Week 1 : An Overview of the Path of Yoga

"You're perfect just as you are..... and, there's always room for improvement!" - Suzuki Roshi

The practice of yoga is commonly defined as a practice of self transformation-- transformation at the level of body, mind, and heart. While I often use this definition, and I appreciate the incredible potential for change offered in yogic methods, I am going to suggest a different perspective to explore this week and ongoing -- yoga as a practice of self discovery.

When we use the word "discovery" instead of "transformation", we are putting an emphasis on the implicit capacities that are part of who we already are, right here and right now. So instead of thinking of yoga as a way to improve ourselves, we can think of it as a practice that enables us to uncover our essential nature, our innate well-being of body, heart and mind. This innate quality is intrinsic, it is our birthright. It can be experienced as a grounded presence in the body, as a warm, tender open-ness at the heart, and as a clear wakefulness at the level of the mind. These qualities of our being are never far away, since they are intrinsic and indestructible. This innate, open, clear presence is what Suzuki Roshi was referring to when he reassured his worried students -- "You're already perfect just as you are!"

Meanwhile, the methods of the yogic path can absolutely enhance our experience of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We can build strength and flexibility in the body, clarity, concentration and spaciousness in the mind, and compassion and connectedness in the heart. These increased capacities enable us to work more skillfully with those things that block our access to our intrinsic, essential nature, which is like a sun that always shines regardless of the clouds that may temporarily block our view.

A common part of the human experience is to take on defensive structures, or armoring, at various levels of our being. We do this in an attempt to protect ourselves from the ways in which life has been difficult, the ways in which we have been let down, the ways in which we have not been fully met, seen, held in safety, and loved. These defenses exists in the energy body, in the physical body, in the heart, and in the mind. The yogic path includes methods for working with these blockages and for recovering our access to our essential selves at each aspect of our being. This is what Suzuki Roshi was referring to when he told his students "....but there is always room for improvement!" . We must have awareness-based practices that help us to uncover our essential selves! The essential self may be innate, but it can easily remain undiscovered, not understood, and not lived from.

In order to awaken our full human potential, we need to be able to hold the paradox of this statement. You ARE already perfect just as you are--your essential nature is intrinsic, indestructible, and right here! -- AND there's always room for improvement-- you need practices for the body, heart, and mind in order to break free from the defensive structures and conditioned habits that block access to this essential nature.

We'll spend the rest of our time this summer working with the specific methods and practices that are most effective for body, heart, and mind-- the different aspects of our being require different methods and practices.

Our starting point, however, needs to be an understanding that while we may need these practices to support our unfolding, rather than a self-improvement project, yoga is about discovering who we already are.

For further reading:

Insight Yoga by Sarah Powers

Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Suzuki Roshi


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