Patanjali’s yoga sutras begin with, “atha yoganusasanam,” meaning, now begins the precise instruction on yoga. It has also been interpreted to mean, yoga is happening now. The journey of yoga is designed to guide a student from identifying as their ego, to identifying as their soul. BKS Iyengar put it beautifully in his book, Light on Pranayama when he said: “Yoga leads the sādhaka (student) from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light and from death to immortality.”
Classical yoga explains it this way. Your soul, called purusa in Sanskrit, begins in an undifferentiated space. Think if I were to ask you to point to a single white dot on a white piece of paper. It would be impossible since there is no way for you to differentiate one dot from another. Because of this, the soul does not know it’s true nature. To realize itself, it is born into a differentiated space referred to as the physical world. The Sanskrit term for this is, Prakriti.
The process, however, becomes more complicated when at birth you do not remember your soul identity at all. With no identity to start with, you have to create one. Your mind begins to interpret the events of the physical world and your place within it. You take in information through your, ears, nose, mouth, hands and eyes. The mind makes a judgment as to whether or not the stimulation is positive or negative. At around 18 months of age, your experiences become “personal” for you, or the perceived you. Instead of something just being hot, it is now I’m hot. Instead of something just being loud, it is now offensive to me. If experiences are positive, the mind seeks to repeat them, and if they are negative, it aims to avoid them. This is a very uncomfortable place to be because in this state of consciousness the ever-changing environment can move you from joy to pain in an instant. It is only through the application of one’s intellect that we can reflect in on the activities of the habitual mind and start to free ourselves from the false identity that began taking shape the moment of your birth.
The process of awakening, however, can be a long one, so we pass through many lifetimes battling our false identity without even knowing it. When actions are rooted in our ego, we create karma. This karma leaves traces on the soul, like tracks on a CD, which are carried with us from lifetime to lifetime. Part of the self-transformation process is to remove the tracks and to stop creating new ones.
Yoga has an easy way of explaining the state we live in when we identify as the ego self. It is called, Avidya, meaning ignorance. Avidya has been described as a tree with four branches coming off of it. These branches are rejections, desires, fears, and the ego itself. It is these four things that contribute to and further, create our ignorance. The ego will reject things that challenge it while desiring to bring things that support it closer. Because the ego cannot connect with the true soul nature, it is plagued with the fears of the physical world, with the biggest fear being death.
So what’s the point? The entire point of life, according to yoga, is to remove our ignorance, awaken to our soul identity and return to our purusa state with the wisdom of our true nature, freeing the need for any future physical births.
Seems like quite a task, but remember what Patanjali told us in his first yoga sutra. Yoga is happening now. The discipline of yoga removes obstacles that impede the flow of consciousness from the ego self to the soul self. Think of it like a river. The water is our consciousness, moving from ego identity to soul identity. When there are large rocks in the river, the flow of water is disrupted, pushing it in all directions, and making it tumultuous and even dangerous to navigate. These rocks are the many disruptive thoughts of the mind. When the rocks are removed the water flows freely, peacefully and smooth.
Now think of a yoga class. When we are practicing yoga, we use the breath and poses to remove the metaphorical rocks, focusing our efforts and consciously directing our thoughts and actions. When obstacles are removed, our natural energy flows more freely. That natural energy flows directly back to our soul self.
Right now you are transforming. Old cells are dying, and new ones are being born. Oxygen is moving through your blood to fuel your metabolism. Thoughts are flowing through your head almost incessantly throughout the day. The entire planet is transforming right now. Whether you like it or not things are changing. The real question you need to be asking yourself is, “am I paying attention?” If so, “what am I going to do?”
With yoga, we can learn to stabilize the fluctuations of our minds. Our thoughts control our actions, and our actions define us. Individually we make a difference. Together we create change.
Ryan is the Co-founder of MOSAIC Yoga, a 200-hour Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) through Yoga Alliance, and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Ryan is the team lead for MOSAIC’s Health and Yoga services and is the creator and director of MOSAIC’s yoga teacher training program. Ryan is a regular contributor to Yoga Digest Magazine and the author of Good Being, Good Living: A Modern Model for Sustained Holistic Health. Ryan has studied at the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the CHEK Institute for advanced performance, the Metabolic Typing Education Center and Symmetry’s school for alignment therapy. For over a decade, Ryan’s passion has been to identify and learn the best services, methods, and philosophies that support and nurture the health and wellness of human beings. Instagram: @theyogisyogi