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You are a spiritual seeker. You have made the choice to join the revolution of consciousness, the global awakening that is yoga. It starts with an opening of the heart and ends in deep communion with all that is sacred.
Everyone and anyone can practice yoga regardless of race, gender, religion, age, size, shape or ethnicity. The origins of yoga can be traced back to India’s historic past. From time immemorial the ancient rishis, or seers, embarked on a quest for meaning that lead them to the practice of yoga. Now, here you are today, following in their footsteps commencing your own journey to the center of yourself.
All it takes to enter the sacred lineage of yoga is for you to practice. You may decide to join a class at a yoga studio, travel to India to study with the living masters, practice at home following a book or video, but the decision to practice changes everything. Yoga demands that you delve deeply within yourself and experience firsthand the transformative power of yoga before you begin teaching. The highest form of knowledge for the yoga practitioner is the knowledge which has been experienced directly and is therefore incontrovertible. The forum for this direct experience in yoga is first a physical practice of yoga postures, then the subtle realm of the mind and emotions and ends with transforming every aspect of your life on and off the mat.
Yoga is about balance and it asks tightness to bend and softness to be strong. It challenges the limits of the mind and the body and encourages you to expand your field of awareness. At the end of the mountain of practice lies the real truth of existence, a quest for meaning, depth and presence. Yoga is a path that reveals the deepest of life’s secrets, a knowledge about the Divine, a path to be known through true self-knowledge, an illuminating light that has been passed down through the centuries. For it is not the lithe muscles, the thin waist nor the youthful countenance that is yoga’s real power. Instead the intoxicating nectar of yoga is your ability to use this ancient technique to connect to the deepest and most powerful part of yourself and find lasting peace.
While yoga seems physical, the real promise is a life of inner peace. There is judgement on the path and no awards for the deepest pose. This practice is not a game of ableism, nor is it a competition of any type. There is no doubt that the poses, called asanas, in Sanskrit, looked differently thousands of years ago. The essence of yoga is a timeless spiritual path that remains unchanged over the millennia. The goal of yoga is the direct and personal experience of the Eternal and it is a journey that you walk hand in hand with God. You carry the same seed of awakening that the rishis carried in their hearts all those millennia ago. You have the potential to awaken.
Yoga is based on the concept of Tapas and the internalization of the fire of ritual sacrifice. The Pranagnihotra Upanishad's title literally means Hotra (sacrifice) offered to the Agni (fire) of Prana(breath, life force).” The text asserts that universal soul (God) is within one self, all Vedic gods are embodied in the human body giving one various abilities, eating is allegorically a sacrifice to the gastric fire, and life is a ceremony to the God within. In the first part, the Upanishad opens its thesis with the declaration that liberation (freedom) is possible without the ritual of Agnihotra. From here on out the idea that the fire rituals can be performed within the body and that God is able to be realized and experienced within the body individually appear stable in Hindu texts. This liberating concept encourages all yogis to find freedom within themselves through direct experiences of the Divine.
Based on the root Tap (तप्) meaning "to heat, to give out warmth, to shine, to burn", the term can also mean "to suffer, to mortify the body, undergo penance" in order to "burn away past karma" and liberate oneself. The term Tapas also means simply "warmth, heat, fire” but can include spiritual ecstasy. Tapas is part of the kriya yoga and also included as one of the niyamas.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Book 1, Verse 10 says:
"Like a house protecting one from the heat of the sun, Hatha Yoga protects its practicers from the burning heat of the three Tapas; and, similarly, it is the supporting tortoise, as it were, for those who are constantly devoted to the practice of Yoga.”
But what does Tapas really mean? Perhaps the real fire that seeks to be kindled is an awakening to the truth of God. While yoga comes from India’s Hindu culture, I am a disciple of Christ. To me, Tapas and the fire of awakening speak of the power of God. There are many references to God as fire in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hebrews 12:29 says “for our God is a consuming fire”. God appears to Moses as a burning bush. Revelation 1:14 says “His eyes were like a flame of fire”. Matthew 3:11-12 says "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” The Book of Daniel describes the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego not burned by the fire as a demonstration of their faith. The Gospel of Thomas 10–Jesus said, "I have cast fire upon the world, and look, I'm guarding it until it blazes." If this spark is fanned into a flame, it can liberate humans from the maddening matrix of matter and spirit. What has devolved from perfection can ultimately evolve back into perfection through a process of self-discovery.
The Spiritual Path
Yoga is a path to the sacred and eternal knowledge of God. No matter whether you consider yourself a Hindu, a Christian, a Buddhist or a Muslim, the spiritual path is universal as God is universal. Yoga is a non-dogmatic practical path based on the idea that every single practitioner can come to know God directly and personally through practice and surrender. If you are called to the spiritual path, you are, in many ways, on your own hero’s journey. As Joseph Campbell states, “The first stage of the mythological journey, which we have designated the “call to adventure” signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.” You are practicing yoga and you have the chance to become the hero of your own life story.
You will risk heaven and earth, travel far and wide only, as poet William Blake says, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”
You are on the path to remember who you really are. The Buddha reassures us, “O Nobly Born, remember your own loving heart. Trust it, honor it, follow it. It will bring you peace.”
Love— the Alpha and Omega
Love is the alpha and omega of the spiritual journey. It is the beginning and the end. Your desire to practice is an expression of self-love. The continual practice of yoga opens the door to the wide embrace of Metta, loving-kindness that includes all living beings.
Jack Kornfield says that “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” At first you will spend many years learning how to love yourself. Through practice your heart must first open to a deep and total self-acceptance. Only then will you be able to offer true love and understanding towards others.
1 John says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” In this way, to open your heart is a form of prayer and to live in love is to embody God’s grace. Evidence of the success of yoga is expressed in life. It doesn’t matter if you ever balance in a handstand or put your legs behind your heard. But it does matter if you learn how to express the love that you are. Yoga promises to teach just that.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 says “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Over many years of practice you will discover that love includes not just the light but the shadow as well. Jack Kornfield says, “The unawakened mind tends to make war against the way things are. To follow a path with heart, we must understand the whole process of making war within ourselves and without, how it begins and how it ends. War’s roots are in ignorance. Without understanding we can easily become frightened by life’s fleeting changes, the inevitable losses, disappointments, the insecurity of our aging and death. Misunderstanding leads us to fight against life, running from pain or grasping at security and pleasures that by their nature can never be satisfying.”
You are here to love, yourself, others and your world. In doing so you are engaging in a revolution of the spirit that has the power to change the world. You matter, your liberation matters. Keep practicing!
As a key component of my daily spiritual practice, I sit morning and evening. Cultivating a mindful state of presence has helped me move past deeply personal psychological issues and healed me in ways beyond what words can describe. I have maintained a traditional Vipassana meditation practice for nearly 20 years and attended five silent meditation retreats. If you’d like to join a donated-based meditation retreat, it will change your life. More info here: www.dhamma.org
My personal practice is based in the Ashtanga Yoga method. I have been dedicated to a daily, six-day-a-week practice for over 20 years. Ashtanga yoga traces its lineage to an ancient sage named Vamana Rishi and it is through a long line of students who became teachers themselves that we now have access to the heritage of yoga. Ashtanga literally means eight limbs and is defined by the sacred yogic text, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as Yama (moral codes), Niyama (self-purification and study), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense control), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (total peace). Ideally teachers are well-versed in all eight limbs before they begin teaching so that they may truly guide the student through the entire journey of yoga.
While containing six series of postures, most practitioners spend their entire lives working on the first or Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga because its level of strength and flexibility is already quite challenging. Yet the Primary Series is a complete practice that can help you heal your body and mind. The physical practice of yoga can be likened to brushing your teeth. Without a daily routine plaque and tartar accumulate and cause a pricey visit to the dentist. Just like brushing your teeth, with yoga you get to scrub your thoughts and clean out your body. It is no magic pill and for total healing you may need to explore many complimentary approaches to the body and mind, including therapy, meditation, energy healing and more. It is through your own effort that you purify your body. Yoga is as strong as you make it and takes you as deep as you are willing to go.