How can we teach our yoga students about self-mastery? Ultimately, our students need to find the teacher within. The heart of yoga is spiritual. Before being introduced to the West during the past few centuries, yoga was virtually unknown outside of its culture of origin. The term “yoga” arose in India and often referred to Patanjali’s school of philosophy. When used in this sense, it is sometimes called Raja yoga to distinguish it from the schools that arose later. There are writings that make the distinction between Jnana and Karma yoga to denote a style based on knowledge and a style based on action, respectively. The yogic influence didn’t stop in India, however; it also is woven through many cultures in every part of the world. For centuries, yoga was inseparable from the other practices of Eastern mysticism.
True to its meaning, yoga seeks to unite. It unites the body, mind and spirit through its physical and contemplative practice. The body – its form, its energy systems, and its flesh – is used as a vehicle for enlightenment. Properly aligned, the body serves as channel to balance a well-trained mind, engaging the entirety of a person in seeking divinity.
Unity is itself a journey toward enlightenment. The process of such a spiritual journey seeks to break down the barriers between self and whole and between form and emptiness. Each breath is an expansion and a step closer to raw perception. Every concentrated pose as the practitioner relaxes into her form is another lesson on the inner workings of the mind. It reveals the mechanisms of feeling, thought, emotion, creativity and perception. It is a lesson repeated through a lifetime with the goal of its true internalization and the use of this knowledge for self-betterment and the elimination of suffering.
Through yoga, practitioners come to deeply and experientially understand themselves. Like mindfulness meditation, it provides a profound glimpse into the process by which the mind forms its thoughts and self-conception. A practitioner can use this information to find peace in their everyday life through understanding the fleeting nature of reality. Understanding one’s mind gives one unimaginable control and mastery over its processes. The possibilities of a truly mastered mind are endless. Yoga also provides the element of the physical. A deep and intimate knowledge of one’s body is gained through the practice of yoga. To truly feel and embody our whole selves is a rare feat in the modern world, but it is exactly what we teach our yoga students.