A few weeks ago I was listening to a radio interview and heard something that I thought was profound.
The gentleman being interviewed said that we suffer when we live from a dark place filled with thoughts and emotions like hate, anger, and fear. He said that we also suffer when we live from a place of light and love. The difference is that when we live from a place of light and love we have a greater opportunity to experience the moments of happiness and contentment that we all yearn for.
To me, the tools and techniques that we learn in yoga can help us to live in a manner that naturally results in periods of happiness and contentment. Yoga is so much more than just the physical postures that we practice in an asana class or that we see on the internet or in magazines. Asanas are tools, like breathing exercises or meditation, which we can use to open us up to the type of happiness and contentment that comes from a direct experience of deeper truth.
In his book The Mirror of Yoga, Richard Freeman writes, “Yoga begins with listening.” We develop awareness when we learn through yoga to “listen.” We begin to develop awareness of what we are not. We are not our thoughts, not our emotions, not our mind, not even our body.
And hopefully we begin to develop awareness of what we are . . . awareness of the true “Self” that is so much more than even the total accumulation of everything that we are not. This awareness allows us to transcend our lower self in order to travel the metaphorical path up the mountain toward the divine.
It is the subtle qualities and knowledge that we develop through asana practice – such as non-violence, truthfulness, contentedness, self-reflection, concentration, patience, compassion, and even a feeling of the energetic effect of an asana – and not asana itself which reveals our path up the mountain. As we become more skilled in the physical aspects of asana practice we should work to move more and more toward the subtle. We should ask the hard question of whether our asana practice is cultivating and exploring the subtle qualities that foster mental and spiritual development in whatever way we define that development. We should listen with an open mind and open heart to the answer and then choose to act on that answer. We should keep walking our mountain path.