You've seen the pictures on Instagram, yogis posing- beautiful surroundings, perfectly balanced and stretched, bathed in light while their face shows the sort of enlightened smile you can only imagine comes with a blissful life. And you think, "yeah, I could do with some of that, let's try this yoga thing, it could be just the answer".
Yoga promises so many things these days. You want yoga to help your lower back; stretch your tight muscles; help you lose weight; help with your IBS; alleviate stress; part the way through depression; cure your acne; give you a baby; support you through illness. How can it possibly be all things to all people?
There are so many reasons turn to yoga. How can it possibly deliver on all of these very big promises?
Fundamentally, the practice of yoga is removing the limited notion of the self. It's about uncovering unconscious patterns of thoughts or behaviour and revealing the vastness of the self. It's opening up beyond how we define ourselves and tries to teach us about the divine aspects of self.
There's lots of paths to get there as there are lots of different people, so I guess, yoga can live up to everyone's expectations. Whatever brings you first to yoga may not be why you continue to practice. It is a continuum of theory and practice.
As the yoga sutras of Patanjali begin,
Translation: "Now the exposition of Yoga is being made" (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
It is the process of uncovering the truth, what is already there. It's not about making you a better self or masking the things that are hard or unpleasant. Like an ocean, our minds are always moving, shifting. Sometimes they are calm on top, other times stormy, but underneath there is a huge vastness that is always moving, gently or strongly. And that vast ocean also reveals the connectedness of ourselves to the universe.
It is not enough to just think about the philosophy, it requires practice. Words alone will not work. And it all begins in the mind.
"Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah"
Translation: "The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga" (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples (of the ocean) you will experience Yoga. But controlling the mind is hard, isn't it. Yeah, that's why it's always a practice.