In the West, yoga is predominantly practiced for the external benefits of toned muscles, flexibility, and looking great. Traditional yoga is really made up of 10 percent asana and pranayama (yoga postures and breath work), and 90 percent meditation (self-reflection and spiritual activities). We find that 90 percent is usually left out and we just practice the exercise of Eastern calisthenics that we dub “yoga.” The word yoga means to yoke, or unite, with God and all the physicality was created to be a helpmate to that goal. You would do the yoga “workout” to open the body and clear the mind so you can sit in meditation for long periods of time without dwelling on a stiff back, tight shoulders or congestion in your thought patterns.
This would make you free and clear to focus your attention on the deeper things in life and truly help you connect with a higher source. The spiritual transformation from what was going on in the inside of your heart would manifest to the way you lived your life on the outside. This would translate to the way you would react and interact with other living creatures. Traditionally yoga all starts from the inside. A seeker would feel the need to ask the ontological questions of who we are, what our purpose is, and why we exist. This would lead the seeker to find a teacher to guide them into yoga postures and breath work, which would lead them to sit and practice dhyana or meditation.
The perfect example of yoga starting from the inside out is the Buddha. The Buddha’s father was a great king and when his queen became pregnant with the Buddha all the prophets and holy men prophesied that his son would not be the next king. They knew he would give up the throne and enter the forest to become the enlightened one. The king naturally thought this to be dissatisfying news so he asked why his son would do such a thing. The holy men told the king that his son would see suffering in this world and it would lead him to question his existence, his purpose and his reality. So the king decided that he was not going to let his son ever see suffering.
While his wife was pregnant the king built a huge wall around his kingdom. He got rid of all the sick people, all the old people and anything he thought was negative that might give his son and inkling of suffering. So when the Buddha was born he lived in this kind of fairytale land where everything appeared to be perfect. Until one day, when the Buddha was a small boy, he was chasing after a butterfly in a pleasure garden and a frog jumped out of the creek and ate the butterfly. This stopped the Buddha in his tracks and shocked him. Then a snake came out of the grass and ate the frog, followed by a bird diving from the sky and taking the snake. The young Buddha sat in the pleasure garden dumbfounded and started to think, how can one creature take the life of another creature? How can there be pain and suffering in this pleasure garden? What’s outside of these walls? What is this world? Who am I?
The Buddha’s journey is the classic example of what yoga really is all about and how it should be started and approached. In yoga it is said that it is imperative for the progression of the soul to meditate and reconnect, as it will heal the yogi on the deepest level. So, our practice is not just based solely on the externals of the physical body but something more visceral and fulfilling. Yoga is about the spiritual evolution of every individual, and practicing from the inside out, the Buddha’s way.
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