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In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is stated that "Yoga is the cessation of the oscillations of the mind." More than specific postures, breathing exercises or beliefs, the primary motive of yoga deals with something quite profound - what is the nature of our mind? While a supple and strong body is certainly desirable, it remains the side-effect of yoga practice - not the grail. Much of our suffering comes from the wandering mind. We suffer when we don't get the things we want and we suffer when we get the things we don't want. Of the various reasons we suffer in this life, they invariably come back to our mind and its wanderings. What is possible in this life? Are we utilizing our full potential?
Hatha yoga is among many techniques that explore these questions, and is primarily defined by its use of the body in the path to yoga, or union. This may sound rather banal, but is actually quite a revolutionary concept. Many paths of inquiry negate the body as at best, an empty shell, and at worse, the temptation to a path of misery. In the Hatha Yoga tradition, the study of self includes the study of the body.
As we begin to cultivate a relationship with our body; muscles, bones, nerves, organs and subtle energy, we also develop a greater understanding of the universal forces that surround us. If we're going to study the vastness of the universe, why not start at the nearest point?
The name "Hatha Yoga" speaks directly to the significance of this practice. Ha-tha translates to mean sun-moon. In this situation, sun-moon represents the opposing qualities present throughout the universe; hot-cold, light-heavy, grounded-expansive, etc. The word yoga represents union. If we read them together, hatha yoga represents the union of opposites. What does this mean?
Life is an ever whirling wheel of opposites. While we may be miserable today, our concept of misery is largely created from the prior experience of joy. When I'm feeling energetic, that largely is defined via the days when I may feel lethargy. Yoga doesn't mean I am always at the neutral point between opposites (boring!), but the recognition that within happiness is sadness, within success is failure, and so on. It is not enough to understand this intellectually, and that's largely the power of a practice like Hatha Yoga. By understanding the ephemeral nature of experience in both our minds and bodies, there's a much better chance we'll integrate the concepts into our being.
To study scripture and meditate is a powerful and time-honored path to understanding. There's a chance the understanding will seep into your being. Likewise, solely practicing yoga postures may calm a distractable mind. However, pursuing one avenue at the expense of another seriously dims your possibility for true integration. The classical practice of all eight limbs of Hatha Yoga, which includes postures, breathing exercises, meditative practices and ethical guidelines, gives us a remarkable technique in which to explore the layers of existence.
From the aspect of our physical body, Hatha Yoga means finding the middle ground between the opposing possibilities. If we're going to be strong, we had best be flexible. If we're strong and aware in our chest, we'd best be the same in our back. What is the relation between our inhale and exhale? Not only is this sensible from the aspect of physical therapy, but also from the standpoint of spirit. The postures literally become metaphors for making our way through life... if we can stay balanced even in the wake of destabilizing external events, we will likely find a life that's rewarding and full. We generally cannot change the external situations, but we can change our reactions to them!
To further develop the analogy between physical postures and the traditional aims of yoga, let's examine Adho Mukha Svanasana. The physicality of the position finds the back of the body lengthening - often at the expense of the front body contracting. For there to be Hatha Yoga in this posture, the front of the spine should be extending hand-in-hand with the back of the legs lengthening. The hands must be engaging with the floor to the same extent as the pelvis lifting skyward. Similarly, the breath should be in contact with the back ribs as well as the frontal rib cage, and the inhale balanced with exhale.
Perhaps most importantly, the active "doing" nature of the posture must contain equal measure of relaxing or "undoing" qualities. Not only does this ensure that physical development is healthy, but also moves our attention from the fleshy body toward the inner body. Our continued practice of yoga allows the postures to emerge from the central axis of our bodies, which opens the door to exploring the nature of the breath, the state of the nervous system and the movement of subtle energies in our bodies.
If we can pull that off, we've set the stage for the process of yoga to continue unfolding. Through the practice of the breathing exercises, or pranayama, we draw our attention even deeper toward our core being. Through the practice of meditation, we further silence the mind so that we can truly listen. From the state of authentic listening, we may enter the state of nonduality - where Heaven becomes Earth and Earth becomes Heaven.
That may take awhile... but there's no better time to embark than the present
Scott Anderson brings Master energy through when he teaches yoga. He combines
that energy with his extensive knowledge of anatomy and a sense of humor. As
a result his sessions are energizing rather than exhausting or depleting. He
is one of the best body readers I know. His attention to strengthening physical
bodies is for the physical bodies in front of him, not an ideal in his head.
The physical work is just one aspect of the yoga Scott practices. He treats the person
I've been attending yoga classes for 40 years and when I walked into your class last summer, I felt like I finally found my teacher. Thanks Scott. I'm actually learning how to breath, and how to let my breathing be the source of my music. It's a real pleasure to practice yoga with you.