Contemporary yoga practice is largely and excessively focused on physical postures. However, it is worth recalling that in any case it was never the intention to place such an emphasis on the asanas. This inflation of the asanas is a contemporary phenomenon, because today’s people lead a mainly sedentary existence. And they yearn for compensation in physical activity.
The real work
In ancient yoga texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, another standard work, hardly any postures are described. And then, mainly a few sitting postures to allow the practice of meditation.
Yes, that’s right: the physical exercises were meant as a preparation for the real work: meditation.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras the purpose of yoga is described in the following verse:
“Chitta vritti nirodnah – Stopping the movements of the mind”
After all, in our heads there lives a cheerful monkey. A monkey that swings constantly rom one branch to another in a tree. That’s the way our mind works when it’s on autopilot. We go from one thought to the next impression, you can’t think of anything more crazy. Thousands of thoughts thus pass through our minds. In this way the mind does everything to bring our attention everywhere except here, in the present moment. Consider how many of the thoughts you have during a whole day are about the past or the future. These are all fantasies that take place at a different time than here and now. If you let that monkey guide you all the way, then you risk your life just passing you by.
The tyranny of screens
So by nature we are hardly able to concentrate at all. In our time, this is exacerbated by the ubiquitous media and what is known as “social engineering”. They constantly kidnap our attention by means of our own senses, mainly through screens. As a result, we live in an (electronic) fantasy world more than ever before. And so authentic yoga practice must have a strong mental component. Not your body, but in the first place your mind needs to be put to work. By concentrating and by bringing your attention constantly back to what you feel in your body every time it is hijacked by yet another fleeting thought.
And above all: beware that you are much more than what you think. The monkey and the voices in your head, they are just phenomena that take place in your brain. That awareness is the beginning of freedom:
- It gives you the ability to become an observer of what’s going on in your head.
- By that concentration exercise you start to evolve.
From a distracted and impressionable individual, you develop into someone who knows what he or she stands for, what he or she wants and why. Imagine!
Finally, a nice quote I found somewhere in an old book about the mythical Findhorn garden in Northern Scotland. One of the pioneers of the garden wrote he had had a conversation with a kind of “nature spirit”, who entrusted her with the following:
“People generally don’t seem to know where they are going or why. If they knew that, if they were on the right track to what needs to be done, what an incredible power station they would be!”