Yoga - The Sacred Mundane
by Shameem Akthar
By watching your mind while you do your asanas, you convert it into a spiritual practice
Yoga believes if there is a conflict between what we intrinsically believe (dharma) and what we do (karma), there is adharma. In this case, our victory remains Pyrrhic. This conflict erupts in our deeper selves to manifest itself as illness.
SQ or spiritual quotient is the latest buzzword. It is no fad either since it is true that by spiritualizing our lives through our physical habits and daily, mundane functions, we can transform our lives and health.
What are the tangible benefits of SQ? One of them is inner courage. American conflict management trainer Linda Lantieri says that projecting a courageous stance indicates great strength non-verbally. Such a stance can resolve even physically threatening situations peacefully. Lantieri herself survived a mugging when her attackers actually walked away from her! But to revert to practicality – how does doing a set of yogic practices inculcate this aspect into our lives? And how can we use daily practice of yoga to spiritualize our bodies?
Spiritualizing your body starts off with the simple rule: a practice of daily discipline with yoga. We expect great drama out of our spiritual lives: colors, resounding and reverberating bliss; in effect, a drama of thunder and lightning. Actually, spirituality consists in seeing the divine in the mundane. So, don’t expect to wake up every morning and jump up joyfully to do yoga. There will be days when it seems impossible to do this – either due to workload, tiredness from work overnight, or even from the mere repetitiveness of the practice. But if you can smile through this resistance, you would have divinized the start-up to your day. This seeking-the-divine-in-the-mundane is something you learn when you do intense sadhana – whether it is vipassana where you are meditating the entire day on just the movement of your breath at your nostrils, or when you practice intense pranayama on very basic breath practices for nine hours a day, or move through Gurdjieff’s sacred dances of non-stop repetitive actions. You stop the waywardness of the mind, which constantly seeks entertainment. This awareness of the mind is the foundation stone of a spiritual life.
That is why the next most important step towards spiritualizing your body lies in watching your mind as you practice yoga: this is the most important aspect of yogic practice. Sri Ramana Maharishi, in fact, says this awareness is the first short-cut towards understanding Brahman, because self-realization is actually a state of unbroken awareness.
Actually, most people believe they do yoga with awareness when they are silent and meditative. In fact, the mind continues its churning even then, though in a sly, covert fashion. To browbeat this slyness of our minds, yoga has incorporated breath awareness or mental japa chanting.
Before we move into conscious awareness, an ideal preparatory stage would be to do yogic practices with a keen awareness of the specified inhalations and exhalations in each pose, and when this has been mastered, to introduce mental japa/beej mantra chanting in each pose. Prayers from different religions may be used too. This practice brings us closest to our mind, which must ultimately be destroyed, in higher yoga, to reach the divine. But watching the mind, advises Sri Ramana Maharishi, is the most important way to destroy it. He says we are like a blind man who must use a wall (the mind-ego) to reach the destination. Once the destination is reached we do not need to cling to the wall, but till then we need to keep very close to it. Doing yoga with awareness is thus the best way to spiritualize our lives.
Focus on breath practice during yoga. Most people are confused by the seemingly convoluted rules about inhalation and exhalation. It is really very simple: Inhale whenever your head is raised in a pose. Always exhale when you bend or are looking down. Similarly, exhale always while twisting and inhale while returning to the base position. This is all that you need to remember while practicing yoga. Use this simple practice and awareness to spiritualize your body and life.