February and Valentine’s Day always turn our minds towards matters of the heart, don’t they? This post is a little love letter about Yoga. (Yoga and I have been together now for over 55 years…..)
What is Yoga?
Yoga is union; it means yoking body, mind and spirit together into one whole. And once these elements are united, Yoga leads us back into the source of all consciousness, into the heart. Into love itself.
These days, we tend to think first of Yoga as a form of stress management. And let’s face it, our collective stress levels have been rising exponentially as of late. And Yoga practices can certainly help us to release tensions in body and mind.
But is there more?
Covid continues, and so does our collective anxiety around it. We worry about confinement; about ourselves and our loved ones; about the economy; about front line workers; about whether vaccines are safe or not…. It is very easy to be triggered by the news and the media, in addition to to being carried away by our own internal concerns. Overwhelming, to say the least.
Moving our bodies helps release excess energy. Slowing down our breath settles us. Relaxation and meditation offer us a calm port in the storm.
But is there more?
I’ll answer that question by posing another one. Do our practices fundamentally change us, or do they simply distract us?
We live in a consumer society, and Yoga is often chopped up into bits and pieces. We are encouraged to pick and choose what suits us, and to try the latest popular style until we get tired of it and the next one comes along to replace it. Yoga starts to look like one more commodity.
It is less popular (and less glamorous) to see Yoga for what it truly is: a process of wholeness, that leads to to our true nature. An evolution (and involution) that leads us to the consciousness within our hearts.
And that consciousness is Love.
Yoga is a process of self-development and transformation. Yes, it includes components that look like exercise, breathing practices, rules of ethics, and forms of mindfulness. But these elements are not the end-game, they are the tools. Their purpose is to lead us home to ourselves.
According to the inner teachings of Yoga, we are inherently beings of Love and Bliss. This birthright becomes veiled by culture, environment, gender, family of origin, life experiences (including injuries and traumas), and karma. These things build up our egos, and solidify our stories of who we think we are. Herein lie the causes of our fears, worries, and anxieties. But really, these obstacles arise because we have forgotten our true nature, which is Love.
The practices of Yoga are meant to soften and melt the hard edges of ego that have been built up by the world we live in. In this world, success is measured by how much we own, and by how important we are in others’ eyes. We live in a world that values the external over the internal.
Covid is holding up a mirror to this world. It asks us to take a good long look at all of these accepted ideas, and to surrender to the fact that we cannot continue along the same trajectory any longer. It is time to pare things down to what really matters.
Is there an abiding antidote to stress?
Yes! Yoga invites us, over and over, to remember that Love is our true nature. And that a return to Love is our salvation.
What might it feel like to rest in the heart?
For a little taste, would you join me in an experiment?
I invite you to take a few moments to pause, and to lay your hands over the middle of your breastbone, the home of your heart center. Smile softly to yourself, and rest your awareness on your breath. Settle yourself, and begin to notice how each breath rises and falls gently beneath your hands. Think of a beautiful vista, or a being who is beloved to you, or even the word “Love” itself. Place this image on the altar of your heart, and allow the feeling to blossom and grow. Continue until you notice a shift within yourself.
How do you view the world now, from this new space of consciousness? What really matters from this vantage point, what do you really need? Is there any burden you can put down? How can you simplify your life?
From this place of Love, how might you treat yourself, and how might you treat others? How would you drive your car, go for a walk, sit at your computer, cook your meal? What would you feed your body?
From this place of Love, how might you stretch your body, or lift weights? How might you practise asana or QiGong? How might you put on your clothing? How might you breathe?
Resting in the heart space…
And this, Beloved Reader, brings us home to the sacred heart of Yoga. Love is the Source, and everything else springs forth from it. Love really does make the world go round.
May you feel love, and be love.
May its radiance shine forth from you like an eternal flame.
(photo from my collection, taken at Sunnybrook Hospital)