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Yoga: The Awakening of the Spirit

Most people in the West are familiar with the word "yoga." But this familiarity is typically based on images of lithe young people in studios or gyms contorting themselves into a variety of different postures of varying degrees of difficulty.
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I have worked with many clients interested in improving their lives. Some come to me because they want to resolve an illness, but many others come to me because they're simply looking to live a more peaceful life. Often, they want to resolve the stress and anxiety they feel or they're in search of a career they will find more fulfilling than their current one.

In my last blog, I wrote about how each of us is prone to struggle in finding such a sense of peace and fulfillment because of the density of the material world. This density carries with it a tremendous burden that leads to a higher incidence of disease and unhappiness. But we experience all of this turmoil for a very simple reason. We attract a poor quality of life because we hold the world beyond ourselves responsible for making us happy. We think we will finally be happy when we make a certain amount of money, or we expect ourselves to feel satisfied when we get our way. Then, when we do get that money or have our desires met, what happens? Most of us seek out even more money than before. And if our desires are met as fully as we had imagined they would be, we wind up wanting even more until our mind is full of desires. In the end, getting more stimulation and stuff from the outside world never helps us find the fulfillment we so desperately seek.

But if this is all true, what are we supposed to do about it? What is it that helps us to overcome stress, anxiety, and all the other obstacles that keep us from experiencing the peace so many of us are striving for?

Most people in the West are familiar with the word "yoga." But this familiarity is typically based on images of lithe young people in studios or gyms contorting themselves into a variety of different postures of varying degrees of difficulty. And while these postures are a part of the Yogic tradition, they are a particularly small part. In reality, yoga is a much larger system that was developed as a direct response to the density of our material existence.

Yoga began as a spiritual tradition as defined by the ancient rishis of the Indian subcontinent. As many as 5,000 years ago, before other religions or spiritual philosophies came about, these sages began to develop a sacred tradition. The teachings were passed down from guru to disciple without being written down. Then, a little over 2,000 years ago, a teacher by the name of Patanjali prepared a simple text derived in part from these scriptures known as The Yoga Sutras. In this text, he provided a concise, all-encompassing definition for yoga: a system for relieving the suffering of the mind. He then laid out a basic framework for how to achieve this goal through a series of several hundred concise aphorisms of text.

This suffering that Patanjali wrote about refers to how we are inclined to rely on the outside world for fulfillment. He teaches us that we are burdened by our ego, which seeks to control the world around us. Our ego tells us that if we own, influence, or indulge in our surrounding environment, then we will be in control and therefore happy. If people challenge or disagree with us, then our ego tells us we have failed to control them and we see them as separate from ourselves. And if our ego keeps us separate from others, it tells us we don't have enough friends, enough attention from our partner, or any sense of belonging. If we practice the higher paths of yoga, however, we have an opportunity to quell the ego and allow our true self to lead the way forward. Uncovering this aspect of ourselves defines yoga as a spiritual practice rather than just a physical exercise.

The underlying belief of the yogic tradition is that each of us is born with a spirit. Plants and animals exist as a reflection of their role in nature, such as how plants synthesize the energy of the sun and animals conduct themselves in a way that perpetuates their species. Given their simple alignment with nature, these processes reflect the perfection of the plants and animals' spirit. But much like plants and animals, we have the potential to live in a perfect state as well. When we strip away the ego and relieve the suffering of the mind, we are left with a sense of peace and wellbeing without needing any more than we have. And once we no longer rely on the outside world to provide us with fulfillment, we have aligned ourselves with our true nature and have realized our spirit. We discover that a purposeful life can be found within.

When we resolve to alleviate the suffering of the mind, we lessen our day-to-day burdens. We no longer rely on the world beyond ourselves to make us happy. Some of the clients I've worked with have maintained their study and practice of the yogic path, and as a result they've crafted a more enjoyable life for themselves. They've reduced their stress. They've found much more suitable career tracks. The pursuit of yoga ensures that we will uncover the perfection of our spirit and live within that state for the remainder of our lives.

The various paths of Yoga each provide us with a different framework through which to achieve this spiritual awakening. In my next article, I will explore how each of them helps us to make this so.

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