How Much Do You Believe in Yoga?

The following video was shared with me by a dear yoga student today. As I watched, my own practice as well as my teaching, grew truly inspired. And yet, there was a tiny nagging voice that asked, Do you really believe? Even after all of these years of practicing, studying, classes, teaching, I questioned my own belief in the transformational power of yoga.

How large is my capacity to change? How strong can I grow? How large is my faith? Can I move forward without becoming burdened and worn down by feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, and self-recrimination?

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient sage advises us to study and concentrate upon the qualities of an elephant  to gain strength (Sutra III.24). In the video, we watch the transformation of a human being, from burdened and weak to fast, and strong with a much wider capacity to live a bigger life, to express his own life force. How important it is to the development of faith to see examples of transformation in living beings!

May you also be inspired. Would love to hear your story!


Do you believe you can?

Barefoot College is an amazing story of faith in action. There is the vision of its founder, Bunker Roy, the faith of every single middle-aged student, the confidence of every village the women students come from and return to electrify, and the belief of Barefoot supporters around the globe. If you’d like to know more about them, check out the PBS Religion and Ethics story.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali cites faith in the first book, thread #20. It is linked to spiritual consciousness. Is it possible to have a spiritual consciousness without faith? Well, yes, but it would be very limited, circumscribed by human potentiality.

Nischala Joy Devi offers a contemporary interpretation of Patanjali in her book, The Secret Power of Yoga. She says identification with Supreme Consciousness is enhanced (her interpretation of Patanjali) by “faith, dynamism, intention, reflection, and perception.”

lake erie state park rock in sara's hand

Faith implies a power unseen, and in the Barefoot College case, a power unheard of. It doesn’t usually happen in a day though. Faith is a gift, yes, but it is a grace that can be trained by taking gradually larger steps. It’s often linked to disciplined practice and development of energy. Your asana practice can be greatly influenced by a constant diet of faith. In every pose you attempt, feed yourself a dish of faith, no matter what else is going on. No matter what physical or mental ailments you may be undergoing, sup on faith and your asana will feed you in return.

Not only can faith feed your yogic development, when faith is pointed at social issues, the world changes. Take a look at some of the incredible steps taken by Social Edge bloggers such as Global X, Kiva Chronicles or, Forging Ahead.

Kausthaub Desikachar of the Krishnamacharya Healing Yoga Foundation cites the importance of faith and confidence in healing:

There is a word for faith in Sanskrit that Patanjali uses in the Yoga Sutra-s. The word is “sraddha”. This is a very beautiful word, which comes from the root “dha” – to hold or sustain. The idea behind the word sraddha is that if we have faith, it will sustain us or hold us and not allow us to fall down. Yoga Sutra says that when we have faith, we will have confidence and through this we can achieve anything, even in times of difficulty.

Let’s make a commitment together to foster faith in one another. Ditch the competition. It only brings you down anyway. No one ever wins.

It’s through healing on many levels that we come to abide in our True Nature. Yoga teaches us to heal contemporary as well as ancient wounds. Learning to open ourselves to faith should be an integral part of our yogic development. Knock loudly on that door and watch what blasts through. You may never be the same, nor will I.

Poland door (rkg)

Yoga Sutra 2.48 NONDUALISM

Japanese Fern - Fredonia NY

SUTRA II.48 tatah dvandva-anabhighatah Tatah: then, at this point dvandva: opposing pair or couple, duality, dualism Anabhighatah: invulnerability, undisturbed

As a result, one is invulnerable to dualism. (Bouanchaud)

Then one is no longer assailed by pairs of opposites (D.Brooks)

When these principles are correctly followed, asana practice will help a person endure and even minimize the external influences on the body such as age,climate, diet, and work. (Desikachar)

From then on, the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities. (Iyengar)

Can our yoga practice truly free us from the ambivalent feelings and thoughts that pervade our lives? Is there a Middle Path? And do we seek it?

If we practice faithfully, do we have faith that yoga will take us there as this aphorism asserts? Does svadhyaya (self-study) help us master this aphorism? In my mind, this is the most important teaching of yoga; this is the most important lesson of asana. It is the hardest to learn and takes the longest time–usually many years–for most of us.

Is all life, including our personal qualities and gifts a double-edged sword? One side of every gift positive, the other side negative?

Can we develop the ability to see ourselves this way, thereby helping us walk an invulnerable path? A middle way?

Can we see others in this light?

What is the effect on self-confidence when one looks at the world through a nondualistic lens?

What does invulnerable mean in terms of one’s everyday life and relationships?

Is there a relationship between being invulnerable and acceptance, or between invulnerable and contentment?

Are opposing pairs intrinsic to the universe, or are they a construct of the human psyche?

Do we consciously seek out relationships with people who accept the world’s dualities? Do relationships enable a nondual existence?

This aphorism tells us that our asana practice will result in a “yoking” of our world on all levels. Making a conscious decision to practice seeing the world in all of its duality will take us a long way toward achieving a non-dual mentality. Here is the ironic duality: Through a lens of the duality inherent in life, one can achieve a non-dual state. Perhaps here is the crux of the classical yoga/tantra argument regarding dualism!

The foremost yoga scholar of our time, Georg Feuerstein writes about this sutra in his book, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali:

This drives home the all-important point, usually overlooked by western Yoga enthusiasts, that asana is not just a physical exercise, but has a strong psychic component as well. Relaxed posture is the foundation of the practice of sense-withdrawal. When the body is perfectly relaxed, a pin-prick and, at a more advanced stage, even the dentist’s drill fail to cause the familiar sensation of pain.

What are the effects of yoga and-or- meditation in your life? Are they inward? Outward? Can you handle pain in a softer manner? Do you feel life’s challenges and the global suffering more deeply, but with more equanimity perhaps? Do others remark upon how you’ve changed? We’d love to hear how!

deer skull on a castle wall in Poland