DEFINING YOGA, DEFINING YOURSELF
A visual commentary by Daphne Charles. Published May 2015, SOULSCAPE
Definitions and forms give us context. Putting an identity to what we do is an essential piece of our parcel. It helps us to formulate and understand concepts on a gross level and from where we currently stand – within mirages of duality. On the flip side, an overkill of identity leads to rigidity, impedes a vast spectrum of possibilities and puts a restriction on an otherwise seamless stream of energy. Consider an issue that you have been holding on to tightly and notice how it comes hand in hand with an illusion, a false perception or definition of the truth.
This collective need for over-identification is a real pity especially considering our potential for limitless expansion. Also considering that much of our definitions are heavily supported by secondary knowledge from external sources - teachers, books, and media, in comparison to first-hand experiences that are felt from within. Until we reach this point of innate knowing, really, we do not know as much as we think we do.
With this in mind, a broad definition of yoga can be useful. When we consider any tool or state of being that brings us towards a sense of balance and equilibrium as yoga it opens us up to cross-fertilization learning; through a wider collection of daily experiences that allows each and every interaction to become a juicy source of observation and growth. We allow ourselves the space to learn outside the limits of the yoga mat and nurture the ability to apply our lessons of love and compassion beyond its small diameter as well. Life is grand and by taking rightful action and leaving room for enquiry, it becomes our grand master teacher.
Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as ‘Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah’ - Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Any thought or action with the intention to calm these turbulent waters can be considered as yoga, regardless of which end of the spectrum (positive or negative) the fluctuation lays on and even if it seems to momentarily move away from the mid-line. Some things simply need to get bad before they become better.
image : yoga and the fluctuations of the mind.
When we identify ourselves as fitting into solely a positive or negative role, self-criticism, expectation and the denial of both our temporal and true nature occurs. An over-identification of these fluctuations as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is counter-productive to our growth. As much as we try, we cannot selectively numb ourselves of dark emotions without numbing out the light ones as well. It is through the confrontation and processing of these dark emotions that the work is done and we can truly say we are in a conscious practice of finding balance.
In the pranayama Nadi Shodana we stimulate both our left and right hemispheres, Ida and Pingala equally, in an attempt to dwell within the central channel and mid-line called Sushumna. This is an intelligent toggling system that demonstrates a clear understanding and acceptance of our dualistic tendencies and in doing so, able to utilize our current condition of extremity to toggle our way towards the mid-line.
image : toggling between the dualities, Ida & Pingala, in Nadi Shodana
In the practice of yoga, the key concepts of Abyasa (discipline, effort, practice) and Vairagya (surrender, non-attachment) are mutually important. To focus on solely one of them creates a practice of extremity while a sensitive toggling back and fourth between both of them becomes a practice of yoga. By meandering along our path with a foot in each, we experience a safe and beneficial practice that grows graciously. We create baby steps to where we want to get to and acceptance along our way there.
image : toggling between Effort and Surrender creates a yoga practice.
Yoga contains many tools and philosophies that toggle back and fourth between seemingly opposite sides and contradictions. Regular practice of this is highly effective in reducing our identification of self as being capable only at one or both extremes. The constant flipping between two sides of a coin provides the broader perspective that we are one coin with two accessible sides. This also alludes to the interconnectedness of all beings and that we are all simply riding on different points within the same spectrum of existence.
As we hone in on the mid-line (illustration 4&5), the austerity of all these definitions soften and the usefulness of their labels fade away, melting into the formless central column that needs no words. In this realm the identification is the restriction, a claustrophobic cage that puts a limitation from further expansion.
So the suggestion is this: Be as comfortable in defining things as you are in letting these definitions go. Put your enquiries out to the universe and allow the questions time to sit, simmer and stew without the rush of an answer.
Definition is a two-sided sword, capable of being either useful or useless depending on your context. Is it time for you to add more definition to your condition or loosen the knot of a dated identification instead? Is it Abayasa or Viaragya ‘s time to shine? Feel into your heart space and listen in to which one serves to bring you back towards your mid-line now.
images : zooming into the mid-line, a formless state.