As cliche as it sounds, yoga is a way to liberation. When you first discover yoga, even if you are unaware of it, it’s like you’re being enthralled into a magical forest full of awe and beauty. The deeper you go, the more magical it seems, although you might have to cross marches and darker corners along the way.
Depending on how receptive you are towards the practice, you might find your way towards the forest right away, or like in my case, it might take a few years before you even discover the path leading to the forest. Practicing yoga purely as physical exercise is good and well, but once you start to explore the depths of the practice beyond the physical, the fruits of the practice is much sweeter.
Use the tools handed to you
The forest seems familiar at first, but if you stop to observe, strange things start to appear. This is where you find the magic; and with continuous observation, you might find the path leading to liberation. This is how it all started for me, although during my ten years of practice, my path has had many detours and moments of being lost.
Like most others, I started practicing yoga regularly because it felt good for my body. Ashtanga in particular made me feel powerful as I with time got to know my body better and better. Yoga is a systematic approach to liberation, regardless of what style you practice. But you are yourself responsible for finding the style that resonates with you, as well as seeking knowledge along the way.
In yoga you are handed the tools to dig deep and rid yourself of the deeply ingrained emotions and thought patterns that don’t serve you anymore. But it is a self-reliant practice as you yourself are responsible for putting in the work and trust the practice.
I used to envy other people’s ability to act free of restraints and seemingly with no care in the world. I have always been a perfectionist and at times obsessive about keeping my surroundings in order. Needless to say, ridding myself of inhibitions was very difficult, if not impossible.
As I’ve practiced yoga for many years, a lot of the patterns holding me back has come to the surface. Some of them I’ve changed, but most of the underlying beliefs or convictions still lie dormant, although they have become less and less dominant.
I used to envy other people’s ability to act free of restraints and seemingly with no care in the world.
The best part about yoga is that it is a lifelong practice. I have practiced for ten years, although with various dedication throughout the years. Ironically, the more I practice, the harder it gets as the peeling of the layers (in yoga referred to as Kleshas) becomes more rapid. The more I sweat on my mat, the more evident my thoughts and actions outside of the mat becomes. I like to think of layers as grey fog that clouds my vision. As the fog lifts, the more clearly I can see the world as it is.
I can say with absolute certainty that my ability to be aware of my own thought processes has become better with the practice of yoga. It is easier to stop a negative thought from escalating, and I more often “police” myself when I make hasty assumptions. The ability to reason beyond my own ego relies on the ability to see myself as intertwined with everything around me.
How to distinguish freedom from freedom
Being an avid kitesurfer for many years, I know what it feels like to feel free; free of worries, free of inhibitions, and in sync with nature. That feeling is an important factor that has left me constantly craving the rush I get from kiting. At times it has been difficult to distinguish the sense of freedom I get from kiting from the sense of liberation I have gained from yoga.
With experience and a lot of pondering, I think I’ve found a way to differentiate between the two. With kiting, the feeling of freedom comes as a direct effect of doing the activity, and consequently it is reliant on constantly filling up the container to keep the rush from escaping.
The sense of liberation gained from the practice of yoga is different as it is an innate sense of release. This liberation is like being freed from the chains of negative or destructive thought patterns that inhibits you from seeing your true self.
You see what you think
Your true self is pure consciousness. It is your true nature in which you see everything clearly, devoid of any filtering made by our own impressions and ideas (samskaras). This might seem a bit wishy-washy for some, so let me clarify with an example.
A close friend of mine had a brain surgery were he removed a tumour in his brain. He told me that before and right after the surgery he would literally see things that weren’t there. Like he would read a title of a magazine, and then see the same title on all other magazines because of his brain’s reduced ability to connect visual information with the part of the brain doing the interpretation.
This is a good example of the saying “you see what you think”. In everyday life we constantly filter out and ignore things as our ordinary attention is very limited. But have you noticed that if you stop and pay attention to your surroundings, you start to see things that you normally wouldn’t pay attention to?
I have started practicing this by taking walks in nature, and occasionally stopping to take in my surroundings. If I pay close attention I will start noticing things like an array of ants on a tree branch, a bee sucking up the juice from a flower, the soft rustling of leaves in the wind – and it is like the forest suddenly has expanded as a big orchestra of living organisms.
So in yoga, when you start to peel off your layers – or as I like to think – lift the fog from your vision, you start to see things as they truly are. Sometimes manifesting as the ability to think and act uninhibited from fear or other restrictions. At other times manifesting as the ability to discern material possessions as decorations to distract you from exploring your true self.
Should you stop chasing the ego rush?
To put it cynically, the freedom I get from kitesurfing is a rush to the ego. I can feel elevated because I feel a sense of mastery of the elements, and I feel free because I get a momentary break from worries and everyday life.
One of the goals in yoga is to free yourself from your own ego (your sense of I-ness), as it is blocking you from true liberation. Therefore I have come to ask myself whether I should stop pursuing things that elevate my own sense of ego, like for example kitesurfing.
The pending answer I give myself is no, not as long as it makes me happy. I know that with time I will learn to enjoy kitesurfing just as much without any sense of ego attachment. Kiting is just one of the many things that make up my sense of ego, and therefore also a way to practice detachment from the ego.
There is a difference between a yogi that devotes his or hers whole life to the practice, and a yogi who chooses to keep the luxuries and the suffering that comes with partaking in a society. I choose the latter. Either way, the teachings of yoga is of unimaginable value even for the modern yogi. But is it up to each individual how one chooses to live it. As in the words of Buddha:
What you think, you become.
What you feel, you attract.
What you imagine, you create.