At a yoga class I recently attended, we focused on the theme of connecting mind and heart. This is one of the central reasons for practicing yoga. By yoga, I don’t mean just the physical postures (asanas), but the whole practice. As my teacher said, we are always practicing yoga (if not, we’d like to be).
Connecting Mind and Heart Through Yoga
There are different ways to define yoga, but the definitions are ultimately all about connection. Yoga means “union,” and the purpose of the practice is to connect. We do this in many ways. We connect ourselves to a higher power and to each other. We practice connecting mind to our heart. That is, we learn how to connect our brains with our emotions.
In fact, as yogis, we need to focus on connecting mind and heart before we can connect to another person, being or higher power.
Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, explained this in a book he wrote at age 94. In the book, “Core of the Yoga Sutras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga,” Iyengar goes deeply into the yoga philosophy. Specifically, he takes an in-depth look the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.
If you’ve practiced yoga for any length of time, you’ve probably heard 196 yoga sutras that form the basis of yoga philosophy. The first few sutras prepare students to quiet the mind. In this context, yoga is defined as “chitta vritti nirodha,” a Sanskrit phrase that means the restraint of mental chatter.
Why do we want to restrain mental chatter? The answer, I think, is so our hearts will come through.
Yoga is Union with God
By profound meditation, the knower, the knowledge, and the known become one. ~B.K.S. Iyengar
The ultimate goal of yoga is union with God. You can substitute union with the divine, spiritual union, connection to a higher power, or some other phrase for union with God if you like.
No matter how you name your higher power, the first step in uniting with that power is to quiet the mind. But that alone won’t do the job. To tap into an energy greater than you are, you’ll also need to open your heart.
Yoga stills the mind and opens the heart. Once that happens, says Iyengar and other yoga masters, you begin to act from a place of knowing.
“The knower, the knowledge and the known become one.”
In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians pray, “Thy will be done.” When connect to the divine through our yoga practice, we begin to understand more clearly how to be accordance with the will of God.
Be a Yogi at All Times
Many years ago, long before I knew why I was practicing yoga, I had a conversation with a doctor who suspected some symptoms I was having might be due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. He asked me questions like, “Are you dating? How is your job? Are you sleeping well?” I was frustrated by these questions because no matter what my answers were—whether they were the answers he was looking for (the job is great, I have a new boyfriend, and I sleep like a baby) or not (I hate my job, I stay home watching television every night, and I haven’t slept in a week)—they were not the right questions.
Though I accepted something physical or mental was going on, I believed the true cause of my distress was spiritual disconnection.
I told the doctor I had more important questions to answer. He asked what I meant, though it was clear he didn’t love my response. I told him I was more interested in finding union with God.
Not surprisingly, my doctor had no treatment to offer.
Yoga is Spiritual Connection
Eventually, I found treatment. I found yoga, and I learned that connecting mind and heart, connecting heart and spirit, letting go of fear, and living as a divine being are all more powerful than drugs or trying to “think” my way through troubles. I’m not saying there is no place for medication or thinking, but alone, they are not enough.
I’m not sure how connected to God I can get in this lifetime, but I know that my yoga practice keeps me on the right path toward that ultimate goal. For me at least, the best way to overcome symptoms like despair and emptiness is by continuing to deepen the connection that is yoga.