Although yoga is most commonly thought of as being a means to attain physical fitness and health, people who are familiar with its broader scope, variously refer to yoga as being an understanding, a path, a lifestyle, a teaching, and sometimes it is simply called the ‘way’ or the natural way ~ the way of tuning into and acting on the truth.
In other words, yoga is not something that is inherently foreign to us ~ it’s the most natural thing in the world. What is foreign to us, and thus a prime cause of the great frustration and anxiety that is endemic in our society, is not being tuned into yoga ~ not being tuned into truth.
What truth is that? Doesn’t everybody have their own truth? Isn’t truth relative? Yes, there are many kinds of truths that are relative /changing ~ but these truths are all based on the physical world ~ the world of constant change. For example ~ today it may be true that my physical body is 15 years old, but that will not always be true. That is a relative truth.
One example of a spiritual truth however, is the eternality of the spiritual soul. The soul does not age or change with the passage of time ~ it is ‘forever young’. So when we are talking about the way of yoga being about tuning into the truth, we are talking about tuning into those truths which do not change ~ spiritual/eternal truths.
Why should we do that? Because deep within ourselves that is what we are all truly longing for ~ permanence, real permanence. No matter where we are situated on the spectrum of faith ~ whether we be atheists, whether we have a little faith, or great faith, or even a little actual experience of our relationship with the Divine ~ everybody has a longing for permanence.
The difference lies in the methods that various people employ to try to satisfy that natural longing. For those who seek permanence in the physical world, the longing can manifest as nothing more complicated than some kind of basic hand to mouth struggle for survival, while for others, such as those people living in the developed world, the natural longing for permanence is more sophisticated.
It can be seen in three primary and complimentary desires. Owning our own home, having a steady income, and the desire to have lasting happy relationships, or as it is more formally mentioned in yoga teachings ~ economic development and sense gratification.
In Australia we call it the ‘great Australian dream’, while in the United States they call it the ‘great American dream’, but of course it’s not unique to those countries. The desire to have security, stability, and permanence in all the various aspects of our lives is universal, and although it is perfectly natural to have these desires, many people unfortunately seek them in a place where they cannot be fully experienced ~ the material/physical world of constant change.
Regular income, family/relationships and the home. These are the cornerstones upon which the great material dream is built, and they are the focus of all kinds of media and social attention, with people continually analysing and estimating the possibility of attaining them.
Interest rates, housing prices/affordability, job security, wage rates, prices, the nature of our relationships, etc, etc. We eagerly discuss it all, but one aspect of all this that is rarely discussed, is the impermanence of it all. Relatively few people seem to fully appreciate that even if these three major desires are attained, they won’t last, and any semblance of permanence and security that we are presently experiencing, will eventually be revealed to have been illusory/impermanent.
This is why in yoga teachings the material world is sometimes called the illusory world. It and everything in it seems very solid and permanent, but the fact is that it is all an illusion which will not last. This can be most easily appreciated if we consider the physical bodies of a beautiful young woman or a handsome young man.
Inevitably their beautiful attractive bodies age and become less attractive, and yet longing for permanence, people spend great amounts of time and energy to try by various means to keep the illusion going for as long as possible. All kinds of gyms, health clinics, beauty salons, fitness clinics, dietary advice etc, etc ~ all of them playing a part in the massive but futile endeavour for physical permanence.
Then there’s make up, with one product actually called ‘Illusion’, and for those who are wealthy and really into it, there’s the world of plastic surgery.
Of course it’s not wrong to want to keep our bodies as healthy as possible, and yoga teachings advise this ~ but always in the context of knowing that the body will fail at some stage.
They therefore advise that we maintain our body not as an end in itself, but to use it for the kind of meditation which will enable us to experience real permanence ~ the permanence of the spiritual world.
‘After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.’
Bhagavad Gita 8:15
And so the answer to our constant craving for permanence lies in the spiritual world. There, the eternal soul (the real you) can find rest and permanence in our real home and in real loving relationships that do not fade.
This is the truth we need to tune into, and if we can even begin to do that, then to some degree at least, we are embracing the beginnings of the way of yoga.