We tackled some hefty topics at a recent forum discussion in NYC and will be posting a series of pieces resulting from that discussion.
There’s a differentiation between people who take yoga classes to feel better physically and mentally and those who want to really practice yoga and expand into the psychological discipline. If all someone ever does is learn to engage their core and breathe deeply, I say fabulous–yoga is meeting their needs–but for people to call themselves disciples or students of yoga means something more.
The goal of yoga can be described in two major ways, which in many ways are describing the same thing:
1) To unite yourself completely with something sacred
2) To achieve liberation
One can certainly argue these are two sides of the same coin, but there are so many ways we can look at what is sacred and look at liberation, and so we did. Here are some thoughts raised in the discussion:
Yogic philosophy does not require you to believe in any particular form or manifestation of a sacred power, but rather to believe that there is something eternal, something other, that transcends day-to-day existence. There are many tools to describe this sacred essence–some call it a universal frequency at which we all vibrate, while others call it a pure light. At some level, it helps immensely to believe there is something else that is shines brighter and outlasts a crisis we are having. This concept of connection with something higher, deeper, greater, purer, is a powerful psychological weapon that helps us weather emotional storms.
Now the question is–and this question has been debated for centuries in Indian philosophy–is this sacred “something” found in every molecule on earth or is it separate than. And if this something sacred is the truth, than is everything we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch just an illusion? These are excellent questions that every student of yoga should spend time pondering. There are different schools of thought, referred to as dualistic and non-dualistic, to back up each premise.
I see the answer in a blended form in that there is something sacred and eternal we all share. When I say “namaste” I am saying “The light within me recognizes and honors the light within you, and that is the place which our souls share.” If I say it to fellow students, I had better be able to back it up and mean it about everyone around me. It’s difficult when faced with enormous tragedy and brutality. How can we see the light hidden behind so much darkness in some people? Is it possible some people don’t share it? That’s a convenient way to answer the question, but it’s not really answering it at all. Perhaps there is something sacred there, but it’s buried beneath so much psychological damage.
So how do we break through? How do we live our namaste?
One concept is that by practicing our own yoga, and cultivating more joy, and connecting ourselves with what we consider sacred, we can that spread this to others. We are all connected and every action we have has some measure of impact. Simply holding the door open for the person behind you might have a tremendous effect on their day. Giving up your seat to someone on the subway might set that person in the right mindset to then spread joy to everyone their encounter. Conversely, selfish actions breed like a virus. It is an important start to practice and to cultivate our sense of joy, but then to carry that mindfulness into our interactions with others is where the true yoga lies.
Taking yoga off the mat has become a hot topic, and our challenge–maybe it’s a challenge we take on for just one day–is to say “namaste” through our actions with everyone we encounter–not just our fellow yoga students.