These days I measure my yoga progress not by how many outward postures I can do, but by the degree of familiarity with my inner being. What has kept me on the yoga path for over two decades was not the routine of exercise, but the seeking of life’s fulfillment. What I have discovered is that tapping into my inner essence leads me to greater fulfillment.
With the Western (particularly in the United States) approach of seeking fulfillment through outward materiality, the practice of yoga has taught me that knowing my inner essence is most fulfilling. Yet, living in the material world is can be very alluring and overpowering. Plus, the cultural push to emphasize our materiality through the acquisition of money and possessions does not leave much room to acknowledge, nor explore this inner dimension of ourselves. To even mention this desire in some circles is dismissed as “woowoo.”
Even though yoga is about the quieting of the mind to know our inner landscape, early in my yoga teaching I packed my classes with movement through one posture into the other in order for students to feel that they “accomplished” something. I myself had been raised to collect accomplishments, as they were a sign of my worth in society. In my forties I hit the proverbial midlife crisis and in the face of my accomplishments was left asking the question, “What is my life all about?” It was at that time I found yoga (or it found me).
It seems these days the more popular yoga classes teach only the physical aspect of yoga practice rather than the mental aspect of yoga practice. Most yoga students seek their fulfillment by the outer appearance of “being in shape” and not the inner experience of having a sustained peace of mind. My weekly yoga movement class has gradually changed over the years to be in service of centering the mind. The movements are fewer and more mindful. I also offer another weekly yoga class with the specific purpose to quiet the mind through seated or lying down practices of pranayama (expansion of life force through he breath), yoga nidra, and meditation to reveal our inner essence. This exploration of our inner being is rich and nourishing beyond what the outer material world can offer.
When I die, I (as well as everybody else) will leave materiality behind. The inner essence will be all that I have to carry me into the ever after. For me, to practice yoga is to ready myself for this letting go of the physical world which includes the body. No matter how many postures I do, this body will eventually decay. My peace will be in the cultivation of mind that is not attached to the trappings of the physical world. Instead of a struggle to let go, I hope to have a curiosity as to whether what I have experienced in meditation is the potential for my mind to merge into the eternal consciousness.