So it’s that easy? You do a few yoga postures and suddenly, you’re charging towards enlightenment? Or worse, you want to renounce everything and go live in an ashram in India?
Not quite. But there is a logic to the mysterious process of yoga, though I can’t claim to fully grasp it myself. This is how I understand it through my own experiences. Asanas, or yoga postures, release tensions in the body and balance the nervous system. When we thus cleanse and balance the body, we start to get a glimpse of who we really are and where our challenges lie. Most things we perceive as problems, such as difficult people or situations, are really a result of our conditioning and wounding we experienced earlier on in life. Because our vision is not clear, we tend to either blame these ‘opponents’, resulting in anger and victim consciousness, or we blame ourselves, resulting in depression and self-pity.
To use an analogy, imagine a window that’s really dirty and hasn’t been cleaned in decades. Can you see the beauty of the world behind it accurately? You can’t. Everything will seem ugly, dark and distorted. But once you wipe it clean, and this can take years depending on how long it hasn’t been cleaned, suddenly you can. You realize that the sun shines brightly and that things aren’t dark at all. This is what yoga does.
My Ayurveda teacher, Dr Vasant Lad, always used to say ‘The issues are in the tissues’. He said this in reference to our bodily tissues. In the human body, every event, especially the traumatic ones, is recorded by our bodies. We store these unconscious memories as tensions mainly in the tissues of our bodies. We call these psychic tensions samskaras, or mental scars.Often, we are unaware of them, because the whole reason they have been tensions is that we have suppressed them because the event was too traumatizing for us at the time of experiencing it.
Our body is made up of these samskaras, and in Vedic philosophy, it is said that we carry them from lifetime to lifetime. The way we look now, and the ailments we have in this lifetime are a direct result of our actions in the past. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, this theory makes sense: whatever you eat actually becomes your body. In Ayurveda, we have seven bodily tissues, and the food ingested matures into all of them in a matter of days. So whatever food you eat or action you perform in this lifetime is likely to have a reaction at some point of time.
When we practice yoga postures, these tensions are released. The muscles relax, and the energy flows more freely through the body. Our nervous system relaxes through the calm breathing, and this in turn relaxes our mind and emotions. Hence, the system cleanses itself and a clear vision can emerge. With a sattvic vegetarian diet, the more advanced yoga practices like the shatkriyas cleansing methods, fire ceremonies and extended sadhanas, this process is aided along. And before you know it, the window is getting cleaner and cleaner, and your whole outlook of life changes.
In Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, it’s very similar. Through the process of Panchakarma, a cleansing method that may involve purgation, vomiting therapy or medicated enemas, years of accumulated toxins are removed from the body. I always find it interesting how much emotional baggage comes out together with the physical toxins, and how much clarity there is in the mind afterwards. It’s incredible how closely related body and mind are. I recently heard that the ultimate aim of Panchakarma, just like sadhana, is enlightenment, and it made total sense. If your body is clean, but your mind full of dirt, you can’t be enlightened. Likewise I would argue, if you practice a lot of yoga and think positive thoughts, but eat at McDonald’s every day, the path to realization might be quite arduous, too.
It’s still amazing to me how precise and vast the system of yoga is, and how it addresses every single challenge a human being could ever face. And it seems to be never ending: first you get over the physical challenges, then the mental/emotional ones, and suddenly you find yourself immersed in spiritual challenges and in vast dimensions that you never believed existed when you went to your first yoga class. You’re like ‘How on earth did this happen? I didn’t plan for this!’ But worry not. Many people who only practice yoga once or twice a week for health reasons will never get to or even know about this stage. For most people, myself included, unless they already come to the planet highly evolved, it takes years of arduous and sustained practice to free themselves of the shackles of conditioning. But everyone will benefit nonetheless, whether you practice once a week or every day. Harmony slowly weaves itself into the lives of all, depending on where you are at on your journey.
So it pays to keep the body clear, whether you do it for physical health reasons or for reasons of elevated consciousness. Both feed into each other: you can eat the most healthy, organic diet and yet still be full of toxins if you have an excess of unprocessed mental tensions such as anxiety, anger and rage. On the other hand, I have a friend who lives on a diet of frozen potato chips and chocolate sandwiches but is pretty healthy as he practices two hours of Vipassana meditation a day. So it can work both ways, and as has been shown by research studies, some of the causes of serious illness such as cancer can be wrong diet as well as unprocessed emotions and relationship stresses. So it’s always good to keep a check on our mental as well as physical health.
And it doesn’t have to be yoga. Any process that detoxes the body and facilitates a smooth flow of energy can do the same – whether it’s Tai Chi, Quigong, meditation, energy work, fasting or cleansing. See what resonates for you.
Wishing you bliss and joy on your journey!