I have started to wonder if we are just a mass of raving lunatics roaming the earth.
Totally unbalanced, yet so stuck in our collective delusion that we remain completely sure of our superiority. If so, it is well passed time to shatter some of these illusions, both in the world and in yoga practice.
Our world is built on action, as well as in the mind and its manifestations. We have created the industrial age, dominating cities by adjusting the natural environment. We have constructed an economic system that has fueled trade and consumption for some centuries. Some of us worship movie stars who spend their lives being someone else, or sport stars who are the youngest, fittest and fastest, or perhaps the IT whiz kids who are great with systems or maybe even the CEO who controls money, structure and other people.
Our lives are so yang—so masculine and active.
In the pursuit of these ideals, some of us have come to bow down and kiss the feet of this one dimensional system, hoping it will take mercy on us and make us the exception to the rule because we are too special. What we may have failed to remember is that these are its qualities; it cannot give us what we seek due to inherent elemental limitations.
It would be like asking a goldfish to get out of its bowl, put on a suit and drive to work. It was not built for that.
Yet, within and beyond this external masculine world there is discontent. It sits deep in our chest and aches for us to feel it, hear it and be moved by it. It will not leave, move or diminish even when we reach those peak experiences which society tells us will complete our lives (those externally identifiable moments of success or of acquisition, so the adverts tell us that we’ll be happy if we can just buy that house, car, get that degree or such other lures.)Photo: Brian Talbot
Despite all our consumerism, some of us still feel unfulfilled and in a deep abiding sense, we know that something is missing, something is not quite right. There is a search for more. Occasionally, there are those who have found ‘yoga’ and have hoped that the practice would help them find what they seek. But given the dominant mindset, is it any wonder that some people bring all that malaise onto the mat and into the practice?
For many of us, our yoga practice consists wholly of going to a studio to practice asana. Or perhaps, for some of us, this occasionally extends to a weekend retreat, a brief reprieve to calm the swell of undefined discontent temporarily.
Much of our yoga practice tends to the physical. The physical is by nature masculine, active, feeding and highlighting the dysfunction. This lopsided, external focused, tight-tushed type of yoga is often incorrectly described as Hatha Yoga. This includes all kinds of asana, but rarely includes the full Hatha system, including practices ranging from Shatkarmas, Yama and Niyamas, Mudra, Bandha to Pranayama, which are all masculine practices as they are all rooted in the body.
Where is the yin, the emotional and the feminine in all this?
As in our society, in our yoga practice, the yin, the emotional and the feminine are often relegated to the margins. It is secondary, an afterthought and an optional add-on. It is in the shadows. Yet, with all the harshness we see perpetuated every day, it is what needs to be incorporated more fully to create yoga.
We need to balance the mental with the emotional in a real practical way. But if we are to do this, we need to fully understand the inherent qualities of each and how they function in the world—both ying and yang, mental and emotional and masculine and feminine.
In doing so, we soon discover or appreciate more fully other branches of yoga—such as Bhakti, Nada and Karma. It is these practices that I believe will bring this balancing element into our world—the yin, feminine, passive and receptive qualities. These don’t seek to overthrow the current system, but expand it, breathe life into a new model and work together for the whole.
By accessing these subtler practices, we start to develop the skills and apparatus required to navigate our inner and outer universe more holistically, instead of stumbling into our internal landscapes of meditation, armed with our narrow intellectual flashlight, wondering why we often harm ourselves or others. Our intellect is an amazing tool, for which Patanjali prescribed Raja Yoga as a means to understand intimately the qualities and workings of this processor.
The rational mind by nature is critical, judging, analytical and referencing, none of which are useful or apt when dealing with subtler and more delicate aspects of our nature. The ‘Mind God’ that we have come to worship and identify with is actually only one faculty available to our unlimited potential. In a way, we need to activate other mechanisms, which bypass or work in conjunction with the rational/intellectual mind. Yet, still enable us to interface with and receive information about the world around and within us. To do this we have these practices:
Bhakti (Devotional) Yoga
This accesses the nature of the heart, love and grace by acknowledging and surrendering to the forces and benevolence beyond our intellect, of which we are part—a Supreme Source if you will (often known as God). Science has recently discovered that the heart actually has a processor—the ‘heart brain,’ which can receive, assess and determine outcomes of information. It deals with subtle content that when processed, sends its findings to a different part of the ‘mind brain’ which bypasses the intellect and actually gives orders to the mind brain, which it obeys without question.
Nada (Sound) Yoga
This realigns our whole human experience by working on vibrational energy, which is our structural composition. It bypasses and affects the mind, and can be felt or engaged using sensitivity, focus and receptivity. Quantum physics has understood that the whole universe and its manifestations are energy at varying densities. In yoga, it is understood that there are scaled frequencies of vibrations that can be used to transform the very energetic structure of our nature, without having to ‘think.’ The lowest on the scale is sound, followed by color, then scent, then up through electricity, heat, x-rays, ultraviolet and cosmic rays. Sound, color and scent are used a lot within Nada and Bhakti Yoga.
Karma (Service/Action) Yoga
This presents a new approach to action; it is undertaken with a mindful focus, emotional equanimity and absolute physical commitment. It remains free from any and all expectations—free from hope of reward, praise or personal benefit which aims to sublimate the ego. In a way, Karma Yoga is the antithesis of how we are currently encouraged to act in the world! It is passively active with the pure intention to serve others without any egotistical motives, activating a trust in the ‘grand scheme.’ Regardless of if you want to or don’t want to perform an act, you do so in service of others, while watching your experience and behaviors that may manifest as result. The faculty of the mind is engaged as awareness, rather than over identification. The hallmarks of Karma yoga include: right attitude, right motive, do your duty, do your best, give up results, serve and be disciplined.
These branches of yoga are not obvious choices for most people and may actually cause strong resistance initially. However, if these systems and their practices are approached in the same way as asana—with patience, open mindedness, discipline and a little playfulness—then their vast harvests will ripen and nourish a unified sense of Self and perhaps a more unified world.
Rishis and Swamis have known this for a long time and call this approach to yoga an integrated system/integral approach that does not limit our human experience, but in fact uses, develops and refines each aspect of the entire human nature/system. After all, yoga does mean union.
So why limit yourself to just one part of yoga? Why limit yourself to being incomplete?
How about the next time you practice yoga, try something different. Get off your mat! Sing, serve or let your fingers slide around some mala beads while you say a mantra. Let this change in your practice change you, the same way you have found that asana has. Allow space for a new kind of growth that may not necessarily give you rewards but will surely quell the tides of discontent into a peaceful knowing of your perfection.
Just practice. Just love.
Nicolette is a raving punk, a loving rebel, an innovative teacher, a yoga whore and a wild contradictory mess of goodness. She adores her humanness and soaking up all that life has to offer in the hope that she may get nearer to the grace and source of it all. She writes a weekly blog, teaches her own classes around Sydney, Australia and is working on her life passion project of bringing the light of Yoga into the shadows of our society. This is supported by the 1 Billion Rising project and involves collectively chanting the Tara Mantra 1 Billion times in 1 year working with the subtle and not so subtle!
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Assistant Ed: Gabriela Magana/Ed: Brianna Bemel