John Lennon once dared us to imagine a world without dogmas. How liberating would it be if we merely lived for one another right here and now? Lennon’s vision somehow reminds me of Patanjali’s message in the Yoga Sutras. In short, the Ashtanga system exists for the sake of teaching ordinary people how to cultivate the skills necessary to liberate the mind. I would like to place an emphasis on the word ‘ordinary,’ because to succeed in this way requires great effort as opposed to great circumstances.
Every day starts as an ordinary day, but can be made unique based on effort, circumstances or both. It has occurred to me that a daily vinyasa practice can be its own little laboratory, whereby the dual nature of effort and circumstances can be tested and explored. And the ability to discern the difference, what Patanjali ‘originally’ called viveka (YS: II.15), makes this physical discipline a true yoga practice. Tangible examples of the interplay between the effort and circumstances of life exist everywhere.
Let me share with you an anecdote. I practice, and when I practice with great effort I typically sweat. My ability of perform under sweaty circumstances typically diminishes yet a few poses are actually made easier. But what I take to be most true is that yoga is not preparation for a world without friction. Yoga is preparation for ordinary life, in which friction varies greatly depending on the circumstances. It is our effort which prepares us for steadiness in posture no matter what our practice has in store for us.
Imagine, “I wonder if you can,” doing yoga on roller skates. Each jump back would be made very taxing on the body, and poses like urdhva dhanurasana would be practically impossible. Consider the degree of effort needed to perform the entirety of primary series under these circumstances. Our ordinary existence as a terrestrial mammal does not lend itself to vinyasa on roller skates. That said, aversion towards a frictionless practice can be a stumbling block towards success on the mat too.
Likewise, I believe it’s absolutely important to imagine a world where the forces of friction between peoples no longer exist. How freeing that would be? But it takes effort on all our parts to bring about this next chapter of societal evolution. Minimally, we must all learn several languages, resolve to become cultural ambassadors, not to mention develop green energy systems for sustainable travel. Regardless, I’m convinced that just as true liberation is obtainable, so too is world peace.