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The Whole is the Goal posted 25 October 2018

On the verge of commencing our latest 40 Days to Personal Revolution course I have the opportunity to reflect on the themes and principles we work with in that course.  One of the principles is, The Whole is the Goal.

In commencing or continuing yoga practice we each have a goal or intended outcome from our practice.  My goal was to heal me of injuries caused by running so that I could do more running.  It was a purely physical outcome that I sought and I imagined that I would achieve that outcome quite quickly and would then have no further use for yoga.

How incredibly naïve I was!  I see many other students coming to class with a variety of similarly naïve or unenlightened goals in mind.  For some the goal seems to be a degree of physical perfection epitomised by a special pose.  For some it seems to be exposure to potential partners.

We have a question on our new client registration form that asks what the student seeks from yoga.  The most common three responses, often given as one answer, are strength, flexibility and peace of mind.

The poses in our power vinyasa practices will make you strong.  In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in the third book, the portion on Accomplishments, the promise is made that yoga practice will confer upon you an adamantine hardness of body.

I prefer the word mobility to flexibility.  Mere flexibility lacks the connotation of functionality that I seek from the stretching elements of yoga and also lacks the sense of total body integrity – my suppleness coupling with my strength to allow me to move in a fluid and unrestricted way.

Whether in vinyasa class or the more stretch-focused restore classes you will be exposed to the opportunity for enhanced mobility and daily I see the outcomes of students who have experienced a tremendous arc in their physical mobility from the time they began practicing to the present.

Peace of mind.  It is in the realms of this desired outcome that we begin to touch upon the Whole is the Goal.  What goes in to creating peace of mind?

The first element, I believe, is being at peace with oneself.  The greatest change that has come over me as a result of practicing yoga has been a change in the way I perceive myself.  I wrote an item for a local legal newsletter shortly after we opened Apollo Power Yoga in which I shared my experience of not liking who I was as a lawyer.  Feedback came to me from several sources including from one lawyer who had been a couple of years junior to me in experience.  She said that I had always been pleasant and helpful and that what I wrote about my self-perception had been a surprise to her because it did not match her perception of me.

Therein lies the issue.  The way one sees oneself can be very far removed from who we really are.  Through yoga practice make the shift in your perception from disliking yourself to seeing yourself as valuable, worthy and deserving of your own self-respect and esteem.

The human conscience is a powerful tool.  It can act as a regulator of our conduct vis-à-vis the world around us and hold us accountable to our responsibilities as social creatures.  When I have a guilty conscience about something (something I have done that I know I ought not to have done, or something I have neglected to do that I ought to have done) then I find it hard to rest and I become fatigued, irritable and outwardly ill-at-ease with the world when it is the inner domain that troubles me.

Here, again, the Yoga Sutras offer guidance.  The eight limbs of yoga begin with the yamas and the niyamas.  The five yamas and the first two niyamas are:

  1. Non-harming by thought, word or deed – ahimsa.
  2. Not taking that which is not freely given – asteya.
  3. Being truthful – satya.
  4. Being continent in the management of energy, especially sexual energy – brahmacharya.
  5. Non-covetousness – aparigraha.
  6. Purity – saucha.
  7. Contentment or acceptance – santosha.

By following these principles one can see that one’s conscience will be free of concern and that will feed peace of mind.

Very few people identify improved breathing as a desired outcome of yoga.  However, improved breathing has been a real boon to me from practicing yoga, especially since I began Baptiste-style power vinyasa yoga, learned ujjayi breathing and made nose breathing (notwithstanding a deviated septum which makes nose breathing more difficult for me) my usual pattern.

Curiously, the yoga practice I had engaged in before being introduced to power vinyasa yoga offered what it called two breathing exercises, one at the start of the class and one at the end, but during the main body of the class breathing was neglected to a very great extent in my experience of being taught by something like 20 or more teachers of that style.

Watching my breath and practicing ujjayi and other forms of pranayama generates awareness in me of the power of my breath.  As a rugby player and a runner I proceeded on the basis that volume of breath was important.  Coaches would run us hard at rugby practice and then tell us to suck in big breaths.  As a runner I had some inkling of the power of breathing through my nose.  I would use this technique when feeling the stitch.  I would breathe in slowly through my nose to fill my lungs and then breathe out through my mouth.

As a yoga practitioner I regulate my energy (in Sanskrit called prana) by breathing.  If a pose is tough, I breathe.  If I want to move, I breathe.  Yoga has given me access to a new understanding of the quality of breath.

Breathing awareness creates internal awareness which generates a sense of self and spirit.  Ah, the whole.  Not just the physical being.  Not just thinking as the dominant focus of consciousness.  But spirit or the Purusha as the essence of being.

Various meditation teachers state that in breathing consciously one should ask the question “Who am I?” or “Who is watching my breath?”  These questions can be applied to watching thoughts too.  Are you, your truest essence, your thoughts or an observer, distinct from your thoughts?

Presence to all elements of one’s being, body, mind, breath/prana/energy and spirit is the goal of yoga and to bring those elements into harmony such that nothing is out of balance and no element undermines or denies power to any other(s).

Make your whole being the goal of your practice and experience yoga as a way being rather than just as a way of stretching.

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