Here in the Western world we think the purpose of yoga is to become flexible, stretch our bodies, tighten our cores, get a yoga butt and if we’re lucky maybe even reduce stress. But, the truth is…that’s all wrong! Although these are the positive-side benefits of a yoga practice, they are far from the true purpose of yoga postures.
You see, the true purpose of a yoga pose is to create an environment in which we experience sensation. In this case, physical sensation. By doing so, we can then observe how we react around that sensation. What is our approach to that sensation? Do we get angry, feel like giving up, start giving the teacher the evil eye? To be aware of our responses to sensation means we can open the door to being able to make choices. Because we become aware, we can take that moment to decide how we want to react, or if we want to react at all.
Now, how is this relevant to daily life you might ask? Well, when your kid is screaming at the top of his/her lungs, and you notice your body begin to tighten up, with the practice you’ve put in on your yoga mat, you can then have a choice on how you want to react. Say someone at work says something demeaning and disrespectful. Your body begins to feel hot and angry. Upon noticing that, you can now choose how you want to handle the situation. So then, our children and our co-workers become opportunities for us to awaken. These gifts help free ourselves from the automatic responses that may cause more trouble than just blowing off steam.
And how can this awareness around sensation help our relationship with ourselves? Well, when we put ourselves into a warrior II pose and begin to complain to ourselves about how weak we are, or tell ourselves we could never hold it that long, then we get the opportunity to change the self-talk to something more positive like, hey, I’m here aren’t I? Or well, THIS is how we build endurance. In opposition, if you are the type of person to always push too hard, you might notice yourself feeling the burn in warrior II and your first response would be to go deeper than everyone else, stay longer than everyone else. Around this awareness you may choose to give yourself a break, do something differently, or even back off a bit and avoid injury. This can lead to real self-care and compassion.
The ancient philosophers knew “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” All the external things in the world won’t bring you lasting happiness, but having the consciousness to choose your thoughts and actions… well, it just might get us close.