A lot of us might be aware of the story of the frog in the well. The frog sat along the walls of the well and took a dip in the shallow water whenever he so pleased. He ate insects and saw the stars above him in the night. He was satisfied with this limited existence, and did not know about the abundant beauty of the world until one day when a yellow sparrow forced him to get out of the well. Then, flying on the sparrow’s back, he saw mountains, valleys, rivers, seas, plants and trees of many colours, and many more natural wonders.
Most of us go through our lives living like the frog in the well, except that while we happily experience the sensory pleasures of the outer world, we are actually unaware of the bountiful resources that our inner world possesses. Yoga can be our vehicle to travel inward, much like the yellow sparrow was for the frog. To practice Yoga is to allow your mind, body, and soul to harmonize and attain a state of equanimity and bliss. In such a state, one can begin to traverse the many layers that make up our Being.
When we practice Ashtanga Yoga, our Guru asks us to focus on our breathing. By concentrating our energies towards this cyclical inner process of our body, our mental rhythms begin to synchronize with the expansion and contraction of our lungs. Gradually, we begin to breathe slower by taking longer breaths, and the confluence of our mind, body, and soul gradually start filtering out the many noises that are ever present in the outside world.
Imagine dipping your head just below the water’s surface in a community swimming pool. As soon as the entire head is submerged, the noises and distractions of the surrounding environment become muffled, and one can then hear our breath, touch our heart to feel its pulse, and see the body move up and down with the ebb and tide of the waves. Now, instead of imagining the swimming pool, picture the deepest oceans, and try to gauge the depth of the bed rock at the bottom of the ocean. Imagine the quiet that one could experience, if only we had the means to travel many kilometres below the surface. It would be purely blissful if we could sit on the ocean’s bed rock in pranayama, with our legs folded and our eyes closed with only the gentle pulsations of our bodily rhythms to remind us of our physical form.
Our consciousness dwells not just at the surface of this imaginary ocean, but also at is depths and everywhere in between. The consciousness at the surface is inundated with sensory stimuli, experienced through tangible distractions like the calls of a bird, or through the more intangible fears and insecurities of our everyday modern lives. As we travel deeper, these stimuli become muffled, until they are entirely removed from our imagination. Yoga is our vehicle to travel to such depths of our consciousness. Yoga, in its many physical and metaphysical manifestations, trains its practitioners to disassociate from the many sensory distractions, and allows us to journey within and to the depths of our consciousness.
When one first begins the practice of Yoga, it is like dipping your head just below the surface of the ocean. There is the novel and exciting thrill of the beginnings of a long journey, a journey to the unimaginable depths of our very Being. A sustained and disciplined practice of Yoga prepares us to experience the world around us from this dissociated depth of consciousness. As one keeps travelling deeper into this ocean of the Self, one learns to interact with the world with calmness. A regular practitioner of Yoga will not be troubled by the many daily frustrations of the world since he or she would react to any event as if it is taking place on the surface of the consciousness ocean, which is only the superficial layer of the Self. An awareness of the depth of our Self will free us from the many distractions brought on due to the various sensory stimuli, and will give us time to react to the sensory inputs in a controlled and balanced manner. Yoga can be the vehicle for travelling inward and exploring the depths of the Self, and in the process discover the abundant beauty that lies within all of us.