A lot of people think that yoga is a practice for healing the body. I used to think so–that’s what got me into yoga in the first place. But what I’ve come to realize after years of practice and study is that the physical healing that occurs through the practice of yoga is merely a byproduct of the healing that occurs in the mind.
Yoga is a practice of stilling the mind, of calming the mental waves so that we can recognize and merge with our true self. One of my favorite passages from the yoga sutras of Patanjali is this one:
Yogah citta vrtti nirodhah
It translates as: “Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations in the mind.”
To me this is very profound. Yoga is not asana, or the physical postures. Yoga isn’t even pranayama, or conscious breathing practices. These things are the tools we utilize to help us attain a state of yoga. Yoga means “union,” and union with the divine is achieved through the cessation of fluctuations in the mind.
The mind is the biggest obstacle to overcome on our spiritual path. Many of my teachers have claimed that the root of all suffering is the mind. This is because we so often identify ourselves with our minds. Our mind says, “I’m this” or “I’m not that,” or it focuses on what “should be” or “could be,” and it leads us to identify with our thoughts, and believe in the illusion of separation.
So how do we recognize and overcome our overidentification with the mind? Here are my top 3 suggestions:
- Practice yoga in all of its forms (asana, pranayama, meditation, etc.). There’s a reason Patanjali outlined the 8-fold path of yoga as a means to achieving, well, yoga. But you can’t simply practice once or twice and expect to see much result…often our mental fluctuations become worse before they get better. Consistent practice of at least 2-3 times a week is recommended. Daily practice is ideal, even if it’s only 10 minutes of pranayama or 10 minutes of meditation. Consistent, small actions yield big results. That being said, practice selflessly, without attachment to the outcome. One thing I love to do, that really inspires me to show up to my practice consistently, is to dedicate my practice to someone, something, or some cause I’m devoted to.
- Check out the work of Byron Katie. This work is an awesome method for clearly seeing and disengaging from your thoughts. It’s especially useful if you’re currently in a challenging situation that you want to gain clarity around. When I first started doing this work, the aha‘s were consistent and profound. Start by checking out her free downloadable PDFs on this page under “The Work Essentials” to the right.
- Surrender. In sanskrit, Ishvara Pranidhana, means “surrender to the divine.” It is one of Patanjali’s niyamas, and one of the 3 components of kriya yoga, the yoga of action. Giving our challenges, as well as our blessings, over to God/Source/Spirit helps us to overcome our ego, which is the part of us that identifies with the mind. When we surrender to the divine and detach from our ego, we can begin to recognize that our thoughts aren’t personal. They’re simply like clouds passing through the sky…they come and go and they are no more personal than these clouds.
Do you have any additional recommendations for calming the mind and attaining a state of yoga? Any comments you’d like to add? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below