Body and Mind in Yoga Practice
Yoga practice in America did not become widely popular until the 1990's. Only now, in the beginning of the 20th century is it beginning to become a widely practiced activity in Asia.
It is very important to realize how shallow our understanding of this ancient practice is. It is important to reflect deeply on just what yoga practice can truly offer us. If we do not take a step back and examine our pre-existing assumptions about this practice, we will miss out on many of the more subtle and powerful aspects of our yoga practice.
The most common misassumption about yoga practice is that it is primarily a physical activity. Whether or not most people will admit it or not, the primary motivation for undertaking a regular yoga practice is to gain the physical benefits it is believed it can offer (weight loss, flexibility, a toned and attractive figure and even increased vitality).
It is true that many people are drawn into participating in yoga practice because of the health and physical benefits that it offers. There certainly is nothing wrong with this. Anything that inspires someone to engage in a sustained and regular yoga practice has got to be considered something that is very good.
At the same time, if you are going to cultivate the true power of the practice, it is very important at some point to begin to see the practice as something much more than just a physical activity.
What yoga does for your body is only the most superficial expression of what is possible. If you remain attached to only what yoga practice can do for you physically, your practice will inevitably grow tedious and uninteresting. You will find yourself becoming more and more unsatisfied with the endless search to gain more physical benefits. Like many others, you will become a "collector" of postures, always seeking to add a new asana to your "collection". It is an endless search that, in the end, gives no real satisfaction or, for that matter, any real benefits.
Now, if you are truly serious about exploring the depths and the potential of your yoga practice, you will begin to focus your attention on your mind and on your heart. Yoga practice has the capability to affect your mind and your heart in ways that can change your life in dramatic and significant ways.
It should be understood that very few people actually understand the way that the mind and heart works. Even fewer understand in what ways the quality of one's mind and heart deeply affects the basic quality of life, not only for oneself, but also for the countless others that they regularly come in contact with.
According to yoga doctrine, the essence of mind and heart is the very essence of life itself. It is that energy that animates all things. The problem with most people’s minds and hearts is that the potential energy held within has been constricted by a matrix of conditioned responses. These conditioned responses are made up of beliefs and fears and other such mental and emotional patterns through which we perceive our world and ourselves. These mental and emotional patterns are what prevent us from experiencing the true nature of our hearts, minds and of our very selves.
By focusing our attention on yoga as a physical activity, as a way to improve ourselves in only physical ways, we will progressively lose touch with the true potential of the practice.
So, begin to focus more and more on yoga practice as a practice that can dramatically change the quality of your mind and of your heart. Begin to draw attention away from the physical progress and benefits of your practice. As you practice more deeply, begin to observe how the quality of your mind and of your heart begins to change. Notice that the mind will begin to be increasingly quiet inside. Notice how there is a steady decrease in the amount of mental "noise" and how you will find yourself in moments of deep calm and stillness. Notice how your heart begins to be filled more naturally with joy and contentment. Notice that your craving for mental and emotional stimulation and fulfillment will steadily subside, replaced by a genuine feeling of fullness and generosity.
These kinds of experiences are signs that you are changing deeply the quality of your mind and your heart. These kinds of changes are the real benefits of yoga practice.
Physical changes come and go, but do not change who you are as a person. The changes to your mind and heart however are the kinds of changes that last forever. Make sure that you do not get caught in the trap of seeing your yoga practice as a mere physical activity. Yoga practice is far greater than that.
The more that you realize the importance of the distinction between body and mind in yoga practice, the more you will become a beacon of light in this world. The more you will not only change yourself, but you will change the very world itself.