The essence of Yoga
“That we are looking for is what is looking.”
– Francis of Assisi
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj”, which means “unite” or “connect”. Therefore yoga is often translated as “unity” or “connection”. It is the awareness of the connection between mind, heart and body that gives us a deep understanding of who we really are. This consciousness can lead us into a state where we perceive our thoughts, habits and feelings and are able to fully experience ourselves.
By ‘ourselves’ we do not mean the ego, but our highest self; the quiet voice and radiance in the heart that speaks to us and leads us when we look beyond our limited interests. Some of us call this voice the Self, some call it the Universe, some call it God. This Self cannot be revealed and illuminated with the help of mind or rationality. Simply believing in it is not enough.
We all know the moments in life when everything suddenly fits together. The moments in which we are within, in our heart, experiencing the presence of the pure graciousness of our self. Yoga is the practice that opens us to this experience. As a series of different practices, yoga seeks insight into the true nature of our own selves. Yoga is not a religion. It is a practice of self-enquiry that gives our beliefs a strong foundation in an experience.
Our highest intention, the intention in yoga, is to know this true nature of ourselves, our true self. Words cannot explain the experience of the Self. The best description that the Sages of India have come up with is “Satchitananda”: “Sat” – “Truth”; “Chit” – “Consciousness”; “Ananda” – “Bliss”. The truth is already in us. We don’t have to do anything about it. It is us and we are it. To become conscious of it within ourselves and to have an intimate experience of our consciousness comes from this truth and ultimately leads to bliss. By recognizing the Self, we are the Self in a pure state of self-consciousness and find the source of our fulfillment within, in our heart.
Even though everything is already within us, we generally keep our fulfillment at arm’s length. This is the danger especially in Hatha Yoga practice (the physical yoga) because it is by its nature very effective and delivers concrete results that can be very fulfilling. We also evaluate our practice according to the results and the feeling of progress. And so in yoga, even if we strive to know ourselves, there is always the danger that we forget ourselves. For this reason, the real purpose of our yoga practice is to think of and open ourselves to the beauty of our heart.
There must be an inspiration in the core of yoga. A feeling, an attitude or a “Bhavana” that fills the yoga practice with life, so that yoga becomes a force of transformation that aligns life with our own highest intentions, as well as with the intention of the Universe. Yoga, also Hatha Yoga, begins in the heart. Inside, before we exercise physically, we soften our sense of individual effort. We begin with a feeling of opening and releasing, so that we feel the alignment of the asana rather than performing it. We become receptive to the higher power of nature that flows with us and through us. Only in this way can we “turn around” and recognize and reveal what has always been there, our true self.
Think about what yoga means to you and what is the personal purpose of your yoga practice.