from earth to heaven

What is the potential of yoga? In the West, most people have a very limited perception of what yoga is. Many are familiar with the physical exercises, but yoga is not just a series of exercises to relax or to keep fit. The physical dimension of yoga, Hatha Yoga, is just one tiny part of yoga philosophy. Yoga can take you from where you are now to liberation, from earth to heaven, from the concrete to the very, very subtle. You may start out in a yoga class practising asanas, but where will this lead you?

I remember my first Hatha Yoga class, doing end relaxation, I thought, "My God, there's another level here." I went deeper and deeper, but where was I going? I had never gone there before, but I knew immediately that I had been searching for this place.

There is a very specific kind of person who is searching for spiritual inspiration, a person who is searching for understanding when life doesn't make sense anymore, who is looking for a way to live with the complexities of life. Yoga's purpose is to bring us deeper, to help us look at who we really are. When we are open to learning, we can enter a place that hasn't been explored yet ... a place inside ourselves.

You have to put effort into knowing your inner Self. The Self is a pearl of great price, a precious treasure that is not easily accessible. Yoga demands that you look at all the different levels and possibilities of life. A life of self-examination, discipline and practice may look like a more difficult life, but is the other way truly easier? Why wouldn't you be curious about yourself, about your potential?

Yoga is a holistic approach that brings together the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. At the beginning, little glimmers of inspiration act as signposts, leading you out of ignorance, to more knowledge, awareness and power not over people but over your own make-up.

This approach may seem foreign to us at first, but if we enter deeply into any spiritual tradition east, west, north or south we will discover different symbols, different methods; but the essence is the same. In all the different traditions we begin the process of evolution by establishing a strong foundation that helps us face our life situations, then we make a commitment so that higher levels of consciousness can be developed.

For Westerners it is often hard to see the mystical possibilities of our own spiritual traditions. I was attracted to yoga because it was, on the surface, so far removed from the conservative church I went to as a child, with simplified stories and sad hymns. The foreign images of the East shook up my idea of divinity with an array of gods and goddesses. Yoga promised that I could experience the Divine myself. Through dreams, practise and reflection I became aware of the vast array of possibilities and attributes of divinity. The Divine was not someone else's idea to be planted in my mind. In yoga, I grow and evolve through a deepening understanding of the mystical in my daily encounters. My life is my unique path.

The Western challenge is to bring yoga into our daily lives. We can't easily do what Eastern tradition prescribes: sit in a cave, or wander India leading the ascetic life. We have to go inwards, and that knowledge has to be brought out again. We need to transplant the seeds of yoga into our lives. How do the seeds of yoga grow in the world? The understanding that grows out of our practice of yoga needs to be put into action. We find like-minded people, take yoga classes, support each other, create a space in our homes to do our practices... so then we can go out to work, be with family, live in the world. And feel whole.

The world is an incredible place. It has such a rapid pace, there is so much change. Yoga helps you to find a way back to who you really are. The Self is timeless and knowledgeable. Start asking yourself the questions that you want answers to. Listen. There is a part of you that knows. Beyond the modern western-eastern-global-fast-paced world, there is a part of you that can ask the question, listen and hear the answer. What is the purpose to my life? Who am I?
Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

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Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life