I am not sure when I first heard this phrase. It expresses the idea that spiritual practice – mindfulness of our thoughts, words and actions in the present – is not just a technique to create some future benefit, but it is the benefit, right now in the present moment.
Of course our behavior in the present will determine the nature of our experience in the future. Yet in that unknown future, we will still be on the path, mindfully observing body, breath and mind as we connect to the Universal Divine Spirit. I like calling this practice being in a “state of yoga.”
What do I mean by a “state of yoga?” A state of yoga is one of relaxed attention. Being in a yogic state means we are fully present with the moment as it is. Yoga also means integration, so we explore the connection among various aspects of our being. Presence, awareness, mindfulness, relaxed attention, integration. These are all words for yoga.
The question then arises, when we are practicing yoga asanas, are we actually in a state of yoga? Or do we have the belief that we can only experience a yogic state in some time in the future, once we are “better” at the poses?
In a detail oriented method such as Iyengar Yoga, this is an easy mistake to make. We can get so caught up in improving the physical aspects of the pose, that we forget that yoga is ultimately about the inward journey. The poses are a method, not the goal, and they exist as a means to explore the deeper aspects of our being – the thinking mind, the intuitive spiritual intelligence, and the essential core of our being.
When we hear about this inward journey, we could easily conclude that we are not advanced enough to think about those subtle aspects of experience, but then we would be forgetting that the path is the goal. We would be confusing the techniques of yoga with the experience of yoga.
Having a yogic or inward or integrated experience is not dependent on the range of motion or perfect alignment of a pose. It is dependent on cultivating presence, and a balance of relaxation with focus on what we are doing, in this case, a yoga pose.
We should not wait for some unknown time in the future, when we are “better” at yoga, to experience yoga. Yoga is in the now. Yoga means being awake, present with whatever we are doing, content and mindful with the moment as it is. When we bring those qualities to our practice of yoga postures, we also learn to apply the same approach to the art of living.