By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
There is a misconception about yoga and/or meditation as practices of “blissing out.” Though it is true these practices may alter our consciousness and bring a deep sense of peace, it is not through an escape from the normal or mundane world that they occur.
The eight-limbed practice of yoga (which includes meditation) is a process of involution of going into our deepest self and finding our own personal truth. It is in that truth that we find our inner bliss. Yoga does not entail disconnecting from reality or finding an alternate state of being. It is “being,” very truly, in the present moment, no matter what that brings.
Practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagyam) are the two pillars of yoga. We must balance the actions of practice with detachment from the fruits of those actions. But detachment does not mean disconnection or “blissing out” in some alternate universe. Detachment is a state of seeing more objectively, enabling us to work through issues and situations without ego attachment.
Awareness is the key to this two-sided yogic foundation. Developing awareness in any situation can change mental and physical habits that might be destructive or agitating. Ultimately, awareness can help to break unhealthy behavior patterns, replacing them with new and better ones. Practice and detachment supported by awareness comprise the process that leads toward a more permanent inner bliss.
So, how do we develop awareness? The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali spell out a straightforward eight-limbed practice, but though practical in many ways, it is, of course, not exactly “easy.” Patanjali does list some easier “instant gratification” methods toward some amount of bliss, but in the end reminds us it is the long, determined practice of yoga that is the most permanent. Relapse subsequent to easier methods can be quick and painful, but with diligent practice of yogic awareness, we can avoid failures altogether.
The eight limbs of yoga begin with moral and personal observances (yama and niyama). We become aware that all we do affects us personally and affects the world around us. By cleaning up our act, so to speak, we create an environment conducive to our inner work. Asanas (physical postures) come more easily if we observe moral and personal cleanliness, but they are also a tool to increase awareness of our own mental and physical health in relation to our environment.
Once the body becomes more open and free of obstruction through asana practice, the breath is also able to move more freely. Through the more subtle awareness of breath (pranayama), the mind is drawn inward to a quieter and more peaceful place, clearing the way for the experience of our own inner truth.
It is here that Patanjali warns us not to disconnect. We must stay alert and aware in practice. Especially in the experience of some obstacle, the mind and ego may prefer to “bliss out,” distracting us and taking us to places disconnected from reality. It is the breath that keeps us in the present experience, and it is the present where concentration (dharana) and ultimately meditation (dhyana) occur. Meditation in yoga is not imagination or escape. To meditate is to experience reality as it is at any moment, ultimately developing the ability to be calm and focused within any experience. It is this present-moment awareness that brings us to our ultimate bliss.
“Blissing in” instead of “blissing out” allows us the full experience of our self and the world around us. And with that more full and connected experience, we find our inner bliss, the ultimate promise of yoga (samadhi).
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.