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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Do We Practice Yoga?

Many people practice yoga now in the world. Maybe different people have different reasons why we want to practice yoga. The greatest goal of yoga practice is for us to realize the Self, to attain wisdom and to transcend suffering, be free. In order to achieve that, we need to purify our mind and still the mind, and yoga practice can help us to achieve that.

There is nothing wrong with people just want to do some physical exercise using the asana poses, or people want to destress by using the methods as prescribed in yoga practice, or just want to achieve good health and a strong body. Somehow yoga is available for everyone by manifesting itself in many ways in different names and forms.

In the tradition of yoga practice, we are doing some practices for purifying and strengthening the body and the mind to prepare ourselves to meditate upon the Truth or the Self, in order to transcend all the names and forms, and to attain wisdom to free ourselves from ignorance which is the cause of all suffering.

Non-attachment or non-identification with the body and mind is the basic practice. The body and the mind act as an instrument for us to attain self-realization. We need to appreciate and be grateful for the body and mind allowing us to know the wisdom and to transform ourselves.

Challenging our body to perform a lot of difficult and extra ordinary yoga poses does not bring us extra wisdom nor remove ignorance and unhappiness in us, if we don’t know the real meaning of yoga practice behind all the physical appearances, abilities and actions. Whether a person can perform any asanas or not, does not determine the person is free from suffering or not. It doesn’t guarantee that if we can perform such difficult asanas, our suffering will automatically be less or be completely gone. It doesn’t mean that if we can only perform simple asanas, we will not be free from suffering.

Transcending suffering or attaining wisdom has got nothing to do with the abilities of the physical body to do this and that. The asana practice and pranayama practice are there to help us to influence the prana in our body which is for calming the mind. It also will unblock certain energy blockage in us which will help us to release lots of physical and mental tensions which is part of the impurities in us that preventing us from realizing the Self. As well as it can bring us to the deeper level of our subtle consciousness. But all these can be achieved just by performing some basic asanas and regular pranayama practice.

It is not necessary that we need to perform complicated asanas which require super flexibility and strength. There are many people who can perform complicated amazing physical poses with they strong and flexible body, and there are many people can only perform simple physical poses due to inflexibility and physically weak, but that really doesn’t determine a person is free from suffering or not, is wise or not, is happy or not. Nor can it determine a person can “do” yoga or not. It is all happening in the mind beyond the physical level.

In fact, sometimes when our body can perform such complicated asanas can be empowering our ego and generate pride and arrogance in us. While if our body cannot perform those complicated asanas might upset our ego and generate frustration, disappointment and low self-confidence in us. This is due to attachment and wrong identification with our body and mind. This is lack of wisdom.

In tradition, yoga asana practice is to make our body flexible and strong (especially the spine for us to sit up straight), in order for us to be able to sit still for meditation comfortably, unmoved or undisturbed by the surrounding and to go beyond the bodily sensations. So that we can have full concentration, calmness and stillness of the mind to “see” our true nature – the Self.

It is the non-attachment towards the body and the mind, non-attachment towards whatever the mind perceives through the senses, the level of self-control over the thoughts, actions and speech, as well as the cultivation of compassion and wisdom, selflessness, dispassion and discrimination of the real and unreal, detaching from all the dualities of names and forms, thinning out the ego and eradicating all the impurties in our mind which are the real factors that indicate whether we will transcend suffering or not.

All the moral restraints and observances, asana practice, pranayama practice, withdrawal of the senses, concentration practice and meditation practice (yoga practice), and all types of different paths of yoga (Raja yoga, Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, Bhakti yoga, Kundalini yoga, Hatha yoga, Laya yoga, Nada yoga, Kriya yoga…) are there to purify the body and the mind, to free ourselves from evil thoughts and evil doings, and be free from all negativity, developing divine qualities, in order to render our mind pure and calm, stilling the thought waves, so that wisdom can arise in us. The dawn of wisdom, is the disappearing of ignorance. Without ignorance, there is no more suffering.

And this is the main purpose of all yoga practice – to allow wisdom to arise in us.

May all be free from suffering through yoga practice.

PS: This doesn't mean that people who are not practicing yoga or Buddhism will not attain self-realization or wisdom and be free. Wisdom doesn't belong to any cultures, philosophies or religion beliefs. Everyone, whether they are practicing yoga or not, are all having the same wisdom in the heart waiting to be realized and are entitled to be free as long as they know selflessness, non-attachment and letting go... Yoga and Buddhism is just one of the ways to realize the wisdom in us. Peace to all.

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Know thyself. There is no existence of 'I'. Everything is impermanent. Be free, be peaceful, be happy.

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Pantai Cenang, Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia
My husband and I run ongoing yoga retreats in Langkawi Malaysia. We teach traditional Hatha Yoga - a combination of Asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breathing techniques) and relaxation, that has given benefit to millions of practitioners over thousands of years. Our yoga studio is situated in Langkawi. We also run yoga retreats in Europe and India.

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