Yoga, as defined by Patanjali, is a sequential process where limiting and painful habituated thoughts, patterns and identifications are stopped; replaced by more freeing, holistic and liberating patterns. Yoga is a continual process of “selective elimination,” revealing more and more of the Self that abides beyond all phenomena. Whenever yoga “happens,” there is a “standing apart” (avastānam in Sanskrit) of the Self as the “seer,” standing apart from all that can be seen.
In the West, we have a tendency to….Westernize things; to make them fit into how we think they should be. With the demand of identity based on external parameters, yoga has become another thing to accomplish; a vehicle to become a “better” (thinner, more flexible, more groovy) version of oneself. Seen in this light (or lack of light), the true freedom of yoga remains obscured.
Even the idea “I do yoga” is one that can perpetuate misconception. The notion of “I” is not truly a constant, but often a shadowy external version of self based on the past; on memory, or on ephemeral moments woven together while trying to convince ourselves of their continuity.
The idea that we “do” yoga is also somewhat of a misnomer. Yoga is a state of being; a timeless moment of awareness. It exists whether we “do” anything or not. The realization of yoga most often occurs when we stop trying to “do” and allow ourselves to embrace the present fully, without the need or demand for anything else.
This is not to say that practices such as āsana and praṇāyama are not valuable, as they certainly are, but these practices are means that help to create the conditions by which the experience of the yogic state becomes more readily available. When I say “the yogic state,” what I mean is a state of awareness where the cessation of habituated, painful thoughts naturally occurs, as opposed to the automatic identification with these thoughts. In helping to change the framework from identification to release is where I believe the deepest value of practice can be found. Plus, it’s fun.
As I continue to practice and teach, I have come to feel that the idea of “creating conditions” can be a potent and beneficial way to reframe yoga practice. When yoga practices can be seen as rituals to honor the ever-present yogic state, rather than as the means to become an idealized “more yogic” self, we open ourselves to the experience of yoga that is beyond the limitations of our thoughts based on past experience.
When we focus our actions (daily practice, meditation, appropriate diet, etc.) as a means of creating conditions, we can more easily let go of the results of these actions because we are not demanding that they give us our identity. We can begin let go of the limited belief that the depth of our yogic experience has anything to do with the flexibility of our hamstrings.
By creating conditions that support yoga, we allow ourselves to be receptive to yoga, and avail ourselves of the peace, liberation and freedom that yoga has bestowed upon seekers throughout the ages..