Yoga – Map to unifying the Self

We often hear or read about people going on yoga retreats to “find themselves”, a phrase we tend to accept at face value. However, if we pause to think about it, questions arise as to who or what Self is, and how yoga is the treasure map which will lead you to it.
Let’s start by examining what we really refer to when we talk about ourselves. Identification often begins with the physical manifestation of an object – we recognise people by how they look, sound, feel, smell (but probably not taste…). Yet, our body is a shell. Its behaviour is dictated by our mind, and our mind in turn requires a body to express and act upon its thoughts.
The mind is in turn influenced by, for lack of a better word, our soul. The concept of a soul is difficult to encapsulate, but for me it encompasses our innate personality, inner voice, emotions, energy and life force. Thus, simply put, we are an amalgamation of our body, mind and soul acting as a single unit with our mind acting as the middle man between the body and soul.
The connection between body and soul however can be lost if the middle man is busy. The body receives stimulus which is transmitted to the mind, and these jostle for its attention. When the middle man is too busy processing the transmissions and directing the body to react to them, he no longer has time to listen to the soul and to convey its desires to the body. When the middle man manages to catch a breather to ask himself “wait a minute…what was that all about?” and there’s no ready answer, that is when we may start to feel lost and adrift in a cycle of meaningless endeavours.
This is where yoga comes in. Patanjali defines the practice of yoga in the Yoga Sutras as the cessation of fluctuations of the mind (yoga chitta vritti nirodhah). For me, this cessation is achieved through being focused and aware of my breath in pranayama and asana practice.
Deep breathing and pranayama exercises before I begin my asana practice help me be present and centred, and focusing on the link between breath and movement as I flow through asana practice trains my mind to disregard distractions. I find that after a session (of pranayama and asana practice), my mind-body connection is reaffirmed. I feel present, clear-headed, and able to turn my attention inward.
By phasing out external distractions and tuning in to my inner voice, I am better able to recognise the aspects of my life which may be imbalanced or neglected; the lingering intangible ‘feeling of something missing’ is often a sign of imbalance which is easily overlooked as we go about our day-to-day endeavours. Strengthening the connection between body, mind and soul through the practice of pranayama and asana is, to me, grounding a pillar in the present to avoid getting swept up in the tide of time. Perched atop this pillar, I can then try to channel my energy towards living a life that is purposeful and meaningful. Such a life is, for me, the spot marked “X”.
(200hr YTT Vinyasa Flow)

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