Yoga is not really a religion, but there are definite principles that underlie all the various families of practice we call "yoga." There are some deep connections between Yoga and Buddhism, Yoga and the Hindu practices, and actually with most of the major spiritual belief systems. This is clearly because all of these structures have to do with how we conduct ourselves, how we treat each other, and how we approach the hardest parts about being human in the world and understanding what can only be seen as the mysteries around us.
photo by j.r.meredith
Truth is one of those underlying principles that seems relevant in every belief structure. This idea of truth sometimes seems like a shape shifter. In any given moment we can know something to be true that is simply no longer true in the next moment. This is not falsifying the truth, but requires that we live in the present moment. Memories are notoriously slippery in terms of what they hold and what they shift around. If we color the moment with interpretations, then the memory we hold of it will also slide around as our view changes with time and distance. If we can actually take in the truth of that moment, it is complete in and of itself and does not require us to add or change elements. We can take it in just as it is. Eventually we can learn to see that everything is subject to conditions, and that conditions by their nature are impermanent.
This is a very hard thing to do. It is like telling someone to let go of something without moving... but in fact we can do that too.
In a yoga practice it is probable that you will run into yourself at every turn. Much as the practice may promise you a release from the definitions and constraints that bring you discomfort and suffering, it will open all the possibilities, not just the ones that feel like letting go and floating in a sea of beautiful colors. There are very specific physical things that happen through a physical yoga practice. Of course, muscles strengthen, lengthen, loosen, tighten; breath changes, opens, shortens, lengthens, and quiets. The mind, meanwhile, attaches, detaches, interprets, tells stories. The mind is busy noticing, taking notes, questioning, smothering feelings and highlighting feelings, and so forth. The yoga mat is a great place for noticing how you, very specifically you, deal with all kinds of circumstances and expressions of yourself. It helps to start with what is actually happening, and notice the intricate weaving that the mind does all around that. Just notice it, and let it go.
So what is actually happening? Is that the truth? It is a good start. In any Asana or posture there is potential to notice changes and shifts, whether you are sustaining the pose for several breaths, or moving in and out of the pose again and again. It is not like a law of averages or finding a median where the way it feels more often or most of the time is the truth... the truth is in each moment of the Asana. It can take time in a practice to accept that which is in any moment as true. The fear, hostility or desperation that arises as you twist for the sixth or tenth time in Utkatasana (Chair Pose), and the relief, determination or urgency that arises as you release back from that twist into plain Utkatasana, the flood of gratitude, blame, or shaky surrender as you fold into Uttanasana (forward fold) or rise into Tadasana (mountain pose) are all true. We don't have to keep a catalog of all of these truths. The hip will hold on to some of it, the heart to some, the mind to some. Next time you take on the twisting either that day or in another day's practice, you will hear the echos and feel the stories rise. This is you in action and is the seat of your explorations about yourself and truth. Yet the twists will have their own shapes that next time, and learning to accept that which is now, that which is this moment, is truly the path of truth, the conditional nature of our experiences and the deepest understanding of impermanence.
What my left hip felt yesterday made me laugh at myself. How hard I was willing to work to close off from that truth, and to tell a different story. The hip kept prompting me to see the moment and I could watch my mind work to wind and unwind its attachments and interpretations. Today, this moment, is simply today, this moment. The more space I can give the truth, the clearer my practice is too. And when that attitude comes off the mat, well, try it and you will see why it is an underlying principle in all deep spiritual practices! By the way, there really is no getting around it, either. It is there whether we take it in or not. The amazing revelation in all this is that taking in the truth brings authenticity into everything. Imagine that! No wonder so many seekers give their lives to the search.