Yoga in its most literal sense is meant to yoke, or unite, aspects of the body, the breath, and the mind. When these three come in to accord, we move beyond the physical forms into the subtle aspects of the anandamaya kosha, or the body of bliss, that inner divine nature that resides within all of us. Yoga is a philosophy, but in it’s highest form, yoga is a science that teaches us through specific methods of observation and modification set out by the rishis (seers), we can move beyond our self-created maya (avidya).
All of suffering, all of pain is due to man’s false sense of identification with his body and his mind, both of which are subject to death and decay. Abhinivesha, or fear of death, is what causes us to hold on so tightly to this body and this mind, thinking that our ahamkara, or sense of “I am”, comprises the entirety of who we are. We situate ourselves so strongly in the pleasures and drives of the external world (raga) that we completely deny our inner world. Yoga asks us to take a step beyond our own limiting egos (asmita) into that infinite reservoir of the atman, the universal consciousness.
To begin, we must first tackle what we see in the mirror, what we most strongly associate with, our body. In yoga, it is said that we are simply caretakers, moving from body to body, lifetime to lifetime. Our body can be our temple, or it can be our hell. Yoga seeks to reclaim the body as a heavenly abode through first introducing asana, physical postures that not only stimulate health and physical well-being, but also have the capacity to alter the state of our mind. In the beginning, yoga is asana, yoga is physical, but eventually yoga moves into more subtler realms of human consciousness as we begin to integrate breath awareness into our practice. The modification of the breath, pranayama, serves as the vehicle that synergizes the body and the mind. Using deep diaphragmatic breath allows us to remain still in the midst of chaos, both in body and mind.
Now comes pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, or the precursor to one pointed meditation. We take our focus from the excitement and drive of the external senses, and place our focus on that indwelling light. This is facilitated with mantra repetition in meditation. Most associate mantra as a sound, but in its truest form, mantra is the vibrational quality that is released in the capsule of the actual words. These vibrations subtly alter the way you associate yourself with the modifications of the mind, moving from being a slave to the wild senses, to one who holds the reigns of his senses tightly in control. We then realize that we can be a silent witness to the modifications of our mind. Just like the tornado rages the landscape, we can enter the eye where all is still and calm, and simply watch the chaos around us, knowing that nothing can shake us from that clear, calm, and tranquil center. Cultivating abhyasa, devotion to consistent practice, and vairagya, non-attachment to the fruits of our labours, we come one step closer to understanding who We are in an eternal sense.
Ultimately, yoga teaches us to treat pain and suffering, praise and condemnation with equanimity and love, and to serve others as a way to serve the light within us.