Have you ever been asked to describe yoga? T. K. V. Desikachar, in his book The Heart of Yoga, defines it as:
- Movement from one point to another, higher one
- The bringing together, the unifying of two things
- Action with undivided, uninterrupted attention
This beautiful and simple definition from a master yogi defines all exercise. Why do we go to the studio to practice yoga, to take a barre class, or to get our dance on? The answer can be as simple as we need the motivation of an instructor within a group setting to guide us or we like the routine of practicing at a specific place and time. Desikachar teaches that yoga ( and I am adding exercise in general) makes us better people. How so?
According to the yoga sutras, written by Patanjali around 400 BC, we all have to deal with Avidya. This term is an ancient Sanskrit word that covers four concepts – ego, desire, hatred and fear. And those dear friends are something we all can relate in any language.
I know each of you have felt that sudden rush of pure joy from a great workout. In my last blog I talked about the fact that part of the joy of practicing, any type of exercise in a studio, is the bonding we feel with one another. Let’s examine what actually happens to our body and our mind as we practice, as we move. We all know that endorphins are released, the metabolism is raised and of course the heart beats a little faster. Our cheeks become rosy and bright as we move and our bodies become beautiful, toned, and strong. We take care of our heart physically but what is going on emotionally deep within our soul?
“Each day is the opportunity to become wiser, stronger, and more attuned to the bigger picture.”
Come back to those four aspects of Avidya : Ego – We can think “I am right” or “I am mad.” Desire – At times in our life we can desire something we may not need or something that is truly not attainable. Hatred – Sadly our current political world seems so full of hate. Fear – For me fear of the unknown can make me straight up crazy at times
Desikachar says, “The essential purpose of yoga practice is to reduce Avidya so that understanding can gradually come to the surface.” I love the fact that this wise teacher says gradually. I do not have to accomplish this overnight. I have a lifetime to overcome anxiety and fear. Like any of you I want to be free from judgment, judgment against myself or my fellow man. We all long for clarity and understanding in our lives. We seek truth and we want to find something deep within us that provides peace. Desikachar goes on to say, “yoga is both the movement toward and the arrival at a point.” Again, insert exercise into this equation. As we practice, whatever exercise that suits our body type and sparks passion in our soul, we move towards finding who we are, what we are and where we are on this journey called life.
In any of the classes provided at our studio, we are challenged to combine breath and movement. This is something we do to become and stay physically and mentally healthy. Exercise is a process of cleansing, an inner cleansing that works on a cellular level and it helps to calm the monkey mind. The concentration to manage a Kickboxing routine or to perfect the alignment of a pose, takes mental clarity. We observe our body and breath and we do it over and over, week after week. Why? Because we know something is happening within our body and our mind that makes us strive to be a better person. You may or may not have realized that but according to the author of the yoga sutras, that is exactly what is happening. We are developing a deeper understanding of ourselves as humans, we are learning to recognize our faults and our strengths. This connection to mind and body, outlined in the yoga sutras, helps us to take action. When we become responsible for ourselves, we become more attuned to the needs of our society. Yoga, as designed by Patanjali, was brought forth to an ancient people to help them become physically healthier and mentally aware. And that hasn’t changed in the 2000+ years since the yoga sutras were compiled! No matter our gender, race, or culture, we are simply humans. We are designed to move and have our being on this beautiful planet, to love one another, and to find a place in this world. Each day is the opportunity to become wiser, stronger, and more attuned to the bigger picture.
Desikachar says,” everything we do in yoga – whether it is an asana practice or meditation, whether it is attentive observation, self searching or the examination have a particular question – all have as their goal the reduction of Avidya.” I think the world could do with a little less ego, less fear and of course no hatred. If our practice, if our precious time at the studio helps us to achieve this, then we shall be, individually and collectively, all the better for it.
Grace and Peace,