I was talking to a neighbour a few days ago about the practice of yoga, and the goal of the practice being freedom from the activities of the mind and inner contentment.
This chap is very athletic and rides his bike seriously, I often see him cycling past my house on what will no doubt be a long circuit. He said half jokingly that he achieves this inner calm by riding his bike. I agreed with him. Yoga is not just about doing postures on a mat, and yogis are not only those people who sit in cross-legged positions chanting “Om”. We are all yogis – yes, its true! We all have a passion for something, and at times feel ourselves lost in an activity, or completely at ease with ourselves as a result of fully engaging ourselves in what we are doing.
Whether it is riding a bike, taking photos, swimming in the Mediterranean, walking in the mountains, gardening, enjoying nature, or doing a yoga posture that tests our concentration, all these things take us past the habitual patterns of the mind, the worries and concerns of everyday life that take us away from our true selves.
In the text I talked about last time, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, this is made very clear. Patanjali sets out the guiding principles of yoga as perseverance in our chosen activity, to continue doing it over a long period of time, with enthusiasm and faith, and detachment from the result.
This last point is important, and not easy! As my neighbour pointed out, vigorous exercise causes the release of hormones called endorphins. These are responsible for making us feel good after we have worked out, and they are also responsible for making us addicted to the activity. As we also start to see the physical and mental benefits of physical activity, for example our increasingly toned bodies, we start to want more of the same. And we continue our activity to get fitter, more attractive and so on. This path is fine, but leads us away from yoga. The more we are attached to something, the more we will suffer when it is taken from us. If we are so attached to our slim, toned bodies or abilities to perform some physical or mental action, we will no doubt grieve when it no longer exists.
But if we persevere in our activity, whatever that may be, with no attachment to the result, we derive the benefits and accept the changes that inevitably occur without grief. My neighbour was agreeably surprised by our conversation, and I was happy that it provoked the content of this article!