Esther Ekhart explains how yoga is more than just an exercise, and the importance of getting to know yourself
“Yoga is not about getting to know the postures. It is about getting to know yourself.” – Gary Kraftsow
What we know as Westerners to be yoga, is more of a physical practice. Of course it is linked somewhat with meditation, breathing and awareness, but that is it. And you are lucky if it is incorporated at all into the yoga class.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with the (just) physical aspect of yoga, it seems to make yoga accessible to people. You gain strength, feel empowered because of it, you’ll feel good and relaxed after, the mind may even stop racing so a certain peace also arrives on the doorstep. All good right?
Absolutely! A beautiful, possible doorway towards getting to know yourself beyond getting to know the poses. Even when getting to know yourself is not your initial motivation, it might still, slowly but surely, creep up on you….
When you slow down and take an interest in yourself, you dare to start feeling yourself, not only the body, but YOU, that awareness of being alive that seems to be centred in the chest area. When that begins to take hold of you, you’re hooked!
The experience of a deeper peace has become available and the search for more begins …
Suddenly the philosophical aspect of yoga becomes of interest. Attraction to inquiry into the deeper parts of one’s own being, and a longing to understand the truth about suffering and happiness are most likely next.
Since the old texts all point to the same inquiry, sooner or later you will be looking into the question “Who am I?”
“Who am I” is not such an easy question. The mind will try to by-pass this question in any way it can. The mind really doesn’t like the insecure feeling that this question brings up. The implication of the question “Who am I?” can only be that you apparently aren’t what you thought you were. It implies you haven’t figured it all out at least. The mind likes to know, the unknown is scary.
All your life, you’re busy trying to build up your personality/your ego, figuring out who you are. So any inquiry into whether you are what you think you are is threatening to the mind. This question “Who am I?” and the mind’s reaction to this question triggers our fear for survival. The deepest fear of human beings. If I am not who I think I am, then who am I? Do I exist at all?
However, the invitation is to dive deep into this question “Who am I?”. We do this by directing our intention back to the I-thought, from which all other thoughts arise. The question “Who am I?” focuses us on the search for the true self, and we forget about all other concerns and worries of the mind. All of our thoughts are based on the thoughts of the self; it concerns the self one way or the other.
Somehow, we never just focus on pure being, feeling the pure Self. We seem to be only busy filling in what the self is. Like “I am warm, or cold, or happy or unhappy”. “This is mine” is also an interesting thought where we confuse ourselves with an object, quality or condition. Through self-inquiry, we try to let go of the filling in and go back to the pure Self, which is formless and just an awareness. Unknown really..
The truth is we don’t really know who we really are. What we think of as our Self is usually an emotion, thought or sensation that we temporarily identify with and that is constantly changing. How can we be that, what constantly changes? This includes our body, we are not the body, we just temporarily express ourselves through the body.
Since it is not possible to say what and who we truly are, and we can only point to it, sometimes it is easier to say and see what we are not. We are not that which changes, that which is temporary. So any feeling, thought, sensation, experience that sooner or later changes is not what we are and we can say, this is not it. This is all creative energy but not me, this helps us not to attach to what we are not. This way we will get closer and closer to what we are. Any technique at one point also needs to be let go off, but we can hold on to this for a good while 🙂 Also an expanded state of being comes and goes, we also don’t attach to those, which might be harder than not attaching to a more dense “negative” state.
So if you are interested to find out who you truly are, keep asking yourself the question “Who am I” or “Who is doing, feeling, thinking, experiencing …(this) .. ?” And at the same time releasing and letting go of all that you are not.
This Self-Inquiry may lead us to some realisation that the true Self is beyond time and space, name and form, birth and death, beyond all experience. That the true Self is the observer of all experience, the space in which all happens, and ultimately that what we truly are shines forth in everything.
Although it’s not easy to stick with this Self-Inquiry, it is worth it, and the only real thing to do 🙂