The basics of yoga

Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit by Donna Fahri is a practical, inspirational guide that will give you the tools to expand your yoga beyond the mechanics of physical exercise to an enriching and complete life practice. In this excerpt, we learn the basics of yoga, and its key principles.

Peaceful woman doing yoga

What is Yoga?

All people wish to be happy. This seemingly simple desire appears to elude the best-intentioned efforts of even the most intelligent among us. Yet almost everyone has had glimpses of deep peacefulness when they have felt connected both to themselves, to others, and to nature. Curiously, the state of feeling good and whole does not seem to be something we can order up on demand but rather appears to happen spontaneously. In such moments we experience a sense of translucence such that that which we see, feel, sense, hear, or touch no longer feels separate from us but is experienced as a part of our own totality. When our hand resting over the heart of the beloved merges and becomes one with his or her body, when we become the same midnight sky that fills us with awe, we remember, however briefly, our place in the scheme of things. These brief flickers of remembrance imbue our vision with freshness and innocence so that we can see things as they truly are.

Because these moments of lucidity are so blissful, we wish that they may become the base state of our lives rather than the brief and oftentimes tenuous experience to which such happiness is usually assigned. These moments of clarity have nothing to do with the caricatures of happiness presented to us through the media or popular culture. These moments have always been there. The beloved’s heartbeat and the sky have always been there. These moments are simply awaiting our arrival.

Waking up from our spiritual amnesia

Yoga is a technology for arriving in this present moment. It is a means of waking up from our spiritual amnesia, so that we can remember all that we already know. It is a way of remembering our true nature, which is essentially joyful and peaceful. Developed as a pragmatic science by ancient seers centuries ago, yoga is a practice that any person, regardless of age, sex, race, or religious belief, can use to realize her full potential.

It is a means of staying in intimate communication with the formative core matrix of yourself and those forces that serve to bind all living beings together. As you establish and sustain this intimate connection, this state of equanimity becomes the core of your experience rather than the rare exception.

Through observing nature and through intense self-observation and inquiry, the ancient yogis were able to codify the conditions that must be present for realizing our intrinsic wholeness. Although such realization can occur spontaneously, more often than not it is the result of a sustained commitment to practice over a lifetime.

This is not to imply that yoga is a goal which we strive toward, or that there is some kind of chronological progression toward “self-improvement” Rather, it is the recognition that each individual can achieve understanding only through his own exploration and discovery, and that all of life is a continual process of refinement which allows us to see more clearly.

When we clean the windshield of our car, we suddenly see the road ahead as bright and defined. The road, the image before us, is exactly as it was before we cleaned the window. The trees are the same green, the sky the same vivid blue, and the markers just as defined, only now we see what is there. We start to be able to see the potholes in the road ahead and to avoid them. We start to remember such dangerous roads and steer our way clear to safer routes in the future.

In the same way, yoga is not about self-improvement or making ourselves better. It is a process of deconstructing all the barriers we may have erected that prevent us from having an authentic connection with ourselves and with the world. This tenet is an extremely important one because the effort to change and improve ourselves is fraught with the risk of subtle self-aggression that only produces more unhappiness. We cannot strive toward something that we already are.

Work to be done

Nonetheless, there is work to be done. And this work is not about following a formula, or strictly adhering to rules, because yoga is not a paint-by-numbers affair. Nor does yoga require blind faith in an outside authority or dogma. Nor is it a religion, although the practice of its central precepts inevitably draws each individual to the direct experience of those truths on which religion rests.

Rather, yoga is a way of living and being that makes real happiness possible. Yoga is also a science that incorporates a broad range of practices and techniques that can be tailored and adapted, to best suit your personal constitution and personality. We are not asked to believe anything until we have experimented, tested, and found our direct experience to be sound. The great paradox of this “work” is that there is no reward to strive toward, because the practice is the reward. In the very moment you focus your attention by coming back into your body, your breath, and your immediate sensate reality, you will experience a deep sense of vibrant stillness.

This feeling is so pleasurable, so joyful and revitalizing that you will be drawn toward lifestyle choices that nourish your well-being. This work is not about forcing yourself to give up anything, because that which is no longer nourishing to you will gradually drop away effortlessly. There is no waiting and no delayed gratification because yoga is both the means and the result, and the seed of all that is possible is present at the very beginning. This experience of stillness is possible in the first ten minutes of your first yoga class. It is possible in this very breath.

Sadly, if we approach and practice yoga with the same cultural dictum of striving and effort, force and self-coercion that we may have applied to other aspects of our lives, we may practice diligently for decades while never allowing our self to appreciate the simple truth of its own wholeness.


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