With all the hype surrounding the different variations of the physical practice of yoga, its higher purpose is often lost in the discussion of which path to physical perfection is the preferred one. It is easy to become confused by the claims of the superior benefits offered by the various, and to some, competing methods of Hatha, Bikram (Hot), Vinyasa, Kundalini or Ashtanga (Power) practice. When the truth is each path has its own unique offerings to the practitioner. Just as the many spokes of a wheel all support the greater purpose of its function, and all emanate from a central point, so too do the various branches of yoga all provide the physical benefits offered by a sustained and disciplined practice, and yet all point to a single spiritual center.
The discipline of a physical practice leads the adept towards the silence of the eternal soul. It is when a practitioner first brushes against this awesome silence that he or she often becomes spooked and shies away from yoga’s more spiritual offerings. By turning away from the path just when it starts to get interesting, they deprive themselves of yoga’s greatest gifts. The physical benefits should not be overlooked, but it is in the opportunity to encounter the eternal self that accounts for yoga’s enduring, centuries-long staying power.
For where else does one find such an opportunity? In prayer, in mediation? Yes, of course, but how many of us, without the discipline yoga offers, are able to silence our constantly churning thoughts long enough to experience a meaningful encounter with the eternal side of ourselves?
If the price of such a magnificent gift is the discipline required to achieve mastery over our never-ending cycle of physical and material wants, then after those desires are met, more and improved wants present themselves for us to chase after, until we satisfy them, and so on and so on…if self-discipline is what we exchange to discover our place in the awesome, and often overwhelming, beauty of the universe, is it not worth acquiring, whatever path we choose to pursue it?
So if you are confused by the competing claims of the various methods of practice, refuse to be swept along by the tide. If you began your practice as a means to reduce stress, lose weight, alleviate chronic pain, increase your flexibility, or any other of the myriad physical benefits yoga has to offer, don’t become discouraged by the inevitable initial frustrations that are part of the learning process of mastering the various postures. If you’ve been practicing for a while and have become fairly adept at the physical side of yoga but have yet to experience that seminal moment of encountering your eternal self, do not become discouraged.
Instead, be more mindful in your practice. Don’t simply rush through each asana in a hurry to get to the end, and think to yourself, “Oh, good, that’s done”. Focus on your practice. Draw in your will, your thoughts and your spirit to the center of your practice. In its original Sanskrit, yoga means to “yoke together”. Sustained practice allows you to bring together all of the competing elements of yourself and helps you to create a feeling of ‘oneness’ both within and without.
On its highest level, the practice of yoga is one of the spokes on the wheel of the eternal way. Don’t cheat yourself of its most precious gifts by allowing yourself to be satisfied with the mere sampling of its low-hanging fruit.