Yoga gives each of us more than we can repay. It’s the reason we continue our practice and make it a long-term life discipline. Yoga creates new space and provides the impetus for us to search for our true self. It has our backs and has fixed our spines.
Yoga balances our perceptions and teaches us to look to the horizon even when we resist and find it would be easier to look down and fall flat upon the mark of our diminished vision.
Yoga levels our judgments to a place of calm detachment; but also fills us with courage to say and do the right thing (on and off the mat) as often as we can. Yoga moves us to meet, greet, and bow to worlds upon worlds, and that is why those of us practicing yearn to find our limits, breathe deep to fully inherit the spiritual science of health, and release everything into the realm of OHM.
What do you give to yoga?
Every yogi answers in their own way, but here’s one yogis answer:
I give my pain.
Perhaps it’s a surprising answer, and this is open to misinterpretation. But yes, I give yoga pain. I know the pain I need to release, and I know from experience that yoga will keep teaching me how to release it. It’s a pain I hold in my being, in my body, and it’s the pain I hold for the world.
I give my love for family and friends.
I see them aching not just from the slings and arrows of misfortune, and the lance of gossip and backbiting envy. I give my love in to them in meditation and asana because they are working hard in a tough world and they need my support. But I also give to them because of suffering they experience from disease, from years of stress, from lives lived as over-consumers of nearly everything, and from worry over their hope for material goods and money.
I give my illusions.
Nearly everyone I know suffers from want, but not from the hard-edged reality of deprivation. I live in a country where three meals a day are taken for granted, and as a result, I also suffer from illusion and the carelessness of waste. But I give it to yoga because it can take all of this and anything else I or the world can throw its way.
I give my breath.
It may be tension filled and thin, but I’ve learned to trust the deep inhale, the brief pause and then the full release which returns to me – as part of the perfect exchange – oxygen rich blood. This is the core of yoga’s healing energy exchange. After my encounter with yoga, my blood is renewed and fired by pranayama, shimmering with the energy of time.
I give my worries.
And I give my failings and shortcomings as a human being. I marvel that whenever I do yoga my worries go away. In the stillness of corpse pose, effortless and receptive, I gratefully inherit the medicine founded on intention and result. There is never a failure when I give to yoga. The only limiting factor is when I lack trust and hold back from giving all.
I give my challenges in living.
But because my experience is rooted here my existence is also flawed. I’m subject to breathing fumes from diesel fuel into my lungs as I ride my motorcycle behind a large truck while it spews thick clouds of black smoke into the air. I’m injured by the chemicals I ingest when I eat poisoned food or drink polluted water. Sometimes I’m the target of misdirected aggression or a magnet for stress.
The pain of living in a material world finds a place in me, and perhaps it’s inevitable that my cellular chemistry registers all this environmental injury. In a post-Industrial, technological world, I cannot escape the ill effects of brokenness.
I give my body in asana.
Asana is evidence of yogic truth. And the yogi’s lived expression – through any of the eight limbs – is the extent to which the scientific and medicinal healing of yoga adheres to the yogi’s life, colors his or her expression, forms and taps the energies of the soul.
Yoga works constantly to undo the Gordian knot of ego; when my ego is yielding, yoga can get through and heal me. Perhaps we do asana to take ourselves away from our selfish selves for one hour a day. This is the egoless healing of yoga that bathes my material being and caresses my pain with the cleansing, ancient wisdom-science of union.
Yoga then returns my full experience to me, but like a dialysis machine which takes over dysfunctional kidneys by removing waste, extra chemicals and fluids from blood, yoga is my soul dialysis, purifying my dysfunctional soul and toxicity by a cleansing and re-routing of my negativity.
There is no payment I can make to yoga. The purified breath of life comes from afar and is free. Its currency is not in my language. I can only offer gratitude for this elemental element, the substance of all matter and mind, the foundation of all biological and spiritual realization. So while not required, I bow ten-thousand times upon ten-thousand to each and every master having gone before.
My intention to honor includes all that ever came to the place of silence, resting in the cloud of witnesses deep in meditation and savasana. I cannot repay, but I can bow to each yogi I see; from the highly disciplined, engaging in a severe and austere attention to Samadhi, to the novice stepping tenderly onto the mat or into the literature looking for a sliver of encouragement.
They are all part of yoga’s historical march as it moves humanity from self to Self. This march is not celebrated by flag waving or parades. It has no marching bands or megaphones to awake the sleeping masses, but its march is sustained by warriors and heroes, the young and the old, queens and kings, scapegoats, sages, and the full panorama of humanity in all its colors, races, identities.
I am happy to be part of this material group and I’m proud to call myself yogi, meaning one who strives to connect to even the smallest tentacle of interconnection. This connection forms the structure and ongoing story of yoga.
I know the benefit to me and I believe yoga’s multiple returns are good enough; they’re good enough for you too, no matter your station in the moments we call “life.” Whatever you give to yoga, be confident that yoga will transform the pain and pleasure of your life and return tenfold your individuation to a higher realm.
Rūmī, G. A., & Barks, C. (1995). The essential Rumi: new expanded edition. New York: Harper Collins. Quotation from, “Who Says Words With My Mouth?”