Monthly Message

Yoga: The Point of it.
Brian Afton
YogaBetsy Discourse Number 22

Even though our schools and popular culture say that people are the same everywhere the beginning student of yoga would do well to recognize the fact that we most definitely are not all the same!

People have very different kinds of bodies, very different mentalities and one size most definitely does not fit all! You are one of a kind. There has never been anyone quite like you before and there will never be anyone quite like you again. So, you would do well to recognize that fact before hopping on anybody elses bandwagon going to someplace you do not belong.

One might logically begin a study of yoga in many ways, but I always begin with the cats, men and elephants rule. It goes a long ways toward tempering peoples expectations and heading them in a productive direction.

The Cats Men and Elephants Rule:

A perfectly ordinary house cat can easily make an explosive jump from the kitchen floor to the top of a refrigerator and you can't. Most people can only jump straight up in the air for a distance of a few inches. An elephant which can easily throw a refrigerator clear across the room, cannot jump at all. Elephants cannot get all four feet off the ground at the same time. On the other hand most first year high school boys can easily make a running broad jump of ten or twelve feet. The elephant cannot do this. Thus, in a forest fire a high school boy might easily jump a ten foot crevasse or ditch to escape, but the elephant could not.

The cat, the man and the elephant each has a different kind of body and these bodies each have advantages and disadvantages. It is very important for us to understand that such things as size, speed and strength do not scale up. The cat, depending upon what you are calling its height, can easily jump eight or ten times its height. For a person to do the same thing, they would have to be able to jump 50 or 60 feet straight up in the air and, obviously, no one can do that. Curiously, a five or six foot tall cat could not do it either.

Bear in mind here that we are not talking about taking a running jump and then leaping into the air in such a way as to trade speed and momentum for altitude. One man in several hundred can jump on top of a refrigerator by taking a running jump at it and so can lions and tigers but none of them can do so from a standing start. Only the house cat can do that! The ability of the small cat simply doesn't scale up for a larger animal, not even one which superficially resembles it. Nor, will a large, big boned person exhibit the same agility as a smaller one. The very qualities which give the elephant its great strength preclude it from doing certain other things which the man and the house cat can do easily and vice-versa. This leads us to the Dale Carnegie rule.

The Dale Carnegie Rule:

If you learn nothing in the next 35 years, remember the Dale Carnegie Rule! There is not a person alive who is not your superior in some regard. Do not ever forget this and stop worrying about being a perfect athlete who can do all things. It isn't going to happen for exactly the same reason that your cat can jump up on top of a refrigerator and you cannot.

Yoga Stars:

At every turn you will be confronted with pictures and posters of Yoga Gods and Goddess doing all sorts of extremely impressive contortions most people cannot do and probably shouldn't be trying to do. It would be well to understand at this point that these are genetically endowed individuals who have generally been training to do this since they were very young. Consequently they are not good models for you to set your aspirations upon.

For most people, the ability to do certain yoga postures will preclude them from being able to do others. That revelation might, initially, seem discouraging, however, it need not be if we stick around to learn all of the facts and advantages of doing real yoga instead of trying to look like someone else.

But, before we can do real yoga we need to understand some things. To begin with, we have different kinds of bodies, each of which has advantages and disadvantages and which behave differently. A large boned muscular man is simply not going to be able to do some of the things which a smaller woman can do easily. A man will be inherently less flexible than a woman, even if he is the same size as the woman and any large boned individual is going to be less flexible than a smaller boned person. No amount of training will carry the large boned person past the position where the posture has resulted in bone being compressed against bone. Muscles can be stretched but bone does not compress and no amount of training will change that.

There are things each of us can do and things we cannot do. This fact may come as a great disappointment to those who have bought into the idea that with a sufficient amount of misery and suffering anyone can look like Tarzan or Madonna.

Actually, most of you cannot look and preform like Tarzan or Madonna and this would be a tragedy if that were the point of yoga. However, it is not the point of yoga. The point of yoga is far richer and far more important than your being like someone else. It is about developing internal resources and a real “you” which will prove to be far more important and useful than the Hollywood Yoga God image could ever be.

The Postures:

The Postures get all the press, but as it turns out, they are the least important part of yoga. They are not unimportant by any means but they are not an end in themselves. There is a reason for doing them which gets lost in the media. Additionally, the media is generally most impressed by the least important postures: In truth, the more trivial and easy a posture appears to be to a beginner, the more important it actually is.

Integrative Hatha Yoga:

A real yoga practice will be rooted in an authentic tradition including three elements: Body, Mind and Spirit or Energy. This is generally referred to as Integrative Hatha Yoga.

The asanas, or yoga postures, are very important but not for the reason most people think they are, nor are they an end in themselves. In the yoga posture, the body is stressed and we learn how to process that stress. To do this we must learn to be in touch with ourselves and eventually we will be able to control not only our bodies, but our minds.

Natures Most Perverse Law:

Probably the most unexpected and unintuitive law of nature is that we will be unable to relax unless we are strong enough to do it. Without the requisite strength we can't relax because our bodies will not leave us alone and we certainly will not be able to meditate or even concentrate very well.

Consequently, strength is a very important factor in yoga, but not the kind of strength most people think of. In yoga we are interested in something called useful strength. This is the kind of strength which goes all the way through and will keep us healthy for our entire lives, not the useless kind of muscle bound strength illustrated on the covers of muscle building magazines.

A Yogi wants to be strong so that they will not be sick all the time and so that they can meditate.

The Truth About Meditation:

In the minds of the general public, meditation is a tool for relaxation and/or for tuning out the world and maybe even dropping out of life. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

For any of this to make sense you must remember where you started this life. We each come into this world completely helpless with a body so weak we cannot even hold our own heads up and a brain which is so complicated that it will not finish growing for another 25 years. With these meager resources, we are expected to face a world we know nothing about, or even having the slightest idea of what we are doing here in the first place.

Nor did you did not get from there to where you are today in one step. Many things happened to you when you had that little body which couldn't do very much and as your confused little mind developed and grappled with the things going on around it, it was changed by them in many ways you probably do not understand.

Furthermore, that life was complicated by the fact that neither this world or we, ourselves, are quite what they appear to be. Most of the physical world is too big or too small to see; much is happening too quickly or too slowly to see and a good deal of the rest simply exists in a domain we have no sensors to detect. This includes not only such things as x-rays but such other things such as dark-matter and dark energy which are now known by scientists to make up the bulk of the universe.

Consciousness is even more complex, and it is the major focus of yoga; the postures are merely a tool used to get in touch with our bodies and minds.

As it turns out we have two minds, an objective conscious mind and another mind called a subconscious mind which we are not normally aware of. One of these minds, the subconscious mind, is a hell of a lot stronger than the other one and over 99% of the time we do not have the slightest idea of what it is doing. This is a matter of some importance.

We typically use our objective consciousness or what most people think of as being free will to accomplish certain things. What is not recognized, however, is the fact that while we may consciously decide to do something, it is nevertheless always the subconscious mind that actually does it. We may decide to pick up a pencil but the actual doing of this involves hundreds of internal activities inside our bodies that we are completely unaware of.

What is even less obvious, and far more important, is this: Your subconscious mind is not only executing your thoughts, it is building them into your body! An example of this is to be found in the case of a boy learning to ride a bicycle. At one point in time we have a boy who cannot ride a bicycle. At a second point in time we have the same boy who has learned to ride a bicycle. Only, the thing is, they are not the same boy at all. The boy who can ride the bicycle is no stronger than the one who could not but his body is forever different. His thoughts and what he has learned were hardwired into his body. It will never be the same again. In 40 years he will still be able to ride a bicycle, even if he never does it again.

The power of this process must not be underestimated because it goes far beyond riding bicycles. Your subconscious mind is built to take instructions and it inexorably builds them into you. We are profoundly affected by our own thoughts and actions; our bodies and our minds, themselves, are changed by them.

Each thing we think or do creates a subtle impression in the mind. With time, these impressions become habits and with more time these habits can become more powerful than our free will. This is so because the habits are executed continuously and automatically. They are done before we have even thought about doing them. In fact, it is these impressions and habits, which are called samskaras and vasanas in yoga, that are actually controlling most people's lives most of the time.

This goes well beyond changing your body. It changes the way your mind works too. Most people are, in effect, unconscious a good part of the time. Not only do we mistake our distorted perceptions for reality, but the very way in which we think becomes distorted by the samskaras and vasanas that have found their way into our subconscious.

The extent to which this is so can be demonstrated by examining the behavior of the people from a different culture or period in history. For example, consider the behavior of the people living in the south prior to and during the American Civil War. This was a society which accepted and promoted slavery. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of southern men who owned no slaves themselves died trying to perpetuate that culture and way of life.

The question may be asked as to how anyone could possibly believe that slavery was OK? How could anyone think it was alright to steal the fruits of another persons work and keep it for themselves, to steal their lives, to sell their children, how could anyone believe that was alright, or necessary?

It is easy to assume that such people are simply evil. However, the truth is not quite so simple as that. A certain number of them undoubtedly were evil. However, such people are, more often than not just shut off from their real selves and there exists the very real possibility that you, placed in their situation might have done exactly the same things.

It is very easy to detect another persons failings and false beliefs. Our own are much harder to uncover because our own thought processes hide them from us. This truth is that a person who has been indoctrinated will find it very easy to believe and do whatever is necessary for them to get along. Moreover, far more people than not have had many false and destructive beliefs instilled in them, one way or another.

Few people have even the slightest idea of who and what they are and what life is really about. Moreover, they are not going to find out until they gain control of their own bodies and minds.

The whole point of yoga is to get in touch with the glowing inner light of the true self. Later, having found that, it will be possible to see the greater light. The tool we use to do this with is called meditation.

© Copyright 2014 Brian Afton 109 South 6th St Olean, NY 14760