February 27-March 18, 2021
Anyone reading this has, I assume, at least a cursory interest in Yoga. Yoga, especially in our western, consumer culture can mean anything from Yogic disciplines toward Self-Realization all the way to what Dr. Shyam Ranganathan refers to as “Fashion Yoga” (yoga because of the clothes you get to buy and wear). Some will disagree, but I figure everyone on that spectrum is practicing in the direction of Yoga, meaning in the direction of stilling the mind and realizing one’s True Nature. But to “really” do Yoga as a Path, not just as a hobby or as a nice form of exercise, are there “requirements,” what might be termed “prerequisites?” I think yes, in general, but ultimately, no.
One of the questions I ask my yoga teacher trainees on their final exam is, “Would you recommend the Path of Yoga?” They generally say, “Yes,” which is probably a good answer, given the context, at the end of the training and on a “final exam.” Some will qualify it in some way, and those are the ones that resonate more with me. Would I recommend the Path of Yoga? To some people, yes; to the general population, generally no.
For those who are drawn to Yoga as a Path, not just as a “system” of exercise or just for the clothes, it’s a GREAT Path in my experience… and hopefully that’s obvious to anyone who even sort of knows me. It has brought positive transformations in my life that are continuously welcome and beautifully uplifting as well as challenging; it has helped me to navigate mentally and emotionally painful experiences with relative grace and faith and positivity; and it continues to inspire and inform my Life and direction. I’m sure there is so much more than that, even more than I realize, and I have no doubt that some of you will second all of that.
Even so, no one Path is for everyone on a Path. However, there are aspects of the Path of Yoga that feel meaningful and worthy of “selling” to others who may be “shopping” for a Path. These are 1. Yoga is presented as a Science, 2. it requires only the faith that things are not as they seem, and that maybe there’s something going on that’s important and that I haven’t been clued into yet, 3. and that there are practices that can lead even ME to an experience that is described by the Saints and seekers of past and present in very appealing ways, like “Pure Being, Pure Awareness, and Absolute Bliss.” Seriously, who wouldn’t want “Absolute Bliss?!”
Yoga is called a science because it came about simply by people observing natural phenomenon, same as all science, in this case, people deeply observing Nature and themselves and their own experience. Yoga as a science also means that if you follow certain steps, you WILL, eventually, realize the result that it says you will reach. This process IS repeatable and has been repeated by many over thousands of years. It is repeatable because of the commonality of human minds and energy flow as well as the universality of Nature.
As a science, Yoga does require a fairly small amount of faith to get on the Path. Fortunately, though, Yoga does not rely on belief as much as it relies on practice and experience. Take other people’s word and guidance ONLY if it appeals to you and inspires you to TRY it out, and then decide for yourself from the results YOU get. You are under no obligation to agree with your teacher’s experience or conclusions.
In regard to the second “prerequisite,” I assume, and sincerely HOPE, that many people have experienced at some point in their life that “things are not as they seem.” Did you ever get that feeling/awareness/insight? This simple awareness was what I consider as my first real “spiritual insight,” and I don’t see how any (bigger/deeper) Path could even begin without it. It’s a very easy experience to access, I assume, for anyone paying even a small amount of attention even a small amount of the time and having just the tiniest bit of ability to learn something new. After that, I need ONLY, and simply, a small amount of faith in MY OWN experience that things are not what they seem, and then to act on it. (Note: Question everything, even our own experience, yes, but ultimately, if we don’t have faith in our own experience as we begin on the Path, we’re pretty much done for. More on that paradox in a later writing.)
Sadly, from my mainstream, well-educated, liberal, upper-middle class, Christian upbringing, I know that whatever the number of people who experience that moment of “Wait a second! What’s REALLY going on here in life?,” a hell of a lot of them (yes, that term was chosen on purpose) ignore it, or sweep it under the rug, or work diligently to keep it at bay, for whatever reason, usually because they have something they don’t want to lose. Those people, I assume, are simply not strong enough to face the implications of their own insight. It seems that many, if not most, people come to the conclusion that “remaining in the closet” is better, especially when threatened with the idea of eternal damnation, for one, but it can even be just fear of losing temporary comfort! …or known community, respect, money, …the list is endless. There are so many things that turn out to be a higher priority than Truth or integrity or Love or compassion or….
Most upbringings/people/cults/societies/belief systems (including political ones, obviously!—“Red” and “blue,” in case you thought it was only one side.) don’t welcome questions or viewpoints that may be even remotely critical of them. This is a HUGE part of why I say, “No, I would not recommend the Path of Yoga to most people;” most still need to get mentally stronger and to suffer more. It takes a relatively high level of mental strength to handle the inner transformation and disruption of the status quo that Yoga brings about, and most people content themselves with a little pleasure, temporary consolation, and blaming others for their own problems. For many, the urge to commit to Truth or Love will not necessarily arise in this lifetime.
Similar to feeling that “things are not as they seem,” to get on any deliberate spiritual Path including Yoga, to be able to face and act on the implications of that initial realization, one also needs to have this inner feeling or inner urging that there must be something more to life than the world has presented to me so far, whether that presentation has been in the form of mainstream consumerism and economics, mainstream politics, mainstream education, mainstream (and even some of the fringes of) religion. “This can’t be all there is,” the seeker will wonder. What do you think? If you’ve read this far, is what the world offers satisfying to the fullest extent and permanently enough for you? Has it made you content? If so, no need to read more, or even this far. Or if you are just too anxious, stressed or scared to even consider answering those questions, maybe that’s your answer, which sounds to me like a “no!”
As alluded to above, part of the small bit of faith needed to get on the Path is faith that others like me have felt this same inner anxiety and dissatisfaction with the Apparent and have endeavored to look deeply into Life and themselves and that they ultimately found something worth seeking: Deep Peace and Universal Love and Oneness, the end of all seeking. We need to have faith that there is a “state” or “experience” that will satisfy and calm the inner urging/seeking/agitation/discontent and that there are practices that I can engage in that many others have used to reach that experience. (But beware of cults, saying their way is the ONLY way, especially if they make cultish demands of you!)
To accept the Path of Yoga, we need these little bits of faith, yes, but ultimately and most importantly we must feel a pull from inside that there is something that I CAN actually come to know or experience or “find” that WILL—PERMANENTLY…forever and ever— satisfy, and that I am a factor in the finding of “that.” This means that if I’m going to experience that Deep Peace and Love, I have to DO something—this process demands something of me.
One who has this inner pull, when it’s strong enough, will feel that the pursuit of that “missing thing” is actually important enough to dedicate some energy and focused attention to it on a regular basis. Here again, we find that we need to have some faith in ourself, in our capacity and our capability, or at least in the Love and Goodness of the Infinite. This Self-faith, or faith in the Divine, is one place that trips probably the most people up; they simply don’t believe they can do it, or that they are “worth” it or “deserve” it. (None of those thoughts are actually true; they’re just part of the lie of the ego to “save” itself and build itself up.)
For those that I would recommend Yoga as a Path, all these inner “conditions” probably have already naturally arisen “on their own;” for the rest, I’d say, “Not yet.” The Path will and should feel as natural as putting on a pair of your own comfortable, old shoes, or at least comfortable new shoes, but should definitely NOT be like Steve Martin’s “Cruel Shoes.” So, “yes,” there are “prerequisites” that will have it feel right at some time, BUT ultimately, in the Big Picture, everyone is moving in the direction of Inner Peace and knowledge of their True Self anyway, so anyone could get on the Path at any time, “prerequisites” or not.
Many of you who have read this far have already begun a “real” (daily) Yoga practice (or some kind), but maybe you read this far for some degree of inspiration. Then where to begin, since you already have the “why?” As I’ve written before, JUST START is probably the best thing, but pick something that you can AND WANT to commit to doing EVERY DAY, for yourself. Pick an amount of time (five minutes, fifteen minutes, an hour, whatever…) and clarify WHAT you will practice (six sun salutations, five poses, thirty minutes asana and fifteen minutes meditation, twenty minutes of mantra repetition, whatever…), and then, JUST DO IT! Seriously, it’s as simple as that? Yes…and no, of course, but really, do it. Don’t wait for inspiration! Just do it! And then the next day do it again.
And the next…and when it eventually seems right, modify the amount and what you do so your practice can evolve to suit your Heart’s deepest calling.
Start! And once you’ve started, KEEP GOING! Ask questions or share insights with me if you have them. You are in my prayers.