Welcome to our new Gita Talk series –
“Yoga in The Gita”
Last Sunday, in our second week of our journey into the Bhagavad Gita, Braja Sorensen presented us with an alternative look at authority, and its relationship to love in “What do We Do When We Feel Out of Control?”
Today we continue to explore love and alternative perspectives as we delve further into this most famous of yoga tests.
There is something almost mystical that happens to us when we exit a yoga class: the way we see the world around us changes. We may have entered the class full of stresses or anger, feeling anxious, alone, or frustrated. But after that last savasana, our disposition has shifted and life seems more bearable, enjoyable even! Nothing in the world has changed. But we have.
Yoga is a transformative force that shifts our perspectives in life.
Krishna explains to Arjuna in the Gita that everything we perceive is filtered in through our senses. That our fields of awareness usually stretch only as far as our senses do, including our mind. And even then, careless lifestyles abuse and dull our senses, further obscuring our vision.
Just to be on the safe side, the Gita assumes we are all in total darkness, and appropriately begins with a blind king named Dhritarasthtra, who needs help seeing. His visionary minister, Sanjaya, then becomes the seer who narrates the Gita to us.
The archetypal symbol for clear, illuminated perspectives is the sun. Daylight facilitates our movement by shedding light on unforeseen obstacles we normally trip on in the dark.
The fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, called The Way of Knowledge, opens up with a dramatic announcement in which Krishna links yoga to the sun, Vivasan. In this context, yoga becomes the light through which we see the world around us with increased clarity.
Even if one is not familiar with yoga, but they participate in it spontaneously, either by joining an asana class with their friend for the first time or chanting in a kirtan, the yoga will have a positive effect on their perspectives, just as the sunshine warms and brightens everyone’s life without discrimination. It’s as if Krishna were reassuring Arjuna that yoga is as reliable and beneficial to the sustenance of humankind as the sun is!
Like the sun, yoga draws from primal forces to brighten our lives.
Also, like the rising sun, yoga will not expand our vision all at once, but gradually. The sun also represents time, and cultivating a regular yoga practice, over time, will increase our awareness of everything that influences our choices in life.
Practicing yoga will make us better equipped to drive our own “chariots” through life as it unfolds around us, just as Arjuna is gearing up to do through his, in this ancient yoga text. Despite its antiquity, the yoga of the Gita still speaks to us today, as the sun will always be essential to life on our planet.
Yoga is the perfect combination of everything that causes us to thrive.
Yes, I said combination, as in more than one way to practice yoga. Just as one cannot subsist on a single meal, or have all their needs met through a single relationship, a healthy yoga practice does not consist of a singular, rigid process. Instead, yoga incorporates various approaches.
Last week, in the second installment of this series, Braja mentioned the different approaches in the process of yoga that appear in the Gita. The book begins with using despair in yoga (vishada yoga), as we saw at the start of this series. (Yes, you can even turn your pain into yoga!) It then moves into using intelligence (buddhi) and action (jnana) as yoga.
Leaving the rest of the Sanskrit terms aside, but continuing with the way Krishna introduces yoga in the Gita, we encounter renunciation, meditation, asana, pranayama, and everything else under the sun! Pun intended, as all these yogas are like rays emanating from the sun. They work in unison. If we restrict our practice to just asana, and don’t include buddhi, for example, we limit our experience of yoga.
As life on our planet is interdependent, so the various yogas share a powerful interconnectedness.
The most powerful connection between us is love!
Early in the Gita, (chapter 4) Krishna asserts this when he addresses Arjuna as a bhakta, or one who practices the yoga of love, or bhakti. Later, bhakti is revealed as the yoga that includes all other yogas. Or, as Braja mentioned, love is the last step in the yoga process. And yet ironically, in yoga, there are really no “last steps”. For yoga, at its heart, is not linear, as most thinking is in the West. Yoga is circular.
The circle, or mandala, is the symbol for bhakti yoga.
Symbolically, bhakti is the sun planet from which all other illuminating rays of yoga emanate, as Krishna points out in chapter 12. While Krishna presents Arjuna with many different ways to practice yoga, he never says that one needs to be exclusive of the other. Yoga, by nature, is therefore inclusive of much more than we can imagine!
If you trace the path of a circle, you end up right back where you started. Rich in archetypal interpretations, the symbol of the circle tells us many things. Among them is this one:
Where we are now is perfect for practicing yoga, but we can’t always see that.
When our vision becomes obscured, just as Arjuna’s was at the beginning of Gita, all enthusiasm for practicing yoga vanishes. One of the most effective ways to inspire someone in yoga is through love. This is the secret dynamic that makes an exchange between a yoga teacher and a student most fruitful.
Loving relationships increase our receptivity to yoga, as well as increasing the teacher’s inspiration to offer us perspectives of yoga we may not have considered before.
Krishna informs Arjuna (Chap. 4, verse 3) that it was Arjuna’s love for him that inspired Krishna to offer Arjuna the same views of yoga he offered Vivasan, the sun god, ions before.
But don’t the needs of humans evolve over time? How can a yoga process that was first taught ages ago still benefit us today?
By telling Arjuna that he first taught yoga to the sun god, Krishna is declaring yoga’s everlasting relevance to life. In doing so Krishna establishes a precedent for what a yogic life is. It is not static. It is characterized by dynamic energy just like the sun, and just like love.
Human beings thrive on love. Love is never outdated.
It has been observed that even when infants have all their physical needs met, they will fail to thrive when not treated lovingly. Indisputably, we all need love. But we need real love. It doesn’t take reading Krishna in the Gita to know that there are many things in this world that masquerade as love, but aren’t!
Last week Braja asked us if love really needed to be “authorized”. She asked us to carefully consider the authority we select in our lives to help us discern between real love and its imposter.
Do we trust our heart? Do we pick our feelings? Do we make our mind this authority? What about intelligence? Or conditioning? Society? What about that “yoga teacher” who keeps trying to seduce us? Do our senses know what love is?
Yoga is the light that will refine our sense of perception.
In bhakti yoga, the search for real love is parallel with the search for authentic yoga. The authentication of one leads to the other. Everyone wants to know, but do you really love me? In today’s yoga market, with so many teachings to choose from, aspiring yogis and yoginis ask is this REALLY yoga?
If we look to Krishna’s example in the Bhagavad Gita, we discover that the unchanging part of yoga; its essence, is ironically preserved by being sensitive to everything that does change in life, including our own perceptions.
In teaching authentic yoga, the essence remains the same as it was ages ago, in the original yoga texts.
Yet the style of delivery in teaching yoga, however, can differ, to reflect four dynamic, life-affirming variables. When these are considered they naturally enhance any yoga practice, as well as any yoga teaching experience:
- The unique circumstances surrounding the practice.
- The time at which the yoga teachings are being delivered
- The environment in which the yoga teacher and student find themselves
- The unique gifts and personality of both the teacher and student.
Although typically yoga is known as being formally passed down from guru to disciple, or teacher to student, the yoga in the Gita occurs between two close friends to emphasize the importance of heartfelt connections in yoga.
Yoga is a practice of the heart.
The thread of love with which Krishna delivers yoga philosophy speaks to us all. Love is where we feel most safe. Despite being surrounded by armed forces, Arjuna feels safe in Krishna’s company, and is therefore able to trust his insights.
Krishna lovingly indicates to Arjuna that fleeing from the battle is not an option, as our life follows us wherever we go. But changing our perspective is. A shift in perspective creates a change in how we move through our lives.
The “greatest secret of all”, Krishna tells Arjuna in the last chapter (verse 64), the “highest message” he could ever possibly deliver, is that we move through our lives –whatever they look like on the outside- feeling very loved on the inside.
Yoga is moving through our life in the knowledge that we are loved.
Although set in the midst of an imminent war, upon the harshness of a battlefield, the Bhagavad Gita is actually the secret guidebook to love, designed to penetrate the softness of our hearts.
When we allow love to transform us through yoga, the first thing it begins to affect is our vision. According to the Gita, love is the most powerful light in countering darkness. And love, by nature is purely volitional.
The most powerful yoga we can practice is the yoga we practice by choice.
Freedom is a huge part of yoga. It is not forced. It is not demanded. And it happens when we are ready for it to happen.
The blind king at the beginning of the Gita was given a vision into the exchange between Krishna and Arjuna because he asked for it. Similarly, authentic yoga finds us when we are ready for it. The question is: Are you?
To keep track of all the articles on this series, go to Yoga In The Gita ~ Catherine Ghosh & Braja Sorensen
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