Yoga means union, to connect with something greater than yourself. There are many paths to yoga, many of which don’t even use postures. There is the yoga of devotion; some may find their yoga in a temple, church, mosque, synagogue, or meeting house. There is the yoga of service; some may find this union at a shelter, soup kitchen, or charity event. And of course there is the yoga which includes postures; but even on this path there is a foundation before asana and a goal after. Postures are not the end of the journey, but they are a vital step along the way. There are eight steps or limbs on this particular path to yoga. The first two steps form the foundation for right living, giving us guidelines like honesty, contentment, and discipline. Then comes postures and breathing, acknowledging that we do indeed inhabit physical bodies that deserve to be tended to. Next is the withdrawal of senses, or going inward, which leads to concentration and meditation. Finally the goal is reached: enlightenment, bliss, the ultimate union of yourself with that “something greater.” Going back to the beginning, the very first of the foundational guidelines we are given is ahimsa, or non-harm, kindness, compassion, in a word, love. I believe this to be the foundation for all yoga, for all life. In fact, in trying to come up with a single term to describe that thing that is “greater than ourselves” that all people can relate to, regardless of faith, religion or belief system, love is what I came up with. Who can deny that we all need love, that we are all striving to unite ourselves with love in some way? I would argue that we are all yogis, we are all seeking union with love. This journey however is not easy, as fear and ego cloud our eyes. They say actions speak louder than words, and I would add that intentions speak louder than actions. Actions can be deceiving if the actor is playing to an audience. The difficulty however is that we can’t ever really know the intentions of others. Lately I have noticed much debate about what “real” yoga is. Is yoga hot, slow, loud, private, static, flowing, cool, quiet, public, fast, hard, gentle? But we are all arguing over the external, the actions. One thing I do know, that no matter how you get there on the outside, the real yoga happens inside. What matters is the intention, and only each individual practitioner can know what his or her intentions are. No matter how loud or silent the room is in which you practice, only you know how much noise is inside your head. No matter what the temperature is in the space, only you can feel the spark of the internal fire inside you. No matter how fast or slow you move through poses, only you can feel the swirling or the calming of the fluctuations of the mind. If you are wondering if what you are doing is “real yoga,” ask yourself this simple question: does it make me better? Not does it make me look better or even feel better, but does it make me better as a person? If yoga is union, then it involves me and the world around me. Yes it can be a private internal practice, but when I leave my meditation cushion or roll up my mat, do I bring that peace and love with me and spread it around? Even if no one else is watching, do I still act from a place of love and selflessness? Does it help me to connect to love? Am I more loving, patient, compassionate, and kind towards everyone, friend, stranger, and enemy alike? Does it help me to not only find peace but to bring peace into the world? Every morning I repeat the prayer of St. Francis, asking for love to guide me to bring more peace, more joy, more light into the world. Some days I fail miserably, some days I make some small contribution. But every day I intend to find, spread, and live love. Love is what made the Velveteen Rabbit and Pinocchio real, and it is what makes yoga real also.
November 12, 2013