpose and consciously connect breathing and one’s actions individually and collectively to the goal of Yoga – Self-realization. But let's ask ourselves this same question outside of a yoga class, perhaps when you wake in the morning, or before starting a new job or relationship, or pretty much any major or minor decision you make. What are your intentions and perhaps even a better question is what are your expectations?
You cannot do yoga, Yoga is who you are, your natural state, all you can do are practices that reveal your resistance to existing in that natural state. What I like to do and to suggest to others is that when you are ensconced in a project or you feel inspired to begin something new you may feel at first enthusiastic and soon after discouraged when hitting a wall or when it takes longer than what you expected. To “practice” does not suggest that Yoga is only done on a mat, rather it is done throughout your day, night, and existence. The motivation for our practice must be clear from the start. What do we think this practice is really for? Are we aiming for union with the divine Self and cultivating a desire for Yoga? Is the practice developing our potential to see the divine in everyone and in everything we come into contact with? Our intention can help us cultivate compassion, kindness, and love. It also can be used to cultivate anything that pleases you, although that can be a slippery slope! The trick is to remove the path, remove the thought that makes you believe you know the way, you don't, plus you don't know what path will take you to your intended end/beginning and once on this path you just remove all outcomes, all the while knowing that it will turn our perfectly! Remove doubt!
In the Raja Yoga tradition, we set the intention by chanting the following pledge:
Om Asato Ma Sadgamaya, Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya, Mrtyor Ma Amrtam Gamaya, Om Santi Santi Santi.
God/Lord/Universe Lead from the unreal to the real, from the darkness to the light, from death (ignorance) to immortality, peace peace peace
Our thoughts are actions in rehearsal. When we think of others and dedicate our actions towards them it takes us out of our small egoic self and develops other-centeredness. This is a step towards yoga when others disappear and we see the oneness of being. This is enlightenment. Through repetition of this mantra, the intention behind it becomes stronger in our lives.
You may try singing this mantra with a melancholy inflection:
“To sing to God there must be a longing in your voice, a touch of sadness is good” Unknown.
When we sing the mantra, we are keeping His presence alive, through our teachers and our lineage.
Offer your practice, both on and off your mat, to a being whom you love, or who is struggling with a situation in their own life. See them clearly in your mind’s eye and think of them. Concentrating on them throughout your practice means you do not think of yourself for a while and your problems. Offer your efforts to your teachers’ (we are all teachers and we are all students) enlightenment and wellbeing. Wishing them well in their own sadhana (ego-transcending spiritual practice) is another way to elevate your thoughts and practice. Without the elevated intention, the tendency to ruminate, and think of yourself will be strong and lead us deeper into avidyā – a misperception of ourselves. Are we interested in the goal of yoga or a physical work out? An asana practice without an intention will potentially make you stronger and fitter but it will not lead you all the way to yoga until you take it off the mat and see your entire life as your practice, even when you don't care to practice any longer know that you still are.
Whatever we turn our attention towards our energy and focus will be directed there, where your attention goes prana will follow!
Because we all yearn to be elevated and end our suffering and ignorance for all, we can follow this advice from Master Patanjali– Sutra 1.23 īśvara pranidhānād. By giving your identity to God you attain the identity of God. To focus the mind towards God and dedicate your actions so that all the energy and emotions are directed to that one goal. Patanjali suggests Bhakti (yoga of devotion) yoga as a direct route to know God. Negative thoughts or emotions that come up during the practice can be witnessed and the energy is redirected. We let go of that which is binding us in order to be liberated and purified by the intention we are working towards. Our minds and hearts are often troubled by our feelings toward others in our lives. When we sing “Lead from the unreal to the real, from the darkness to the light, from death (ignorance) to immortality” we are asking to be freed from anger, jealousy, and fear, to fill our hearts with joy and compassion. Fear comes from the mūladhāra (root)chakra, jealousy from the Swādhishthāna (sacral)chakra, and anger from Manipûra (solar plexus), we move towards the heart Anāhata (4th chakra) chakra, where we remember to lovingly offer all actions up to the Divine. The presence of the Divine is felt as we remember our own soul, the ātman. We become God’s instrument and through that experience develop ātma-jñāna knowledge of the Self.
In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna explains to Arjuna that whatever fruits we receive from an action we should renounce and give up. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan to do something or aim to act in a conscious way, just do not be motivated by what will happen but choose the intention wisely, and have faith in that intention. The yogi acts in a way to strive towards the happiness of all beings and enhances the lives of others.
Believe in yourself and your path, do not doubt that you are exactly where you intended to be!
Hari Om Tat Sat