There’s a lot of awesome stuff going on OUT THERE in the world. But sometimes we are so focused on the outside world that we may forget to pay attention to what’s going on inside of us. Yoga is one way to do this.
“Yoga is actually a deconstructive method.”, my teacher Ariane is telling me. We are sitting in the garden of our studio, a mug of hot tea in our hands, to talk about the philosophy behind this ancient method.
Lesson 1: Yoga is deconstruction. But what exactly does this mean?
Mindfulness over matter
Yoga should be practiced according to the scriptural rules. “The Sun Salutations done without following the rules are little more than exercise, and not true Surya Namaskara (“Sun Salutations” in Sanskrit).”, writes Pattabhi Jois, the man who brought Yoga to the West just a few decades ago. When I first read those lines I didn’t know what he meant by that. But slowly I began to realize that there’s a crucial difference between doing Yoga and doing Yoga in a mindful way.
Done in a mindful manner, Yoga feels like a deep state of calmness, almost like actual mediation, that you dwell on while breathing in and out and moving slowly from one pose to another. And when you’ve reached the point where you can change from position to position without having to think about it, you begin to feel the movements rather than concentrate on doing them right. And you begin to wonder what the movements (called asanas) are trying to teach you.
“I can change my thinking through changing my behavior. The way I move changes the way I breathe, and this again changes the way I think.”, Ariane explains. Lesson 2: Mindfulness is the key.
First: Do no harm.
Yoga is, for sure, a spiritual way. It almost sounds religious to our Western ears. Especially when Ariane says things like “Atman is Brahman”: The self is oneness. Which basically refers to the interconnectedness of all things.
“There is no monotheistic God in Yoga.”, Ariane assures me. “As I said before, Yoga is deconstructive. Deconstruction means to dissolve everything. So there can’t be a God, God would have to be dissolved too.” But interestingly enough, God as a concept does exist in Yoga philosophy. “On the Yoga path you can use God as a method to overcome the obstacles on your path. Another way to overcome obstacles is to chant mantras.”
The most important principle of Yoga is ahimsa – non-harming. “We should see the value of things and leave them be.”, Ariane says. “What Yoga really is, is another point of view.” Lesson 3: Do no harm.
Let it go
There are lots of mental distractions (called “kleshas”) in our daily lives, that distort our mind and cloud our view. They affect how we think, feel and act. Towards others and towards ourselves. “When you take a look at the kleshas, you see how relevant Yoga really is for our time.“
Ignorance (avidya) is not knowing the way things really are. Egoism (asmita) is the conviction that it’s (or at least that it should be) all about us (and us alone). Attachment (raga) means attachment to the things we want. Aversion (dvesha) is the unwillingness we feel when things are not going our way. And finally, fear of death (abhinivesa) reveals itself through various fears.
When we manage to overcome the kleshas and practice the asanas, we may be able to go further on the Yoga path. The asanas actually all lead up to the one most important position: sitting. “Sthira Sukham Asanam”: The seated posture should be steady and comfortable. “Only then you can really concentrate on yourself.”, Ariane says.
This is what Yoga is actually about: To become centered within ourselves, to withdraw from all that is going on out there in the world, to find out what’s really going on inside – and (Lesson 4:) let it go.