We all know the pictures of flexible yoga bodies, pretzelling their way around the yoga mat in seemingly impossible postures. The physical aspect of yoga has become a thing nowadays, a big thing even.
Yoga is no longer linked to overly spiritual hippy vibes but it’s quickly becoming quite trendy to randomly mention that you do yoga.
As people who do yoga, take care of their bodies, eat well, look good and feel amazing. Or, that seems to be the marketing message that we get from the yoga community and the big brands selling us the coolest mats, trousers and water bottles.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing yoga purely as a form of physical activity that can make your body strong and flexible. However, the physical aspect is just one component of what yoga can be. There is a side to yoga that has absolutely nothing to do with having your heels on the ground or not in a downward facing dog shape. And it’s exactly this side of yoga that has even more potential than the physical part to change your life for the better and make you thrive.
Yoga beyond the postures
Around 200 BCE, a sage called Patanjali, put together everything that was known about yoga and wrote it down in a scripture that we now refer to as the yoga sutras. In these sutras, we find a wealth of knowledge and practical advice on how to work with our minds.
The postures are barely mentioned in this scripture, it’s all about the mind. How can we explore and sharpen the mind or as Patanjali put it: how can we still the fluctuations of the mind?
It is important to know that we are not trying to reach a state of mind where there are no thoughts. Instead, the sutras guide us on how to still a rambling mind that bosses us around all day. Quieting a mind that makes us anxious and fearful about everything that is new and unknown is the goal.
Patanjali shows us how to find more peace of mind instead of giving attention to worries about the future and possible regrets about the past. Exploring this part of yoga is a full-blown invitation for intense self-exploration, on and off the mat.
Cultivating active kindness
Non-violence is a crucial principle, and it is no accident that it is the very first principle that Patanjali mentions. It usually brings instant insight and a sense of relief to many people. When we fully grasp the width and depth of the principle of non-violence, we hold the key to changing our state of mind.
Training the mind that non-violence becomes a reflex
There is a non-violent action for nearly any given situation. If we feel that someone insults us, for example, our initial reaction might be to defend ourselves. A trained mind will assess the situation and, if there is no danger, the choice might be to not defend ourselves, but rather to respond with compassion to the one lashing out.
Exploring the principle of non-violence can open up deeper levels of love, friendship and active kindness, towards ourselves and others. If we can become more aware of the actions that are not serving us, even possibly hurting us, we can also identify the things that make our heart sing.
It’s only natural that feelings like selfishness, jealousy and resentment pop up at some point but when actively practicing yoga and having the concept of non-violence as a built-in reflex, you will be aware of them. You will instantly notice the shift in vibration, sensing that the body feels different when you allow these feelings to take over.
The solution here is to step back and explore these feelings, not allowing them to take over. It’s about being very conscious that we have a choice in how we react.
Mindlessly going with whatever impulse we feel is a choice, as is becoming vividly aware that you have these feelings.
Sharpening the mind
Meditation, in the form of observing the breath for example, is a brilliant and very easy technique to sharpen the mind and to cultivate a greater awareness.
It couldn’t be more simple: dedicate a couple of minutes per day to simply sit, be quiet and observe the breath. Thoughts, desires, emotions, and imagery: they will come and go but you keep coming back to the breath as an anchor.
When repeating this often, the magic is in a consistent practice, you will be able to create a foundation of calmness. From this state of more peace of mind, you will be able to assess situations in a calmer and kinder way. And this is exactly how you can make yoga more practical and this is why meditation works!
Lead by example
How utterly cool would it be if everyone on the planet had the same intention on a particular day? The intention of being nice to every single Being we meet. To restrain from anything that is violent to oneself and others. This is how we can make yoga practical, support each other to thrive and change the world for the better, one step at a time.