Perhaps it was the thick blanket of fog that rolled in and covered my neighborhood, obscuring the previously sunny blue sky over the tips of the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands outside my window yesterday. Or maybe it is the thought of yet another year tacked on to the age I associate with this body, an impending calculation scheduled to come approximately a month from now. Whatever the reason, I have been reflecting with a sense of melancholy on what this all means – this yoga practice, this life. Because of my immersion into the Advanced Studies program at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco, I have been asked to ponder what it means to pursue this practice with body, mind, heart and soul fully integrated and this seems like the perfect opportunity.
In order to try to answer this question, I continually come back again and again to sutra II.1: tapah svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani kriyayogah – the acts of yoga are burning zeal in practice, study that leads to knowledge of the self, and surrender to God.
Stuck in the mire of the day to day, I see that those who are recognized and rewarded around me are not necessarily those who follow this path of yoga – a path that asks the practitioner to seek sauca (purity) and santosa (contentment), among other things that seem at complete odds with how modern society operates. Is it possible to be successful in society and also follow the guidelines set out in the yama (societal discipline) and niyama (individual discipline)? To surrender to God? Do I even want to be deemed successful in the way society prescribes?
Perhaps more to the point, can I truly live in and of this world and find cohesiveness within myself?
In elucidating the practice of asana in Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar writes:
Where does the body end and the mind begin? Where does the mind end and the spirit begin? They cannot be divided as they are inter-related and but different aspects of the same all-pervading divine consciousness (41).
The way that I interpret this statement is that it is not some lofty goal to reach to integrate body-mind-heart-soul in practice. Through my attempts to maintain tapas (burning zeal in practice) by creating space for asana and pranayama daily, I gain a greater sense of calm in my life. Through my time spent on the mat, I have glimpses of understanding that I can be content, no matter how society defines success – I have great friends and family, a loving husband, a roof over my head, and teachers who help guide me on this journey. Moreover, because I have begun to mine my consciousness for a deeper understanding of what this existence is all about, I have found a spiritual side of myself I never knew was possible before. This kriya yoga (yoga of action) is what allows me to understand that I am already whole within myself, to recognize and celebrate this journey; to be content with what is and what is to be. It is this experiential art that helps me to realize that success in my view is not how other people see me, but how I learn to see myself.