Yoga: The Ongoing Quest for Self-knowledge
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Yoga: The Ongoing Quest for Self-knowledge I have frequently been asked how yoga differs from gymnastics or, for that matter, from any of a number of other physical disciplines or regimens such as aerobics, calisthenics, Nautilus workouts, or jogging. One answer is that none of these activities seems to have a spiritual focus. Most of them have performance or competitive orientations, and concentrate on the achievement of external goals. Yoga, on the other hand, focuses on the goal of developing a continually greater degree of awareness and integration of all aspects of one's physical, emotional, and intellectual being. It nourishes the spirit with which the practitioner meets each moment of his or her life. Yoga practice is also exceptional in that it directly addresses the health of the internal organs and the nervous system. Unfortunately, the above explanations do not convey anything of the essence of a yoga practice. I find there is a strong analogy between my experience with music and my experience with yoga. I love to listen to music. It plays a very important role in my life. Music, like yoga, has to be experienced to be known. If one were able to fully explain all of musical theory and the physics of sound generation to a person who had never heard music, that person might assume that he or she possessed a thorough understanding of the subject. And, indeed, from an intellectual standpoint that assumption would be correct. However, as we all know, until that person had actually listened to music, until he or she had been personally stirred by classical music or moved by the sounds of jazz or folk music, the person would have no idea of what music can mean to the human soul. Because I believe that there is no practical limit to the depth of self-knowledge obtainable by each of us, I find that yoga has no achievable final goal. Like music, yoga also is only appreciate on an experiential basis. There are other similarities. A dedicated musician and a dedicated yogi must each devote themselves to a regime of relentless daily practice in order to achieve that greater liberation of the soul and immersion in inner beauty which are the fruits of their respective arts. Anyone who has had the privilege of undergoing a period of intense yoga training with B.K.S. Iyengar has learned that yoga, as he teaches the subject, has little to do with the external performance of any given posture. For me, his teaching has always focused on each person achieving a more pervasive contact with every part of him or herself. In the poses, students learn to to become more aware of each part of themselves interacting from moment to moment with each and every other part. The postures become a creative quest for a deepening and more refined self-knowledge and awareness, never an attempt to meet some external standard of perfection. This ongoing inward directed and intense process tends to yield what, in one class, Mr.Iyengar refers to as a sense of innocence. It provides an escape from the concerns of one's ongoing interpersonal relationships and the often superficial goals of one's daily life. I find that these benefits-like those of music-defy description but are incomparable sweetness and incontrovertible benefit to my soul. So, despite the fact that many of the yoga postures look just like many of the gymnastic postures and even confer many of the same physical benefits, there is no comparison. Because, I believe that there is no practical limit to the depth of self-knowledge obtainable by each of us, I find that yoga has no achievable final goal. Rather, it is an ongoing process designed over many centuries to provide serious practitioners with a carefully orchestrated program that yields a constantly deepening, rewarding, and unifying knowledge of self. Victor Oppenheimer has been practicing and teaching Iyengar Yoga for decades, and teaches teachers in the U.S. and overseas.He has traveled to India on numerous occasions to study with his beloved teacher Mr.Iyengar. He is the founder with Shannon Brophy, of yoga.com, and sees yoga as a path to inner joy.