By the practice of the parts of yoga, impurity diminishes until rise of spiritual knowledge culminates in awareness of reality.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali • 2.28 • Necessity of yoga practice
As teachers or practitioners, we always get asked about the point of yoga. Is it a workout? Is it for weight loss? Is it to build muscles? To stand on your head? Will it heal my cholesterol level issues? Will it take me out of my depression?
So many questions about why practice yoga and what the point of it is. I chose this sutra this week as we will be celebrating the international day of yoga in a few days. Here’s a simple, humble definition of yoga. It’s a practice for all the mind, body and soul.
In a nutshell, for the body, we do our mat practice and it’s not just for the outer look of the body, but our inside too. Yoga is one of the few practices that works on your inside, it helps your joints, it massages your inner organs, it improves your blood flow, it fixes your posture, you sit better, walk better, sleep better, and a lot more.
For the mind, through our practice (which is a form of meditation), through our breathing, our focus, our gaze, our commitment, our consistency, you bring your awareness inwards. You give your mind the break it needs. You give it awareness, you control your “monkey mind” as many refer to it. You take the lead in what’s happening in your head and with your thoughts.
For the soul, through that awareness that we create using the mind and body, we get to understand our higher self. What is a higher self? “A term associated with multiple belief systems, but its basic premise describes an eternal, omnipotent, conscious, and intelligent being, who is one's real self. The Higher Self is generally regarded as a form of being only to be recognized in a union with a divine source.” (Wikipedia)
Too vague? Think of it as, you get to understand who you want to be, you get to a simple goal of wanting to create a better version of yourself each day. And this starts with a mat practice? Yes, it does. Yoga is union. Yoga is aligning your feelings, your thoughts and your actions. This is how you get to your true self, your higher self.
In this sutra Patanjali argues that before yoga is union, yoga is disunion first. We start with the destruction of our impurities; and awareness is key for this to happen. Through our practice, we become aware. Aware of our breathing, our thoughts, our feelings. Through that, we eliminate the impurities, or simply put the negative thoughts. Patanjali calls this viyoga, or dissociation of the mind, which almost acts as a prerequisite for yoga. Disassociating yourself from the material, mental and emotional ties with worldly things, understanding what truly matters, then finding the union you seek through yoga.