There are a variety of reasons people begin practicing yoga. Many wonder what all the fuss is about, some have heard that it can help with flexibility and strength, and others wonder about the stress relief benefits. More than fifteen million Americans have stepped on the mat and have explored how yoga can enrich their lives, but many only see the physical benefits. Despite the growing popularity of yoga, many instructors are left wondering if many people are really missing the true purpose of the practice.
What are yoga students missing when they are only taking class to lose weight, become fit, or relieve stress? They are missing the heart of the practice and the chance to make significant positive changes in their lives. When going to a yoga class becomes something greater than just something you do for yourself every now and again, you begin to realize that it is not just about you anymore. Dedicating the practice to something greater than yourself is what draws the distinction between just doing exercise and practicing yoga.
These days, it seems that the mention of dedication, or devotion, can be a tricky subject in yoga class. People tend to be unresponsive when the idea of the divine is mentioned. It is important for yoga practitioners to know that the philosophy of yoga is inextricably linked with divinity, no matter what name is given to it or how it is incorporated. Yoga was built on the idea that there is a force greater than ourselves, and yet we are still connected to it. This is the idea of Oneness, and the idea is more than fairly comforting. Others who are religious fear a conflicting of faiths by believing in the spirituality of yoga; however, Swami Satchidananda said, “The Truth is one, the paths are many.” Therefore, people of any faith or belief can practice yoga. Even if a practioner of yoga does not believe in any form of divinity, this does not present a problem. They must simply recognize that the nature of all beings is joy and try to connect with that.
Now that we’ve gotten that sticky subject out of the way, I want to explain this idea of dedicating your practice in greater detail. It’s not even so much about dedication as it is relinquishing or letting go of everything whether they be worries, fears, misunderstandings, or hang-ups. My teacher, Sharon Gannon, always promotes the idea that “You’ve got to get down to get up.” What she means is that you need to be rooted in the here and now and be able to let go of all the fruits of your actions. Why, you ask? Why shouldn’t you just keep on doing yoga to perfect your chatturangas, balance longer in tree pose, and get that yoga butt? The answer is a simple one. What are all those things going to get you in the long run?
Sure, nailing that Chatturanga feels great, and deepening your Hanumanasana (splits pose) can give you a bit of a rush. I’m not denying that one bit, but what is the true purpose behind the motions? Yoga practice can help you to break a cycle, stop bad habits, and transform your life. Yes, it can do all of those things, but you have to let it. You see, you can’t acquire yoga like you can dance steps or aerobic maneuvers; you have to let go of what is obscuring it. You have to let go of your preferences and simply be in the moment as a divine being.
So why do asana at all if you’re not supposed to be attached to the outcome? Because the asanas help to show you the interior of your own mind, they clearly point out what you’re holding on to and what you still need to work through. They transform you into the tree or the warrior and make you see what it is like to step outside of yourself, even for the briefest of moments. Asana also gives you the chance to see that both the world and you yourself are constantly changing. This, in turn, gives you the opportunity to find what is real and unchanging.
When you realize that the purpose of your yoga practice is not to keep you rooted in this world, but to let you move through it, you begin to have faith in your ability to reach the divine with your actions. It can ignite the soul and give you a sense of renewed dignity and worth. Because you know that you’re not just performing the motions for your own benefit, the sense of satisfaction from your practice can grow beyond the mat. For example, have you ever had the opportunity to offer selfless service to another? Maybe you’ve adopted a pet and taken on the full responsibility of loving and caring for it, and, in exchange, all you have received is unconditional love from them for giving happiness and freedom. This is what the act of devotion is all about—realizing that it’s not all about the wishes and wants you only think you need.
When you start letting go of the selfish motives for practice and try to connect with something greater, you inspire your own ability to love. This is the nature of the spirit, and connecting with that is the ultimate goal of yoga practice. Samadhi is union with the divine, a connection with the source, which is true love. Everything else is negligible. As my teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life, would say, “The sheer desire for Oneness is the way to it.”
Realizing that all the beings in this world are connected in this way is a remarkable step for the yogi. Once the lines between ‘you’ and ‘them’ begin to fade, you realize how important it is to share love and a sense of gratitude with everyone around you.