“Yoga means union – union of mind and body, the self and the Self, personal and universal consciousness, the individual soul with God.” These were the opening words to an essay I wrote for evaluation by my teachers a few years ago.
One teacher marked my essay as passing while the other marked it as failing saying that yoga does not mean union of mind and body because they are already unified.
To this day, I refuse to accept her criticism. When I first started practicing yoga asana, I was a walking dichotomy – a head hovering on top of a body – one having nothing to do with the other. I am a smart person; in fact, I was a straight A student, having spent a lot of time honing my intellectual capacities. But I was not an athlete. I was never a gymnast or a dancer and I had no idea what my body could do. So for me, this was a very real separation.
The beginning of my yoga practice was torturous on many levels. Physically, I was tight as a well-tuned guitar string. I could hardly bend backward, let alone forward. Balancing on one foot was a major challenge. Mentally, I was trying to think my way through the practice. If I just studied the alignment instructions enough, I would….I should, be able to do the poses. If I just turned off my thoughts, I would be stress free. But it just did not happen that way.
It took a few years of crying in pigeon pose, walking out of the room during wheel, and hovering above my thighs in forward bends, to finally let go. Physically, I allowed myself to feel the pain of opening. It was a herculean effort for me to let go mentally, to stop thinking my way into the poses and start feeling my way into them. My assertion that one definition of yoga is the union of the mind and body was – and still is -very real for me.
I just starting reading the book, The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe. Within the first few pages, the author, Lynne McTaggart, explains why my yoga experience reflects my life experience. I was taught “the current biological model [that was] based on a classical Newtonian view of matter and energy, of solid, separate bodies moving predictably in empty space and a Cartesian view of the body as separate from the soul, or mind.”
I have re-read this sentence many times since and I feel a sense of relief. As I said, I was an A student. I learned this concept well and I lived it too.
Yoga, the word itself, means union or join, the origin of which has to do with the yoking of the oxen that pulled the chariots of the ancients in India. The philosophical system that came to be known as Yoga is a system that grew out of the Vedas and Upanishads into one of six orthodox systems or viewpoints. This system was codified by the sage Patanjali and teaches that yoga is when we abide in our true nature, the present moment, the now.
I came to the yoga practice with an idea of who I was and how the world worked. Through years of asana practice, meditation, and study of the Yoga Sutras, I have come to a new experience of myself. Where before there was a disconnect, now there is union. Where before there was an intellectual understanding, now there is an intuitive understanding. Where before I didn’t even know what the now was, I practice being present.
So, when I wrote that opening sentence, I was writing from my heart. I believe it to be true as it was, and still is, my own personal experience on this path. And that is all we really have, our own experience. What is your experience of yoga?
Lisa Dawn Angerame, for more of her work, click here.