The highest philosophy from India, Vedanta, teaches that all this is but One Reality expressing itself in an endless diversity of names and forms (namarupa).
Indeed, despite the underlying Oneness of everything, on the surface we live in a world of duality, of pairs of opposites: Hot & Cold, Pain & Pleasure, Hard & Soft, Male & Female, etc. The goal of Yoga is sometimes expressed as that deep and lasting realization that All is truly One, that we are not separate from anything else in the Universe (this is the philosophy of “Advaita Vedanta”). Some of us have had glimpses of this during the course of our lives , yet as I understand it, there are a few who truly have awakened to this as a permanent awareness.
Whatever may be the case in this regard, it seems to be true that our yoga practice, guided by the deep wisdom of the tradition, will bring us into greater and greater degrees of harmony and balance in our lives. That harmony and balance is how the Oneness gets expressed in the physical, material world in which we navigate this Great Diversity in the body-temple. Interestingly, there is a Hawaiian word to express this: Lokahi. My source says that Lokahi is “Unity Expressed As Harmony.” Perhaps “Lokahi” is not quite the exact equivalent of the word “Yoga,” yet my point is just to simply put this idea into words: Yoga is Union/Unity, and is expressed in this world through balanced, harmonious living.
Now, some might say that we must be in some idealized, Ultimate state of Yoga (the permanently awakened state which I just referenced) to be truly living in a balanced, harmonious way. This could be, yet it seems to me that there is a gradual progression/evolution/awakening process that happens through the practice of Yoga, and for most of us it’s not just one sudden, dramatic, overnight SHIFT that happens. Again, not to say that the “Lights On or Lights Off” scenario does not happen for some ( I can think of quite a few for whom it has), yet for many more, it seems that Yoga is the facilitator for a more gradual awakening.
This gradual awakening happens on a number of different fronts — study, asana, meditation, breathwork, satsang, chanting, singing, philosophy, etc. — and it’s often difficult to pinpoint what exactly is bringing us where our heart has always wanted to go. Just reading this now is a yoga practice (“Swadhyaya“), something that will hopefully lead you to greater (S/self)-awareness. Just hearing that we are aiming for the “Middle Way” (that Buddha discovered for himself and taught, as did Aristotle and so on down through the ages) in all things, can be useful for navigating our reality. So this is another point: A balanced life is one in which we avoid extremes. Not that we won’t sometimes go to extremes, but we will only go to extremes to get back to the Middle, especially if we have gone too much to the other extreme.
And here is another point: We need a discipline like Yoga to help us to not go to extremes, because we humans do have a tendency to do that! I’ll give one simple example that I have witnessed: We become emotional about a situation, and that emotion will then color everything that we think or say or do about that situation. This happens a lot in relationships. We become angry at our partner, and then there’s absolutely nothing they can say or do that is right. We have lost our ability to see things objectively, we have gone to an extreme. Yoga helps us to perceive things accurately, fairly, reasonably, truly. It takes us off the Roller Coaster of life, which is enticing because it’s exciting and dramatic but ultimately not wise, and it puts us on a more even keel.
Before we begin practicing yoga, our lives can be one drama after another, a kind of roller coaster ride where we go from High Excitement to Deep Dejection from one day or moment to the next. Through yoga, we slowly slowly learn to find the middle ground where we live in an everpresent state of joy and contentment with what is, regardless of the circumstances. From this grounding/establishment in our Center, we are truly in a place where we can fulfill our life’s destiny, our “swadharma.”
This is also the place of what the Yoga Sutras (2.46) speak of as “Sthira Sukham Asanam.” Sthira may be translated as “strength,” and