On the long and winding road of self-awakening, the realization of how remarkably far you have come is an epiphany moment that fills your heart with hope. It is often immediately followed by the depressing realization of how heartbreakingly far there is yet to go. This is not the moment to quit, but to take stock of the amazing power of the present moment. There is so much power in the experience of the present moment that whole spiritual disciplines have been created solely to bring us into the "now." But what defines the "present moment" and how do we get there?
Practicing yoga is a tool that sharpens the mind so that you can see reality clearly. It is not just a stretching routine that helps you get limber. In essence the yoga practice seeks to answer the question of what defines the present moment and help root your consciousness directly in it. This is not an easy state to be in. It is something that you could spend your whole life practicing and still only glimpse a few precious times. Although I have been practicing yoga for nearly 14 years I am not a naturally present person. It's easy for me to set goals, orient towards the future and think about manifesting a dream. When my shadows surface it's easy for me to get stuck in a quagmire of the past, squander away the present and feel sorry for myself. Through the science of yoga I have learned how to turn fear into compassion, tame the endless string of new desires, find strength through sadness and more importantly embrace the present moment.
I spent about 10 years in a mad rush to go as far as I could in as short a time as possible in my life and my yoga practice. It got me "far" in terms of worldly success but there was certainly a price to pay in the quality of my friendships and my life. As modern citizens of a sound byte world we are trained to exist in one mad, multi-tasking rush. This constant need to get somewhere special and do something unique orients our whole framework into future thinking. While setting goals is useful (something I still do regularly), if taken to an extreme can cause unnecessary stress and expectation while depriving us of the beauty of the "now."
Daily yoga practice demands that you remain awake and alert while feeling your body. Presence in yoga is centered in the reality of the body because the body doesn't lie or deceive in the same way as the mind. If you are experiencing stress the body registers that experience. While the mind can deny what the body is experiencing, the body cannot. Yoga uses the simple clarity of the body as a means to bring the mind into presence. Rather than just dictating actions to the body, the deepest yoga practice teaches the mind how to listen to the body in the pure light of awareness without judgement or expectation.
Allowing your mind to be in a relaxed open state is generally easier when things feel good, but harder when you experience pain. In fact, pain in all its shapes and sizes is so unpleasant that there is an automatic tendency to avoid it. Pain, whether emotional or mental, can cause us to immediately orient towards the avoidance of all future potentially painful experiences. This aversion is itself a source of misery because it chains the consciousness both to the past at the first experience of pain and to the future avoidance of pain.
You cannot control life, and no matter how much you want everything to be light, free and easy, you cannot escape the truth that sometimes life will be hard, heavy and labored. If you run from every negative experience based on memories from the past you essentially allow the past to dictate the present and the future. Yoga asks you to stop running away from painful experiences and instead accept the reality of the present moment, whether it is painful or pleasurable. One of the most basic lessons of the yoga practice is to break the attachment to any particular outcome. When you surrender your necessity for the present moment to be a certain way you are free to experience it as it is. The field of the body is the first place where yoga practitioners learn to experience this perspective. Your body itself will never feel exactly the same. As a student of yoga, you are asked to accept the inevitability of this change within the form of your body. When your hip is tight, you accept that the hip is tight and learn to practice without any attachment to the goal of opening your hip. You learn to experience the present moment as it really is naturally unfolding in the field of your own body.
Most people jump into yoga practice with the idea that to accomplish all the postures as fast as possible would be the best route. We take our goal-obsessed, future-oriented perspective into the forum of yoga. The humble task of yoga is not to get anywhere, but to stay on the sensation of the breath, posture and gazing point to calm the mind and experience the reality of what is. If you set your mind on a goal in the future, whether that is two postures away or two years away, your mind is not fully present. Through the tools of the practice itself, yoga slowly burns away the paradigm of rushing towards the goal. By practicing yoga every day, you walk the non-linear path of presence and learn to accept the "now." This state does not mean that you cannot visualize your future and still be at peace. But if you let your attainment of a certain posture be the sole reason you practice yoga you will take yourself out of the present moment. The most confusing thing about the journey of yoga (and perhaps life) is that all the joy, happiness and freedom that we are searching for out there in the future is actually right here and now. All we need to do is relax the mind enough to experience it as it really is.
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