A Yogi’s Self-Portrait
If I were to draw a picture of how I saw myself before I came to yoga, it might look something like this:
I first started experimenting with what I knew to be “yoga” when I was about 15. To be honest, I was first attracted to the well-proportioned yoga body. Compared to all of the other physical practices – tennis, swimming, weigh-lifting and even gymnastics – the yoga body seemed to have the best balance of strength, flexibility and energy. Moreover, as an asthmatic, the emphasis on breathing techniques made sense.
Over time, I gradually developed my flexibility and strength. My asthma subsided and interestingly, my cardio and endurance improved even though those were never really priorities for me (especially as I had come to believe that track and field was really a form of torture by suffocation). It was amazing how the simple awareness of how to breathe could make such a difference.
With that awareness came an interesting and unexpected side-effect: my perception of self became more 3-dimensional. From the breath’s journey through the initial passageways and chambers of my lungs to the action of my diaphragm and the veins carrying oxygen to other parts of my system, I gradually came to appreciate the engineering genius operating this vehicle that is my body. And the mind, though it is an important component, would be like an engine without all the other parts. I won’t even attempt to make another drawing now (due mostly to my limited artistic ability) but I can assure you the picture would definitely involve a little more substance and dimension. It doesn’t end there, however.
Since my first teacher training, I was further awed by how vast and deep yoga is as a subject of contemplation. The picture is becoming infinitely bigger and more complex – think of an individual in context with nature, within networks of community, society, the world and the universe. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would draw such a picture. Here, I think of the vision described in the Bhagavad Gita of what Arjuna saw when Lord Krishna finally reveals his true nature:
“With innumerable mouths and eyes, faces too marvelous to stare at, dazzling ornaments, innumerable weapons uplifted, flaming – crowned with fire, wrapped in pure light, with celestial fragrance, he stood forth as the infinite God, composed of all wonders. If a thousand suns were to rise and stand in the noon sky, blazing, such brilliance would be like the fierce brilliance that mighty Self. Arjuna saw the whole universe enfolded, with its countless billions of life-forms, gathered together in the body of the God of gods. – 11.10-13, Trans and Ed. Stephen Mitchell (2000)
It’s no wonder Arjuna was overwhelmed. Following this thought, I have a couple of questions: (1) What would the effect or relevance of such awareness be for our day-to-day existence? (2) What are the similarities or dissimilarities in the experience of “awareness” from individual to individual? By the way, if you were to draw your own picture of how you see yourself, what would it look like?