The Experience of Yoga

Yoga is an experiential science. In today’s world we often forget about the experiential and go straight to the scientific. We want to know all about the benefits, how to practice it, when to practice, who’s an expert in it and how we should feel during and after it. How often do we allow our own experiences to guide us rather than the words of others? Why do we find it such a challenge to trust our own sensations?

Judging by the plethora of books and magazines with the word “yoga” in their titles,  we spend a lot of time reading about yoga. But we didn’t read a book to learn to speak. We looked to our parents, older brothers and sisters, to other people around us, watched what they were doing and then tried it out for ourselves. Sure we made some elementary mistakes, but we fixed them up and kept on trying. Sometimes the best way to learn something is to try it out.

In India, where I’m currently attending a yoga conference, the meaning of a practice may be purposefully witheld so that your knowledge, your preconceived ideas, don’t colour your experience. When we’re switched on and observant we can feel the benefits. Free from expectations, we may even discover something unique to ourselves that the books never mentioned – something that, if we’d read the manual beforehand, we might think was wrong.

Practising yoga in this manner can be exhilarating. As I try it out I can feel the effects, I can observe the responses in my body and mind: I know first hand how it’s benefitting me.  Afterwards, the teacher tells me that my experiences are consistent with the ancient texts, or I read a paper that describes exactly what I’ve been sensing. This gives me confidence to continue.

On the other hand, when my mind thinks it knows what should happen I don’t get the same sense of excitement when it does occur. There is a place for book learning: we all need to refer to texts at some point. But we shouldn’t elevate it above the experience of yoga. Nothing is more important than knowing for yourself how yoga affects your body, your mind and your spirit.

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