In my recent post, “Freedom from Karma…and from Chocolate Cake“, I explained what Karma Yoga is and ways to practice Karma Yoga; Off-the-mat practices to free ourselves from seeking external sources of happiness to fulfill desires, cravings, expectations and ambitions. But do you know that your physical practice of asana on the mat also provides a valuable opportunity to realise true happiness within yourself that is everlasting?
Most people already know that asana practice has many physical, physiological, mental and emotional advantages. If you are a regular student, you’ve probably already noticed any of the following therapeutic benefits:
- Improved muscular strength, flexibility, coordination and balance.
- Improved organ function and hormonal balance.
- Increased mental clarity, confidence and ability to cope with stress.
Sharon Gannon refers to our bodies as “storehouses” for all of our past unresolved karmas. Western science and medicine are also now validating the side-effects of our life experiences – our bodies don’t only carry physical experiences, but mental and emotional trauma as well. It is well documented that our diet, habits, actions and our experiences can cause imbalances manifested within our body as injury, stress, chronic pain and disease. You may have heard the saying that we hold our “issues in our tissues”. We have bodies filled with toxins from the air we breath, the food we eat and the pharmaceuticals we ingest. Yet we also are composed of the karmic consequences of suffering, be it our own suffering or the suffering of others around us. When we are exposed to fear, violence and greed, these attributes promote a sense of detachment and isolation from the world around us. However, we do internalise the experience. We feel hurt or sick from such exposure, or at the very least uneasy in our own skin. Yoga philosophy affirms that the reality we think is external to us is actually a reflection of what is going on inside.
Practicing Yoga postures gives us a sacred and safe opportunity to go inside, to analyse our own physicality, physiology and psychology. If we approach our asana practice with curiosity, we can uncover holding patterns, beliefs and tendencies ingrained within us that don’t serve us, tendencies that we may have thought were outside of us and impossible to change. Once these ill-thoughts and habits (i.e. our karmas) are brought to the surface, to our consciousness, we have a greater chance of calling upon change or letting them go. We can begin to ask ourselves questions like “what is this I feel?”, “where has this resistance come from?”, “why am I still carrying it here with me?”. So through the physical practice we can begin to gain insight into our own personality – the way we see ourselves shifts, it becomes clearer and assured. We gain both strength and compassion from within. We can then use our practice on the mat to strengthen, stretch, twist out and essentially purify our bodies of our karmas, our experiences and relationships. We can find resolution and peace with our past, current and future situation and in doing so, discover who we truly are.