One of the main reasons I initially got into yoga was that it just made me feel better. After a long day filled with stress, work, deadlines, bills, headaches, traffic, etc., I looked forward to coming to yoga class to forget about everything and to just relax. In other words, I basically used yoga as one might use therapy, alcohol, a recreational drug, or even TV: to escape.
Somehow, though, I don’t think this is the right way to approach yoga. And in the past few months or so, I’ve really tried to think of my yoga practice in a more wholistic way. As one of my teachers used to say, the real yoga starts not at the beginning of class, but at the end, when you walk out the door and into the world. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with feeling good and “blissed out” after yoga class; but when this becomes a kind of addiction — i.e. when the post-yoga bliss becomes a goal towards which we strive — we’ve fallen into a kind of attachment thinking. But is this really the “yogic way”? I suspect that it is not, and if we treat our yoga practice in this way, then our yoga practice becomes just another form of working out really. But I think for most of us who practice yoga regularly, we know intuitively that yoga is so much more than just a workout; it’s a way of life.
So lately, instead of treating my yoga practice as a kind of therapeutic cure-all that gives me a high for a few hours each day, I’ve been trying to think more about adopting a yogic attitude towards everything I do, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What exactly, then, does this yogic attitude consist of? Well, for starters, I try to adopt a principle of non-attachment in my daily life. Many difficult emotions, such as anger, depression, and anxiety, stem from various forms of attachment — e.g. attachment to goals, attachment to opinions, attachment to expectations, etc. When I use my yoga practice just to cheer myself up, however, I find that these emotions only temporarily subside, and that they still linger somewhere inside me, inevitably surfacing again before too long. More importantly, when I use my yoga practice as a quick fix for my emotional or psychological distress, I find that this does nothing to alter my capacity and propensity for experiencing such distress. One needs to go deeper if yoga is to be more than just a surface-level Band-Aid.
I used to approach my practice with the intention of getting, taking, or benefiting in some way from yoga. A better approach, probably, is to think about giving something up in one’s yoga practice, namely, the ego. And when I say this, I don’t mean “ego” in the sense of just pride or arrogance. I mean “ego” in a deeper sense, namely, that part of the psyche that attaches so strongly and persistently to the notion of “I”. A lot of our stress, depression, anxiety, etc. is often the direct result of “I” centered thinking; when we let go of such egoism, however, we will often find that we are much more able to deal calmly and collectedly with the inevitable bumps on the road.
Everyone has their own addictions. In my case, I fear that at some point I became addicted to yoga. Addiction is the ultimate form of attachment, and, to the extent that yoga is about breaking ourselves free from attachment, I have a difficult challenge ahead of me. So when I step on to the mat later today, I won’t try to do anything in particular (trying, after all, is a kind of striving, and striving is driven by an attachment to some goal or end); I’ll just breathe and be in the moment…the rest should take care of itself.