“Yoga is a discipline that allows you to become yourself in a state of freedom.”
I am unsure of the origin of this quote as I was its meaning when I first heard it. I didn’t need to understand it fully because I knew when the time was divinely deemed, the truth would be revealed to me. When the wisdom arrived, it came in the form of knowing. Different from intellectual knowing, it informed a deeper understanding beyond the mind where my state of freedom already existed.
Patanjali defines yoga in the Yoga Sutras as the “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. Many people translate this as yoga means stopping your thoughts when he was actually referring to the thought impulses of the mind and via the skills gained through the practice of yoga, how one learns to control the impact of those impulses on their life. Even for the enlightened one, thought impulses still exist. The removal lies within the choice to bring them to life or allow them to fall away. Patanjali later describes the fluctuations as the things that get in the way of our ability to concentrate in meditation and reveals that they are sourced from ignorance, I-ness (ego), desire, attachment and aversion.
When I first started meditating I lived in a stormy sea of fluctuation. My I-ness and co. were very much in dominance and I thought I liked it that way. I had a hidden agenda to use meditation to my advantage; decrease stress, manifest abundance etc., without losing any part of me. I feared that if I went in full boat, I wouldn’t be funny anymore and life would be boring. Despite having practiced yoga for many years, I was strictly in it for the physical benefit. I was not ready to see the bigger picture of the practice. I was completely ruled by my mind and saw no separation between who I was and my thoughts. It wasn’t until I met my teacher and started meditating regularly, did I see that I was not those things at all.
Striving to be the best at meditation, I went into full commit to sit mode. I started with 15-20 minutes, using the mantra, So Hum, primarily to give my mind something to focus on and help develop my skills in concentration. Completely unaware of the power of this mantra, I was literally praying the words, I am that, pure awareness, every single day. The anticipated results of stress reduction and abundance were immediate. It was not long after, when a much larger shift began to stir. It was deep, powerful and unstoppable but I was still laughing and life wasn’t boring. In fact, it was better. WAY better and WAY less stormy. And I liked it. How could this be?
My new practice required me to sit still and focus my energy on the present moment. I learned that awareness goes to where the greatest energetic pull is directed. The sitting pose, like the asana of a studio class, helps to contain the awareness within the now experience by focusing on breath and body. It is from this place of presence that I started to be able to watch the tendencies of the mind. It wasn’t long before I realized there was more than one; the thinker and the one watching the thoughts, which was undoubtedly me. I deduced fairly quick that if I am not the thoughts then I don’t have to grasp on to each one that I vies for my attention.
Picture a monkey in the jungle swinging from branch to branch. Flying through the air and grasping on to whatever vine is in its immediate vision. This is how the mind functions if left to its own devices. It will notice a thought impulse and grab on to it. It will notice the next one and grab onto that. And so on and so forth into the fray it swings. Yoga teaches us to notice our monkey mind and watch it swing from thought to thought. The mind is a non-stop machine. Estimates are as high as 100,000 thoughts per day per person with approximately 90% of those being repetitive. This is not a free way to live, this is a prison. Yoga teaches us the skills to be paroled and eventually gain a complete release from the constraints of the mind, only to find a brand new life in front of us.
This is the freedom the quote refers to and the freedom that I now experience because I know that I am not my mind and therefore I no longer define myself via its thoughts. I still receive thought impulses sourced from the aforementioned fluctuations but I don’t see all of the thoughts as mandatory to indulge. This clarity allows me to choose which impulses to feed – loving, empowering, for the good of all – and which to let fall away – negative, doubting, fear based. A faithful practice of sorting and letting go leaves me to be exactly who I am meant to be right now.
There is no stasis in life, we are either progressing or regressing. Living within the prison of the mind will infect forward motion like a paralyzing disease and make it very difficult to become your true self. With so much thinking, comes so much debate and so much effort. To truly be yourself takes no effort at all. Your purpose is unique and only you have the key to the cell. Once it is unlocked, the progression is natural and alignment is inevitable.