I was speaking to a friend who teaches hatha yoga and wants to help business people. She thinks they could really use yoga practices to relieve stress, promote better health and better enable optimal performance.
She's found resistance – “Yoga is a foreign religion.” “It’s too slow, requires too much flexibility or time.” “I'm not getting into a leotard and twisting myself into a pretzel.”
My take is that more people would be interested if she downplayed the label,
, and focused on the stress, physical discomfort and desire for more energy that motivate people. Give people a taste of postural alignment, breath awareness and control along with some basic subtle stretches. The goal, on the surface at least, is stress relief and personal health. For some it may include a more in-depth exploration of self. The bottom-line: people want to feel good. Once the goal is acknowledged, then the method comes into play to achieve the goal.
What is Yoga?
Many people think Yoga is stretching, twisting, postures and breathing exercises. That is Hatha Yoga, the physical practices. Hatha is the Yoga that seeks to balance internal energies using physical postures, movement, meditation, and breath. It is one aspect of Yoga. The other aspects are devotion (Bhakti), knowledge (Jnana) and conscious dedicated action (Karma) and Raja Yoga – the Yogic
science of the mind.
Yoga Means Union
The Sanskrit word Yoga means union in the sense of "yoking" one’s thoughts and energies into a path to healthy living and relief of suffering. It leads to the experience of the oneness underlying the many. Union in this sense is about becoming one with everything; cutting through the illusion of separateness to recognize the unity of all things and, at the same time, the relative relationship of self and other. Unfabricated, unconditional love and compassion is the direct result of the experience of union. Union is a foundation for optimal performance.
Yoga practice is a systematic means for achieving union through understanding and mastering the mind. In the ancient manual, The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” If you can observe and control the ripples of thought and action you will experience union.
Observe, Control, Relax
The Yoga Sutras advise us to observe and control the ripples of thought and actions.
To observe, practice mindfulness and cultivate bare choiceless awareness. Observing objectively becomes a background task that enables skillful control.
Control is a key word that is often misinterpreted to imply a rigid puritanical approach. In yoga, control is balanced by a realistic understanding of effort. Clarity sees the paradox between the attempt to control and the ability to relax into the peace of union.
Without control, one is at the mercy of conditioning, driven by the ripples of sensations, feelings, thoughts and behavior. With over-control one is at the mercy of attachment and suffers frustration, pulled muscles, headaches and unnecessary stress. Relaxed control is the balance between them.
In a teaching by the Buddha, he is asked by a student how he could find the right degree of concentration and control. The Buddha, knowing the student was a musician, asks him "what happens when you make the strings of your instrument too tight? Too loose?" The Buddha advised the student to find the right level of tension to tune his instrument so that it makes the music beautifully clear.
Relax! But, don’t go to sleep. Practice energized relaxation using your breath, posture and mind. Step back and observe from your center. Consciously assess and choose. Strike the right balance between too much and too little effort. Let skillful effort become a normal part of life, unfolding effortlessly -
Practicing yoga, your instrument is the body-mind. You tune the instrument using meditation, breath work and physical exercise. Yoga is about striking the right physical, emotional, energetic dynamic balance; knowing the nature of mind and integrating it all into the fabric of life.
Taking It Home - Yoga in Daily Life - Body, Mind and Breath
You do not have to do
to achieve self-aware living and the optimal performance it brings. You do not have to be in a yoga class to sit or to stand comfortably erect or to watch and control your breath.
Make every activity an unbroken sequence of "postures" and events linked by the breath into a flow that promotes balance in the mind and body.
Walking, jogging or running; in conversation or sitting in meditation, are you in a comfortable energized flow? Are you observing thoughts, feelings and physical sensations? Are your head, neck and back comfortably aligned; your shoulders gently rolling back and down, opening your chest? Is your pelvis in a balance that takes strain from hips and lower back? Are your feet or sit bones taking the weight evenly and passing it into the ground or chair or cushion? Are you conscious of your breath? Is your breath relieving unnecessary stress? Is your mind peaceful and in the moment? Are you practicing energized relaxation? Is there effortless effort?
This is meditation in action. Posing these questions to your self brings the mind to the present moment and promotes physical health. At least for a moment there is a freedom from obsessive thinking and habitual behavior. Over time and with the right effort, this becomes the default for how you operate in the world. There is union.