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Are you really practicing yoga?

In today’s materially dominated worldly existence, people flock to practice yoga for many different reasons including getting a workout, toning their bodies, losing weight, be part of a community, feeling good, healing and more – all of which are valid.

The definition of yoga in India’s classical texts is that of union of individual consciousness with the universal cosmic consciousness. For those of us who deny the existence of deeper and subtler layers of reality, beyond the gross material/physical plane of reality, this definition probably won’t make any sense.

Another definition (a more comprehendible one) is that of yoga being the practice of regulation of the thought waves of the mind. Most people are aware to some extent of their thought processes and at least in touch with the reality of experiencing ‘thinking’.

As per the classical Indian texts, the regulation of the thought waves of the mind is a minimum standard in the practice of yoga – be it in your interactions in the material world (e.g working, family, society), physical world (e.g exercise, postures, sport), emotional world (e.g while interacting with yourself, others, nature), intellectual world (e.g judgments, ideologies, etc).

You may ask yourself – towards what purpose am I to regulate my thoughts? The answer would be towards creating and maintaining balance, peace and equanimity in the mind in the varied interactions that you experience with yourself, others and nature.

What are the causes of obstacles towards this purpose? According to the Yoga Sutras the obstacles are a result of the presence of the five afflictions of the mind (the klesas). The five afflictions are:

1) non awareness of the deeper realities of existence,
2) sense of ‘I’ or ego,
3) attachment,
4) aversion and
5) clinging to life.

Non awareness (or ignorance) is the strongest affliction and one can see how its predominant presence  can prevent someone from even comprehending (let alone practicing) the true purpose of yoga – union of the Jivatma (individual consciousness) with the Paramatma (cosmic consciousness)!

One of the key aspects in the yoga practice is the process of transforming the afflictions of the mind  into positive states of mind. The positive outcomes as a result of the practice are awareness of a deeper reality, non identification with the vehicles of consciousness (including the body, mind and senses), non attachment, love and acceptance of death as a part of life.

One question to reflect upon is this – is your yoga practice increasing or decreasing the power of your mental afflictions?

Consider these questions:

1) Do you think that the yoga practice is limited to the physical/ body practice?

2) Do you practice to look a certain way (probably in alignment of what you and society thinks is ‘good’) and judge someone (or their practice) because they don’t fit that image?

3) Are you attached to right/wrong ways of thinking in your practice or even in your judgment of how the practice is taught in different systems of yoga (eg Ashtanga, Iyengar, Shivananda, Anusara, Bhakti etc etc)? Do you think one system is better than the other?

4) Do you resist or even hate teachings from some teachers or systems of yoga?

5) Do you cling to what you believe is the right way to practice and will not be open to other ways no matter what?

Your yes answer to any or all of the questions is an indication (there are countless others) of the afflictions transporting themselves and finding root in your yoga practice too.

Unfortunately, the reality is that even the practice of yoga is not immune from the afflictions of our mind. This awareness is the beginning, acceptance of their presence is the next step and transforming them into their positive opposites is practicing yoga in a way that is congruent with the original teachings.

Ask yourself – Am I really practicing yoga?