Yoga has many immediate lessons for us all as Yogis and Yoginis show. From our own practice, like surfing, Yoga can become an ongoing learning process, when we choose to see it with open eyes and an open heart. The first and most important lesson is learning to live our lives in harmony with nature. The result of a natural life, of course, is a healthy body and mind. Then we are able from this to develop a keen intellect and a strong will and through these, we are able to build a foundation for a divine and balanced life.
Back in 1968, I was at school one day at the University of Hawaii and I noticed this group of girls gathered around a bulletin board. I like to think that I just walked right up and boldly ask a girl what was going on. More likely I tiptoed up behind them and peeked over to the shoulder to see that they were interested in a Yoga class announcement. I probably went to that class hoping to see those girls again but what I found instead was really a life-changing event. It could be said that Yoga actually chooses us, that it comes into our life exactly when it is supposed to and at first we can’t understand that Yoga is a privilege. When we realize this we also begin to see it as a responsibility: a responsibility to our bodies, to our minds and especially a responsibility to our souls, to our spirit. Surfing was the same; like I said those first 20 years, it was just testing me to see if I was serious, then the deeper meaning of what those lessons were about started to make some sense to me. Surfing and Yoga are never-ending education but like a lot of school experiences, they are not always welcome. Sometimes we are resistant to them or worse they just go right by while our attention is elsewhere. This is so true in surfing where we have to learn the same thing over and over again till we finally get it only to forget and have to go through that whole learning process once again.
We should always keep learning through the smartest person in the room. Life is this evolutionary process: we are not here just to spin our wheels. We are here to move forward, to move upward, to move onward. We need to find some traction, so where do we find this traction when we forget how to breathe? When we start mouth breathing again, our tires spin and we go nowhere. Yoga, especially a vigorous Vinyasa practice, or maybe an intense meditation, or getting caught inside by a big set, or surfing, teach us how important deep controlled breathing through our noses is in calming an unsteady mind and relaxing an uptight body. Pranayama breathing practice concentrates our Prana, or nerve energy, and this is the key to open the gateway into our inner self. When we’re able to turn all the senses, the five main ones plus all the subtle ones that we use for external observation, and we are able to focus them on the inner recesses of our heart, we put ourselves on the pathway to truth. We seek to purify our intellect, bringing nature under control by stilling our restless minds.
Swami Sivananda, my first guru, says the only basis of true and lasting unity of all humanity is the religion of the heart. The religion of the heart is a religion of love, so love is the key to life.