For thousands of years, yoga has been a tool to open the mind and body, bringing transformation. At its core, yoga is a process that involves confronting your limits and transcending them. It is a psychophysical approach to life and to self-understanding that can be creatively adapted to the needs of the times.
Yoga transforms you by opening up the physical and mental binds that block your potential, limiting your life. Transformation is a process that brings newness and interest. You might think that changing deeply could make you so different that you'd lose touch with those you love and even yourself. Actually, the transformation that yoga brings makes you more yourself, and opens you up to loving with greater depth. It involves a honing and refining which releases your true essence, as a sculptor brings out the beauty of form in the stone by slowly and carefully chipping away the rest.
Doing yoga brings many concrete benefits: it's a powerful therapeutic tool for correcting physical and psychological problems; it gives strength and flexibility for other physical activities; it can enhance your looks, posture, skin and muscle tone, and vitality; and it can give your life a sense of grace and overall well-being.
At its deepest level, yoga involves generating energy. Energy is often thought of as a mysterious force which is either there or not, and out of your control. But through yoga, you can actually change its quality and generate more of it, by enlarging the body's capacity as an energy transformer. Everyone has experienced different qualities of energy.
Sometimes "scattered" or agitated--you're off in different directions at once. Yet, at other times, you may also have great energy and be very focused and calm. Yoga involves learning to generate energy, and also to focus it into different parts of your body. This enables you to break through physical and psychological blocks, increasing energy, which allows new interest to come into your life. At any instant, the quality of your life is directly related to how interested you are in it. Yoga involves far more than either having or developing flexibility. Being able to do complicated postures doesn't necessarily mean you know how to do yoga. The essence of yoga is not attainments, but how awarely you work with your limits - wherever and whatever they may be. The important thing is not how far you get in any given pose, but how you approach the yogic process, which in turn is directly related to how your mind views yoga.
The art of yoga lies in learning how to focus and generate energy into different parts of the body, in listening to the body's messages (feedback), and in surrendering to where the energy leads you. The body's resistance should be respected, since it is useful feedback. Trying to conquer resistance and push past pain is actually another form of resistance - resistance to your own limits, to what and where you are now. When you change your focus from "resisting resistance" to channelling energy into where the limits lie, your body can follow its own flow and open on its own, with minimal resistance. Trying forcibly to push past your limits actually creates more resistance and tension, whereas surrendering to the posture ultimately draws you into far greater depth. The body will tell you when to move and deepen if you listen to it.
Another important aspect in my approach to yoga involves understanding "conditioning." Just as doing yoga is playing the edge between control and surrender, there is also an interplay between transformation and resistance to change. There's no way to remain the way you are now: you either become more rigid and crystallized, or you break out of patterns and transform. The conditioning process brings habits in the mind and body that accumulate over time. These patterns define you - the way you move, hold your body, what you think and even when you think. As you age, the habit taking-on process makes you more rigid both physically and mentally. Your internal systems function less efficiently and your body's movements are more limited.
Conditioning and its ensuing habits are part of the universal process of individuation. Individual entities, all of us, are systems with self-protective mechanisms that define boundaries and keep them intact. The way we build security in our life involves habits that we are often not conscious of. Some habits are necessary. They become dangerous if we unconsciously let them direct our lives. Repeating habits over time tends to put you on automatic like a machine, and filters how you relate to the present. If your habits are rigid and deep in the unconscious, the filter is very cloudy and you miss the present. If you miss the present, you miss all there really is.
Experience conditions you, leaving a mark, an imprint. Memory lives in the cells, in the systems of the body, in the brain, and in thought itself. The paradox of experience is that it both teaches you and limits you. It expands your horizons, and is the ground or matrix from which transformation can occur. At the same time, it also builds habits in the mind and body which narrow and confine you.
There are habits in yoga as in everything you do repeatedly, but awareness of the nature of habits helps you avoid being automatically pushed by them. Doing postures like mechanical exercises turns yoga into callisthenics, which dulls the adventure and passion that is part of the transformative process. Resistance to doing yoga is often feedback that your practice has become stale and habit-bound.
"Feedback-sensitivity" is the capacity to listen to and understand the messages the different parts of the body are sending. This sensitivity is not only crucial in avoiding injuries or healing them, but it enables you to have greater control over the yogic process. For example, it is only through feedback sensitivity that you can know when to move deeper into an area or when to back off the pose.
The essence of yoga is focus and attention - attention to breath, to the body's messages, to energy, and even to the quality of your attention. Over the years, I have found that the way I do yoga is continually changing. Deepening your practice is not so much learning to do more advanced postures, but rather increasing your understanding of how to do yoga. Precision in technique can make yoga, even in very basic postures, more focused and exciting, and can deepen your understanding of what yoga is about.
As much as we think we want to change, is that really transformation? I would suggest true transformation requires a deeper letting go. We have to let go of the pattern, the conditioning and the consciousness for transformation to happen. And when it does, we can’t be sure what effect it will have. That is what makes it so scary. It requires an openness to be something other than what we have been. True transformation requires a very deep surrender to the unknown. We can’t know what that will look like going into it. Our old patterns are difficult, but familiar, tried and true, comfortable and safe. There is nothing about transformation that is familiar.
So transformation must come from a place beyond ourselves. When we connect with Source, the consciousness that does the work comes from the Divine. Only Divine Source can offer a way out of a pattern that runs through your consciousness. This Divine Source comes in and actually wakes us up out of the story created by the pattern.
What is beyond the story? What do you transform into? Without those patterns you have the freedom to find out. The truth is, you “transform” into the truth of what you already are and what you have always been when you weren’t distracted by your patterns and issues.
Real freedom, authentic being, connectedness and presence are usually the hallmarks of a transformative experience. May the energy of the Spring bring true transformation into our lives.