What is Yoga? Choosing the best yoga outfit

One of the things I love most about teaching Yoga is the privilege of dealing with people when they are ‘stripped down’ to their yoga gear; when they are in a position to be able to let go of the role they occupy in their day to day life, like their professions, position in their family, or the way they are with their friends.

These days too much importance is placed on what to wear during yoga – and the result often ends up being funky and expensive; the labels and the beautiful outfit lose their impact when in the yoga practice we naturally turn our gaze inward. We are completely preoccupied with ourselves, and meanwhile everybody around us has also truly lost interest in how we look. Automatically we now come to ‘feel’ that the dress code requires just simple, comfortable gear.

Yoga gives us the space to just be ourselves, to internalize and direct our focus inward. With that we literally draw in prana, vital energy. Yoga is the most beautiful expression of ourselves; all our personal assets gradually reveal themselves. We are encouraged to face some challenges – all at our own pace and at a time that is good for us – and that can be life-changing. Gently and gradually we recognize our own vulnerabilities, and it helps us to look at things we tend to avoid, in an accepting and loving way.

Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras, points to the obsessive fluctuations of the mind. When we are taught to direct the focus of these fluctuations single pointedly, and with discipline sustain this direction without distraction, one can reach the state of ‘Yoga’. Many of us are very capable of maintaining a level of concentration for some time. The true obstacles creep up when we want to focus on one object which, for example, could be the breath – for a long period of time. Old ‘emotional baggage’ revisits our mind, something or some things we have never fully digested or let go of. Memory, one of the five recognized fluctuations of the mind, is understood to be the most powerful, and therefore the most troublesome.

Patanjali has also outlined five ‘afflictions’ of the mind, the ‘kleshas’. They are inherent in all of us, and need to be dealt with ongoingly, with the aim of reducing their impact.

The first one, ‘avidya’, governs the other four kleshas – it means misconception or ignorance; this is when we perceive something to be a particular way, which then turns out to be untrue. For example, this could be something as devastating as thinking you have married the love of your life, and then realizing neither of you have anything in common with the other at all. Or it could be as simple as believing you have drunk three glasses of wine, whereas in actual fact, you have drunk five.

The second klesha, called ‘asmita’ is the ‘wrong understanding of ourselves’. We identify with a role in our life. This is where the ‘right yoga outfit’ comes in. We would love to be part of a club, to ‘belong’. It is certainly beautiful and enriching to be part of a community – especially NSY’s lovely yoga community :). But at the same time we ought to aim at being independent and free, recognizing that our true nature is so much more than being a part of something, and that it is just one of the few roles we are playing in life. Even when fulfilling all the aspects of our lives, we haven’t yet touched or reached our full beauty and potential, our true nature.

‘Raga’, the third klesha, is clinging to a beautiful experience we are having in a way that we long for it to be repeated. Here we would like to come to the recognition that we want to be truly present when something delightful is happening to us, but to be just content with that. It might occur again or not, and we are fine either way, thus relinquishing attachment.

‘Dvesa’ is the same as ‘raga’, but dealing with something we dislike or even hate; this might be a recurring situation at work or with physical health.

‘Abhinivesa’ deals with our mortality; the inherent fear of death. It is said that it affects even the wisest. Being fearful can occupy our mind severely, and influence our judgment and actions negatively.

This is what Patanjali is trying to convey about the kleshas, which we all have: – If they are domineering our mind, they are leading to at the least a feeling of un-ease, and often suffering. We are aiming to reduce their impact by first becoming aware of them when they arise, and making wiser choices in the way we think or act. And what helps us to get there you might ask? – Yoga, of course!

OM Shanti,

Angelika