Updating your mental, physical and spiritual apps with a regular yoga practice
by Ryan Glidden
Every few days when I pick up my phone, I see the little red bubble hovering over the app store icon. The number inside the bubble tells me I have some apps that need updating . . . again. In today’s technological age things change quickly. There are constantly updates to be made and bugs to fix. Each update makes the apps faster or easier to use improving their performance.
In this way, we’re not so different from the apps we use. Life is dynamic and always changing. We need to meet the demands of new situations, endure physical, mental and emotional challenges, and adjust to new situations. We need updates too!
My yoga mat is my app store. It’s where I go to download and integrate what I need in mind body and soul, in an attempt to be the latest and best version of myself.
Your Mental App
The mind, from a western view is a complex bundle of neurons, over 100 billion in the human brain alone, all interacting with one and other, forming the basis for our human physical experience. The yoga mind is part of consciousness. Consciousness (citta) is threefold: mind, intellect and ego. The mind is the pleasure seeker. It takes in sensory information and processes it as “good” or “bad”. If good, the mind seeks to repeat it. If bad, the mind seeks to avoid it. Left unchecked the mind is constantly rolling (vrtti) between good and bad. It has a constant desire to fulfill sensual pleasure.
“We breathe more consciously, we move more consciously so we can BE more conscious.”
A regular yoga practice begins the process of disciplining the mind. In yogasana we use the breath and the poses (asanas) to channel the mind in a more conscious direction. We teach the mind not to waste energy on thoughts that don’t pertain to the present moment. We breathe more consciously, we move more consciously, so we can be more conscious. Not just in yoga but in every activity. This focus helps us perform tasks with more clarity and purpose. It reduces mistakes and ultimately leaves us feeling more at peace. Combine this with that fact that research shows a regular yoga practice improves self-image and confidence and you’ve got a strong mental app.
Your Physical App
The physical body is a complex symphony of systems doing there best to work harmoniously with one and other. In yoga thought the body is one of five layers (Kosas): physical, energetic, mental, intellectual and divine. Each body has it’s own qualities and characteristics and it is the goal of the practicing yogi to cleanse and strengthen each layer.
A regular yoga practice has great benefits to our physical health. Moving the body in combination with the breath puts healthy stress on our joints, warding off things like osteoporosis (a condition of weakening bone mass at the joints), improves flexibility (allowing the joints to move through their full range of motion), strengthens and tones the nervous system (alleviating stress), provides a pumping action of lymphatic fluid and blood throughout the body (improving detoxification systems) and more. Research has even shown that a regular practice can slow the deterioration of Telomeres, the end caps on our chromosomes whose slow deterioration is associated with the aging process. Yes, yoga can slow aging!
All of these things contribute to our overall wellbeing. We feel stronger and more comfortable in our bodies. We feel focused and more relaxed.
Your Spiritual App
Spirituality is defined as having a belief in something other then yourself. The ego, a part of yoga consciousness, only believes in itself. It is limited to the physical and mental experience. With death as an inevitable end point to physical life, underlying the ego is fear. Our ego rejects people, situations and environments that challenge it (ragas). On the opposite end it pulls towards it the people and experiences that support it, regardless if they’re good or bad (dvesa). Each of these factors: ego, fear, desire and rejection create our ignorance (avidya) to our true self. It is the goal of the spiritual aspirant (classical yogi) to be free of avidya in order to achieve Self Realization or enlightenment, but even if we don’t seek enlightenment in our practice yoga has something to offer us.
When we steady the body and focus the mind we create space for reflection. Through the conscious act of asana we bring some of what lives in the subconscious up to the surface. Anytime we experience new insights into about our ego we’re creating space for spirit. Anytime we act from love instead of fear were performing a spiritual act. Anytime we feel a deeper connection to the people and world around us we’re having a spiritual experience. Any experience can be a spiritual one, if we’re paying attention.
“Any experience can be a spiritual one, if we’re paying attention.”
When I step on my mat to practice I do my best to suspend the world around me and draw a deep connection to my breath and my body. I work to find a rhythm and flow that not only improves these systems but unites me to the flow and rhythm of a spiritual energy that transcends them. I can only speak from personal experience but yoga has given me the visceral experience of connection to something beyond my mind and body. It’s provided me with a connection to a love so vast, so true and so expansive that words could not do it justice. Yoga’s greatest gift in my life is not just what it’s done for my mind and body but what it’s done for my soul.
The real beauty of yoga is this. Regardless of our intention: mental, physical or spiritual, yoga has something to offer us. It provides us the platform for some much needed app updates in the dynamic exposition of life.
This was published in Yoga Digest in February of 2016. To learn more visit www.yogadigest.com