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May all find the teacher within to guide oneself towards unconditional love and peace

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Advancing or improving in yoga and meditation practice?

How do we know if we are advancing or improving in our yoga and meditation practice?

When somebody come to a yoga class, we all want to know the different levels of yoga classes and what level are we being categorized into.

Nowadays in most of the yoga clubs, yoga centres or yoga studios, yoga (asana) classes are being separated into beginner level, intermediate level and advance level. And usually the different levels of these yoga classes are being categorized, or determined, or judged by the degrees of difficulty or complexity of the yoga asana poses that requires certain degrees of skills, physical fitness level, stamina, strength and flexibility.

The yoga students are being categorized into beginner level, intermediate level or advance level by themselves or by the yoga teachers based on their physical condition and abilities to perform the yoga asana exercises. The people who are physically fit and are able to perform the complicated yoga asana poses are being put into advance level yoga class, and call themselves advance yoga practitioner. And those who has a weak and inflexible physical body, and are only able to perform some simple and easy yoga asana poses, they are being put into beginner level yoga class, and call themselves beginner yoga practitioner. But this is not what yoga practice really is about.

A person who has a very fit, strong and flexible physical body, who only goes to 'advance level yoga classes' can still be a very 'beginner' yoga practitioner even after many years of 'advance yoga practice'.

A person who doesn't has a fit, strong or flexible physical body, who can only goes to 'beginner level yoga classes' can be a very 'advance' yoga practitioner even he or she hasn't done many, or never done any 'yoga practice' before.

It is about the state of mind. It's about how pure is the mind and how well the mind is tamed. Even if the physical body can be trained to perform many 'difficult' asana poses, but it doesn't determine whether the mind is well-controlled as well.

In the end, beyond names and forms, there's no level at all.
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

If the mind is becoming more peaceful, cheerful, clear and open-minded, whether being in comfortable or discomfortable condition and situation. The mind starts to be able to be balanced in both pleasure and pain;

If calmness of the mind is able to sustain for longer period of time, being less disturbed, or less affected, or less determined, or less influenced by the qualities of names and forms, likes and dislikes, agreements and disagreements;

If the ego (the idea of 'I' and 'mine', pride and arrogance) is getting smaller or weaker;

If selfish desires, or wants and don't wants are getting less;

If attachment is becoming less, while non-attachment is getting stronger;

If impurities like anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, worry, disappointment, dissatisfaction, frustration, irritation, agitation, aggressiveness, pride, arrogance, craving and aversion are becoming less, and are losing their strength to influence our action and reaction, and eventually all these impurities are disappearing from the mind;

If argument, criticism, complaint, defensiveness, offensiveness and self-justification are becoming less and disappearing;

If greed, possessiveness, ill will, petty-mindedness, hypocrisy, evil thinking, actions and speech are becoming less and disappearing;

If patience, perseverance, determination, forbearance, forgiveness, humility, contentment, acceptance, adaptation, adjustment, accommodation and tolerance are getting stronger;

If we start to becoming more aware of all the activities in the mind, without identification or association, without judgment or expectation;

If we start to be able to accept the reality of everything as it is, even if the reality is not something that we like it to be, and stop trying to control or change the reality that we don't like into something that we prefer;

If the mind starts to turn inward and performs self-introspection towards the mind activities, and less going outward chasing after worldly objects of names and forms, material and sensual enjoyment;

If we start to see our own defilements and being aware of the ego, and know how to take full responsibility for our own physical and mental well-being, happiness and unhappiness;

If we are able to respect everyone as they are, without discrimination or trying to change other beings to be the way that we like them to be, or what we think they should be;

We are able to have certain types of beliefs, disciplines or principles of life, but we keep it to ourselves, and allow other beings to have different types of beliefs, disciplines or principles of life from us;

We are able to let go of emotional turbulence a little faster and easier than before;

We can go to sleep without being worried or mentally disturbed by what we had experienced in the day;

We have less projections into the future, less imagining or anticipating about what is going to happen next;

We start to be able to forbear or withstand insults, criticism or condemn without generate anger and hatred;

The mind can be in the present easier and longer than before; And etc;

Then we are advancing or improving in yoga and meditation practice. It doesn't matter if it is a huge improvement, or just a small little improvement.

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

Even though our physical body fitness level and health condition are improving due to the regular yoga asana or pranayama practice; and the body is developing physical stamina, strength and flexibility, and is capable of performing many of the yoga asana poses that it couldn't perform before; but due to certain 'reasons' that the mind has not been getting any of the above mental and spiritual improvements significantly, then we are not really improving in the yoga and meditation practice.

If so, we need to find out why we haven't really improve anything at all, and work on it. Without judgment or expectation, nor comparing with other yoga practitioners, just keep practice.

As during and after the yoga practice, the mind might feels good and experiences some sorts of contentment, or pleasant sensations, or relaxation in the physical body, but very soon this contentment, pleasant sensations and good feelings will be disturbed and disappearing, and there are more tension continue to be accumulated in the body and mind coming from our everyday life experiences, or derived from the reactions of the egoistic, impure and untrained mind towards what it likes and dislikes, agrees and disagrees with, of what it sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and thinks.

The mind is constantly swaying between the states of elevation, calmness and depression, being restless and dissatisfied even though sometimes it experiences momentary contentment and peacefulness coming from performing the yoga and meditation practice.

This is because we haven't really been practicing yoga in our everyday life experiences.

We didn't know what is non-identification with the body and mind, but instead we attached strongly to the body and mind, and identified with the body and mind as 'I'. We didn't know what is perform all actions without attachment, or what is renounce from the fruit of action, but instead we attached strongly to our actions, and have great expectation towards the fruit of action, and be determined by the fruit of action to motivate or demotivate us to perform action.

We think, "The thinking mind is 'I'. The physical body is 'I'. 'I' am the one who sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and thinks. 'I' am the one who feels good or bad, happy or sad. 'I' am a good person. 'I' do good actions and 'I' will be receiving something good in return. 'I' am a yogi. 'I' am a meditator. 'I' am the one who is performing all these yoga and meditation practice, and 'I' will be getting the benefits from performing the yoga and meditation practice."

How many people who practice yoga will think and say this, "I practice yoga. I have been practicing yoga for how long. I am a yoga practitioner or a yogi. I am a yoga student or yoga teacher. I love yoga. I can do this yoga asana. I cannot do that yoga asana. I like this yoga asana pose. I don't like this yoga asana pose. I like to do this. I don't like to do this. I am not strong or flexible. I want to be strong and flexible. I want to be like him or her. I like this type of teaching and classes, I don't like this type of teaching and classes. I prefer a more gentle practice. I prefer a more intense practice." And so on.

We didn't know what is the ego or how to let go of the ego, but instead we are constantly empowering the ego while performing our yoga practice. We didn't know what is letting go of craving and aversion, but instead we are generating more craving and aversion in our yoga practice, towards the yoga asana poses that we like or dislike.

We didn't know what is real and unreal, but instead we are being over-powered by ignorance and selfish desires, constantly chasing after for the unreal or impermanent objects of the senses, such like pleasant sensations and good feelings, and good condition of the physical body, which are the 'side effects' of the yoga practice, but not the main objective of performing the yoga practice.

We didn't know what is non-judgment, but instead we are constantly judging ourselves and other people, and judging the practice all the time while performing the yoga practice, and be determined and troubled by our own judgment about everyone and everything. We judge the yoga class or yoga session as good or bad. We judge the yoga teacher as good or bad. We judge the type of yoga teachings or practice being taught in the class as good or bad. We judge our performance as good or bad. We judge the yoga asana exercises as good or bad.

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

Yoga and meditation practice is not limited in a yoga or meditation class, but to be practiced in everyday life existence.

As the entire yoga and meditation practice is a purification process for the mind to eliminate impurities, ignorance and egoism. It is about conquering our own mind, changing the conditioned habits of the mind, realization of the truth, going beyond the qualities of names and forms or duality, be free from craving and aversion, and be free from restlessness or affliction that derived from attachment towards the body and the mind, and the qualities of names and forms. This is not determined by the fitness level, or health condition, or strength and flexibility of the physical body.

Purification of the mind, controlling the mind, eliminating the egoism and ignorance, eliminating craving and aversion, is not a 'pleasant' experience for most people. Especially during the purification process. The egoistic mind will rejects, generates great resistance towards its own destruction. And this resistance is manifested in the physical body as discomfortable sensations, or tiredness, or low energy level.

In fact, the purification process is quite discomfortable, or even painful or difficult for some people. Depending on the strength of the ego, and the past accumulated tension, impression or impurities in the body and mind, there will be different layers of physical, mental and emotional discomfort manifesting in the body and mind. We need to have patience and perseverance to forbear or endure all these discomfortable experiences being part of the purification process of eliminating the egoism and ignorance.

The mind will see a lot of 'ugly' sides of itself. Sometimes due to pride and arrogance, the mind does not want to admit or confront with all these defilements, and wants to avoid or reject the purification process coming from yoga and meditation practice. It will give itself many excuses or reasons why the body and mind should not continue practicing yoga and meditation, or to take a break from the practice for some time. This is a common obstacle in the journey towards realization of the truth.

If we are able to forbear or endure all the discomfortable manifestations during the purification process without any expectations, it will be followed by unconditional and unlimited joy and peace, and real contentment or satisfaction coming from being free from attachment, egoism, ignorance and impurities.

Om shanti.

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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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