Yoga is simple. It only takes a little attention, a little practice every day, and soon we realize we have developed a regular practice. We meditate for ten or fifteen minutes every morning; we do a regular asana practice. We use the breathing exercises or a yoga nidra recording to relax and calm the mind.
Slowly, we start to notice that we are sleeping a little better, or that we are a little more patient, a little calmer, a little more content, a little less grumpy or reactive or jumpy. We slowly realize that practice in the yogic sense of the word simply means “making an effort to keep the mind steady,” to be here, wherever here might be.
It dawns on us that we can practice all the time, 24/7, that it doesn’t matter what we are doing, and that when we are making an effort to be present, no matter what is going on, it limits the drama, the saga, the memories, the story our mind wants to press upon us.
There is no room in our mind to re-experience past events or worry about the future if we just get our attention into present time, hold it there, and find something in that present time that we can be grateful for, or attend to, or smile about. And when we can’t find something to smile about, we can breathe! And soon, this too will pass, whatever this might have been, and we can smile again. We can learn to turn on the relaxation response instead of the fight-or-flight response. We can learn to control our mind!
Once we have worked through the early stage of yoga, which is basically the physical practice of asana, a change begins to happen. If we have made even the smallest effort to pay attention, some tiny seed sprouts imperceptibly and begins to grow. With continued practice, a natural evolution occurs from gross to subtle, from the physical to the spiritual, from lesser awareness to greater awareness. Once this happens, we begin to consciously change. Change is happening all the time, every nanosecond, but this change is being consciously directed by us. It can take from six months to six lifetimes, but at some point, with regular practice—and there is absolutely no doubt about this—a process we call waking up starts to unfold.
Since yoga is about paying attention and getting our attention into present time, there may be an instant when the mind becomes still. In that moment of stillness, there is a glimpse of a deeper reality, a peek at something beyond thought, when the attention comes to rest in the now—a moment of recognition that we are organically connected to wholeness, a moment that goes beyond deliberations and worries over the past and future, a real glimpse of pure awareness that transcends time and space.
If the experience is profound enough, there will be an actual spiritual experience of the true yoga itself, an experience of what is often called the True Self, or the revelation of nonduality, or the idea that there is nothing other than One. Our fears of nonbeing, of dying, of separateness and loneliness, become less profound as we start to sense our oneness and connectedness to the whole shebang, to our fellow humans, to all beings everywhere, even to what we might refer to as God.
The light dawns; that’s it! We come to realize through our practice that the yoga methodology is one path (although not the only path) that offers a map that can take us to the destination and reveal to us how we truly are connected to one another.
The idea of an underlying oneness, or a connectedness, is not new. We can look back into the history of all ancient cultures and indigenous peoples and find a tradition of nonduality. Even science these days is looking at the diversity of all the forms in our universe and seeking a unity to it all.
Fundamental to quantum theory in the field of physics, for example, and one of the most significant parallels between the world of science and the ancient yoga teachings, is this idea of nonlocality, or connectedness. Quantum interconnectedness is the idea that two quanta (very tiny particles) of energy, which are not in proximity (not touching or nearly touching), are still connected! An experiment that proved this and has been repeated often demonstrates that two quanta of light called photons, shot off from a single source and traveling at the speed of light in opposite directions, can maintain their connection to one another. In this experiment, any effect placed on one photon as it rockets away from the other registers instantaneously with the other.
What happens to one happens to the other. Pretty amazing! But not so amazing to the ancient yogis who have known this all along.
Adapted from Yoga for Warriors: Basic Training for Strength, Resilience, & Peace of Mind by Beryl Bender Birch. Copyright © 2014 by Beryl Bender Birch. Published by Sounds True.