The practice of Yoga is based on Sankhya philosophy, which is a top-down philosophy stating that we evolve from the Light of Pure Consciousness. It further says that the cause (consciousness) is always in the effect (us). And yoga is a practice that is bottom-up, meaning we start with where we are in the body/mind and practice to experience and perceive our true inner nature, which is that light of pure consciousness.
This means that within this body/mind that light exists, not just anywhere but everywhere. The body cannot exist without it. Furthermore, through the continued study of yogis and yoginis before us and the sharing of their experiences, we understand that the most concentrated area of that light is in the heart space. This concentrated light is the essence of pure wisdom, pure love, pure compassion, unalloyed joy, and abiding intelligence. Yet we often don’t get to experience that in our life, or it comes and goes, seeming quite random. The haze or cloudiness is too thick. What the Yoga Sutras tell us is that there are ways to capture that experience and to maintain that level of joy and light within and at the same time live in the world with our work, our relationships, our desires, and our intelligence.
The key is to keep our bodies strong and resilient and our minds free from anxiety, worry, anger, angst, and doubt. As yoga practitioners we have had some success in maintaining or increasing the health of our bodies. Yoga has given us many tools and practices to support us in this. We have been able to reduce back pain, alleviate some of the aches in our joints, decrease our anxiety, lower our blood pressure, combat heart disease, and in many other substantial ways we have strengthened the functioning of our bodies. This is a necessary and foundational step in helping us relieve mental and emotional pain and enhancing the quality of our life.
To go further, we need to understand a bit more about the relationship between our body, heart, and mind. The body supports the healthy functioning of the organs, including the brain and heart, the locus for concentrated areas of prana and light. If the physical functioning is compromised, the movement of prana can also be compromised, or even decreased. And we may not even be aware of it, but slowly over time it drains us of our will, our determination, our body’s intelligence, our joy, and our vitality. To keep a healthy body, the foundational step is asana practice.
From here we can look at the mind. As we know from our practice, the body and mind are intimately connected. We do our practice and our mind is more at peace. We don’t, and we’re more apt to be reactive and doubtful about our lives, our experience of ourselves. After establishing a stable and comfortable body, relatively free of discomfort or disease, yoga gives us the tools and practices to further calm the mind. This is vital to the connection of the deeper regions in our heart. If the mind is wandering here and there, worried about this and that, the light and joy of the heart are quite difficult to access. We are stuck with our senses moving outward, catching hold of any thread of entertainment or relief or external habit we’ve cultivated. This kind of mind does not have the ability to experience the sublime aspects of the vishoka, joy untouched by sorrow or angst, or jyotishmati, supreme light of the heart, both of which are the subtle building blocks supporting the creation of the heart itself and concentrated in the heart area. Without a quiet mind, guided by inward moving prana, we miss out on this grace that is, always exists, and flows within.
The YTA workshop on March 10 will focus on practices that strengthen, stabilize, and turn us inward to this heart center. Through specific postures and breathing we will increase access to the four gifts that come with a body: rupa—beauty; lavanya—tastefulness; bala—vitality; and vajra samharanatva—the inherent healing power. Once we have ease and stability in the body, we will use specific pranayama practices to turn the mind peacefully inward. With a calm mind, we will be able to access the deeper stillness of the heart, where we can touch upon and rest in our true nature of unobstructed joy and light.