We are told time and again that practicing yoga is not confined to practicing asanas on a mat or in a class with a teacher. but what does it mean to practice yoga in society? It begins to sound a little religious, the idea that you see things through the perspective of yoga and for some people this is going to feel conflicted: after all, if you follow a religious or spiritual path, you will already have been given some principles to guide you in your dealings in society and adding another layer to these is either going to cause confusion, or else is just going to add to the burden of existing layers of duty, obligation or even guilt. That’s not helpful so let’s let all that go. All yogis are trying to do when they say, take yoga off the mat, is keep your sense of compassionate self-awareness, that sense of coming into a broader perspective, and the mental steadiness it gives you, keep in that balanced sense, if you can, while you talk and listen and act and make decisions.
Obviously, that’s not easy. Maybe your own religion has already told you to listen for the voice of god. Is keeping mental steadiness the same? Not quite. This doesn’t mean that yoga contradicts your existing beliefs. It’s just that in yoga, listening for an inner voice can so easily become confused with voices from the past, voices of authority and judgment, critical voices that have imposed their will while we were vulnerable and now mask our own sense of self respect.
Each self judgment creates more suffering, more anxiety and anguish and that, in turn, dictates our next set of interactions. Somehow, we have to find a way to move beyond this heartbreaking rigidity of focus, to keep opening into a state of mind that releases us from prejudgments so that we take into account just the conditions that are present, right at this moment. Since these conditions are shifting and dynamic, we need to be flexible enough and quiet enough to be able to perceive what is moving quickly, what requires immediate reaction, and what is moving more slowly, remaining as the background condition.
This perception of life, of what is going on around us and within us, is, in yoga, the only freedom we have. We may think we choose what clothes to wear and what to eat but if we are unable to step back and reflect on the conditions that have brought us to this moment, to these choices, then these are not choices in any meaningful sense. Reflecting, seeing ourselves in context, opens up the possibility that we react differently, that we include compassion for ourselves and for everyone else caught in the web of existence, and that really might mean that we are choosing. In a sense, then, yoga is about creating space, but since nothing can be created or destroyed, it’s really just about realising the space we are in, the state we are in, already. The realisation acts like a switch, opening the options beyond those that have made deep grooves in our nervous system, into the possibilities for healing, and acceptance and even the motivation to work to reduce suffering everywhere, to allow life to flow through and around us. But hey, don’t listen to me. I’m as enmeshed as the next person. Find out for yourself!