What is the Most Important Part of Yoga?

I recently received a lot of inquiries for technical support in regards to intricacies of asana, pranayama and meditation practice. How to do it right, what needs to be changed in times of trouble? How to react to setbacks, injuries and how to fit it all in with an increasingly demanding life, time constraints, job difficulties, health-, mental health-, family-, and financial issues.

The profound impression was that most of those that asked me for help were in a state of inner conflict, struggle that then translated into their yoga practice. This is not surprising. If you grew up like me, fighting against yourself and society to first eek out and then protect some small plot of emotional serenity, this attitude must again surface in your yoga practice. Even if the techniques are then practiced in a decent fashion, the struggle with which they are performed must lead to further strain in body, breath and mind.

So rather than trying to fix the problem by changing minutiae of practice, hoping that this will change our attitude to our practice and heal us from the outside in, we must dive right down into the centre of yoga, find that core, find that heart and let it radiate out and adjust our practices.

What is then that core experience, that heart of yoga that has the potential to radiate out and heal us and our attitude to practice and to the greater life? Before I answer this question I need to first tell you that I am a very unlikely person to come up with the answer that I give here. When I was eight years old my Dad taught me to take out attacking kids with a single punch. I learned that I needed to hit so hard that they would never even think about attacking me again. I had my last big fight when I was around 16. I realized then that I was now strong enough to kill and if I continued it wouldn’t end well.

I had learned that life is a bitch (only the words in which those lessons were conveyed were much, much severe) and the only way in which I could survive was to be meaner, tougher, faster and nastier than anybody else. While I learned those lessons in a particular crude way I think that competition, strife and ambition form the basis of todays corporate, financial, sporting and legal arenas. We think we are now more civilized but the attitude to outdo each other while expressing itself in areas that seem less violent nevertheless displays an inherent aggression that is just the same.

Coming from this background I nevertheless was equipped with a deep yearning that is often called spiritual, which lead me to travel the world, read heaps of sacred texts and eventually washed up in India where I practiced for a long time asana, pranayama and yogic meditation. This practice culminated in the ability to go inside for prolonged periods and also to direct this experience further by placing the prana in particular chakras as the enquiry went on (methods I have all described in my books, this article is purposely not of technical nature).

Since the inquiry began with, “what is the innermost, the heart, the core of yoga”, I regularly returned my focus on the heart chakra while remaining in a state of pure consciousness. While being centered in the heart, consciousness showed itself as being of the quality of pure love. That was not what I expected. I always thought that consciousness was empty, formless, infinite, quality-less (which it is) but I always thought of it as being a sort of cool, detached, witnessing awareness that made you rise above it all and nothing else.

But when being in this state consciousness showed itself to be the nature of love itself. In this state there was only pure love, nothing else. There was no I, no body, no mind, no separation but initially also no perception of anything else but love. This was a profound state of beauty, freedom, peace and expansion. At some point then there was a thought-like impression telling me that I had been here long enough and had some business to attend to out there. I was to take this feeling of pure love and henceforth make it inform my actions.

It was only when I heard this thought that the concept of I, of mind and of body returned into the equation. When I came out of this state of pure love (or in more scientific lingo ‘when the I experienced itself as again separate from pure love’ or even more far-out ‘when the separate I re-emerged’) the first thing that I noticed was myself and the thought that came was, “Uh, that sucker again”.

I stopped right there. I asked how can I make my actions be informed by the sacred heart of Divine Love (sorry about the theological lingo, we’ll get to that later) when I hold myself in absolute contempt? I understood that when I wanted to let that love radiate out into the world I cannot make it stop at myself. The vehicle that carries the love itself needed to be loved. I cannot pass the healing flame of love on if I hate, loathe and denigrate myself, right?

In that moment I realized that if I then wanted my phenomenal self (that is the self bound up with the phenomena, i.e. the surface self) to be cleansed and transformed by the experience of pure love I needed to totally call off and let go of all conflict and struggle with myself, with my surface self. This conflict seemed ancient, almost eternal. I think for an eternity-like time I have defined myself through the war I fought against myself. Letting it go I didn’t even know anymore who I was that long it had gone on for.

It was only when I let go of this struggle that this radiance of pure love that I carried in my heart could then shine out to the world, including rocks, plants, animals and people, my brothers and sisters. The point that I am making is that if you are rejecting the I the love at your core can never shine out and warm the world. Love is the nature of pure consciousness, which you carry in your heart. The I which sage Patanjali calls “asmita” is like a girdle around or layer between the sacred heart and the world. If you are rejecting the I and hate it, hate yourself for being separate or for whatever you hate yourself for, this very rejection will create the very separation from consciousness for which you then hate yourself.

In the moment in which you totally accept and love the I, the asmita turns from suffering (klesha no 2 in Patanjali’s system) to individuation (samadhi no 6 in the Sutra) that is you become a pathway, a conduit for which the sacred heart can radiate out and heal others.

So this then truly is a psychology of self-love. If you do not love yourself you cannot truly love others. You may behave lovely but only to get love from them. And you only want love from others if you don’t really love yourself. Also, if you truly love yourself you don’t need to show it by spoiling, pampering and treating yourself. All that just shows the need for receiving love. The sacred heart of Divine Love does not worry about receiving. It is so overflowing that it always wants to give, has to give. So in the moment when you are one with love you do not need to prove it by being pampered. The need for treating yourself arises only if there is doubt, if there is emptiness where there should be fullness and overflowing. The same is to be said about the modern high-self esteem movement. True self worth arises through self love from the core. Telling somebody how great, unique and beautiful they are only bolsters their ego. True self-love and self-respect cannot be impinged on by being small, generic and ugly.

So, how do we put that into practice. Yoga Sutra II.28, “From practicing all the limbs of yoga (i.e. not just asana but the lot) the impurities are removed (in this case negative conditioning regarding yourself) which makes the light of knowledge shine (i.e. the sacred heart of Divine Love) creating discriminative discernment (we worry about that one later)”. What that means is that we should not look at yoga methods (the eight limbs) as techniques to prop ourselves up for the rat race of industrial society. We can’t use them to go faster, become more productive, more successful, etc. We need to invite them as a form of healing and coming back to ourselves in a more gentle and less demanding form than society has taught us. In the meantime accept that you are an embodiment of that pure and total love at our core. In moments when your life become stressful and your yoga practice does not seem to shield you enough remind yourself that you are a crystallization of love, that your essential nature is love and that your yoga is not a path to conquer yourself and finally win or attain greatness or success. But that yoga’s goal is that this internal quality of love shines through your being out into the world providing healing for others and meaning for you. Because for this heart there is only one purpose to life and that is to make a valid contribution to the life of others. That is the heart and most important part of yoga.

A disclaimer: the same facts could be expressed (after some deep thinking) without resorting to theological language. The truth is not contained in a particular combination of words but such words always only remain one possible path of modeling the truth.

About Gregor Maehle

Gregor Maehle began his practice of Raja Yoga in 1978 and added Hatha Yoga a few years later. For almost two decades he yearly travelled to India where he studied with various yogic and tantric masters. Since then he has branched out into research of the anatomical alignment of postures and the higher limbs of Yoga. He obtained his anatomical knowledge through a Health Practitioner degree and has also studied History, Philosophy and Comparative Religion. Gregor lived many years as a recluse, studying Sanskrit, yogic scripture and practising yogic techniques. He has published a series of textbooks on all major aspects of yoga. His mission is to re-integrate ashtanga vinyasa practice into the larger framework of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga in the spirit of T. Krishnamacharya. He offers trainings, retreats and workshops worldwide.
Posted in Society/ civilisation, Yoga Philosophy.

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