The Unexamined Yoga Practice
Unexamined, one’s yoga practice may actually prevent one from experiencing Yoga...
Again, a potentially controversial remark. But you know this to be true. Deep down it rings of the most obvious yet easy to overlook Truth. Unexamined? What does that mean? Do I need to go to the yoga doctor to get a check up to make sure I’m doing yoga right?... uh.... no.
This has nothing to do with doing yoga “right”. It has nothing to do with DOING yoga. The fact that the phrase “I do yoga” is so common is the first indication of how deeply we need to examine our practice in our culture... And what it is that we are actually doing.
Yoga by it’s very nature is BEING. How can we DO... BEING? Yet, as we observe our lives, we do notice that it is essential to make a space to intentionally touch into the Being-ness that yoga practice can facilitate. I can’t just not do yoga... that doesn’t work either! Yet, I’m always being, so why would I need yoga anyway? The
conundrum arises from the limitations of the lens we are using to understand what Yoga is. As with so many of the great wisdom teachings throughout time and throughout all traditions, the teachings are sourced from a higher consciousness that is beyond duality and then inevitably those high teachings are downloaded into a script catered to the lens of the ego, or what you could call an identity based and objectifying mode of perceiving reality. An analogy that may bring clarity to this is, for example, picturing the 3 dimensional world in a 2 dimensional medium. It can, in amazing ways, look just like the real thing, but when you get right down to it, it is just not 3 dimensional!
So if Yoga, which means “Union”, is an art form and science for awakening to the non-dual reality, yet we are teaching/practicing it in the familiar dualistic mindset...It’s not Yoga. It may seem like the real thing. The spiritual words may be there... the sacred geometry may be depicted in the shapes of our asanas... you may even walk away feeling better than before. But we are not doing Yoga. You could even say... Doing yoga is not Yoga. It’s like acting out the parts without being backed by any real substance. You could go so far as to call it “imitation yoga”. I realize what I’m saying is intense. And at first, it may seem threatening to one’s sense of themselves as being the real deal when it comes to yoga. But the fact of the matter is, in essence, you’re already the real deal! And the question is... Is your yoga practice assisting in embodying this realization, or continuing to push it away like the elusive carrot of achievement, attainment, and even perfection? In this context, what I’m saying can be celebrated in that it does not negate the practice you’ve had so far, but highly affirms it as an indispensable step towards a deeper more authentic Yoga Life and understanding which would not have come about without every step you’ve take thus far. But the next step is what it’s all about!
The next step, the step that this blog is all about, is rooted in the axiom woven into it’s title. This is where we see the “butterfly effect” within you. This is a concept which I will unpack in another blog. In the butterfly effect, the single and delicate flap of a butterfly’s wing in new england can initiate a sequence of chain reactions that could potentially escalate to a typhoon in the pacific ocean, hypothetically speaking.
The butterfly effect that I’m speaking of, however, is within you. And the “flap of the butterfly’s wing” is the motivational thought that brought you to the practice of yoga. The “typhoon”, or the obvious consequential appearance stemming from that thought is the experience you have on your mat. Now, let it be granted that Yoga is FAR beyond doing yoga asanas on a mat. But since this is the meeting place of most yogis in our modern culture, we will start here. The “butterfly thought”, I’ll call it, makes the difference between a highly therapeutic, liberating, expansive practice and a subtly destructive, ego-enforcing, unsustainable one. From this perspective you begin to understand that yoga was never on the mat. It has always been in the mind or consciousness. The place where we make our thoughts, agreements about reality, and where we motivate our activities. A thought is like a seed. There are Yogic seeds, or seeds that come from your inner source of wisdom. And there are un-Yogic seeds, or seeds that are born of a belief in separation, lack, external worth etc. Both have the potential to motivate you to get on the mat. One feels authentic, aligned, and well... good. And the other carries whispers of friction, resistance, frustration and even injury.
Some examples of a Yogic seed:
-Today, I choose to roll out my mat, and continue my practice of presence while exploring the mystery of my body, and merging with my true nature of wholeness, wellness, and Love.
-I Love feeling and exploring my body through movements and shapes.
-I trust my body’s feedback in this pose as highly intelligent and I will honor it by not overriding it in order to get more flexible.
-Health and balance are my natural state. Therefore brute force is only an obstruction.
-My life is a practice of awakened presence into which my practice on the mat is seamlessly woven
And examples of an un-Yogic seed:
-I better get to the studio and practice today because it’s been 2 weeks since my last class and I’m falling behind. My best friend has been going everyday and she’s going to be better than me at yoga.
-When I did this posture on my left side I could reach all the way to my toes. It hurts to touch my toes
on the right side, but I have to be exactly the same on both sides because symmetry is beauty and I want to be beautiful.
-I’m never going to get as flexible as him.
-That girl can see me in this pose, I better look good.
These are just a few of endless examples on both ends. And the thoughts themselves are not the point. Rather, wherefrom the thoughts are sourced. Or you could say, which thoughts are entertained. Which seeds are watered. We have all had the thoughts in the second category in some shape or form and have been motivated by them. This doesn’t make you an un-Yogi for gosh sakes! It’s totally a symptom of cultural conditioning. We are made to believe that our Self Worth (which is our birth right to feel) is derived through external means. And in a sense, all physical reality is external relative to consciousness itself.
So even your own bodily achievements are external. And the very wonderful gratification that comes from such achievements as being able to perform impressive yoga postures is child’s play next to the experience of Real Yoga. Yet, if this gratification is your version of the Holy Grail, then you’ve unconsciously agreed to put a ceiling on your Yoga practice. You can become the most amazing contortionist in the world and not have experienced Yoga. In fact, if you have “won” at that game and covet the trophy of imitation yoga mastery, you will have the hardest time of all letting go to the awesome wonder that Yoga really is. Because within Real Yoga, we are all beginners, humbled in the infinite light of AUM.
This is why your yoga practice can prevent you from experiencing Yoga. The practice has nothing to do with the postures. It has to do with sustained presence, self awareness, and a willingness to evolve. Once yoga practice has a destination that looks a certain way, it is no longer Yoga. Yet, that is EXACTLY what we are fed with, usually unconsciously within many group consciousnesses that we experience in Yoga class. So it takes tremendous presence to witness one’s own motivating thoughts in any given moment, on or off the mat. Because so many of them are socially normal and acceptable, they can easily go unnoticed and create the “typhoon” that leads to an unsustainable and even harmful practice. In our “doing” of yoga, we’ve automatically set ourselves up to resist Yoga.
And this is the original catch 22 I pointed out. However, rolling out your mat to do an asana practice doesn’t negate Being in Yoga. It’s just that, well, without continuously examining your motivating thoughts, you may be doing something that is un-Yogic in it’s momentary effect, even if it looks like yoga. The ideal asana practice is continuously Aum-ing while each posture emerges from your deep meditative state of observing and feeling simultaneously. It’s a dialogue within yourself. It’s a Yogalogue... where through the physical body, which is not separate from the mind, you are interfacing with the infinite field of consciousness, being-ness, breath, Aum... whatever you choose to call it... it is beyond names. This... is Yoga.