Our yoga practice helps us focus our mind on our breath, to find stillness. But we live in a world that, on the face of it, does not go hand-in-hand with a yoga practice. Our senses and our monkey minds are stimulated all day with various forms of technology, advertisements and communications. We’re surrounded by alluring material energy that takes an exceptionally strong mind to step away from.
This pull we have towards material energy is part of our human conditioning - our need to fit into society and be part of the material world is powerful. Our yoga practice helps us to rise above this conditioning. It strengthens our ability to stand aside and reflect, without judgement, on what’s happening around us; to observe ourselves and how we relate to the world.
However, we will all at times stray from our practice whether it's a break of a few days, months or longer. It is in our nature. So how can we learn to accept when this happens? The Bhagavad Gita offers some comfort.
The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the Indian classic texts. It tells the story of Arjuna, a Prince who finds himself on the battlefield opposite his cousins, ready to fight for the Kingdom. Arjuna is uncomfortable with the idea of battle as he will be fighting against relatives and causing death. Arjuna asks Krishna to be his charioteer. Krishna stays by his side and offers his knowledge about the meaning of life. Consequently, Krishna teaches Arjuna the meaning of yoga.
There is one part of the Bhagavad Gita that teaches us that we will always deviate from the spiritual path. This is known as ‘yogat calita-manasah'. It’s in our nature to get distracted and search for change - this is our ego stepping in. Our minds are fickle. We are malleable and can be pushed and pulled in different directions with ease.
Arjuna asks in the Bhagavad Gita what happens if we deviate from our spiritual path;
“...What is the destination of the man of faith who does not persevere, who in the beginning takes to the process of self-realisation but who later desists due to worldly-mindedness and thus does not attain perfection in mysticism?” - Chapter 6, verse 37
“O mighty-armed Krishna, does not such a man, being deviated from the path of Transcendence, perish like a riven cloud, with no position in any sphere?” - Chapter 6 verse 38.
Swami Prabhupada’s translation explains these verses beautifully and succinctly, “A cloud in the sky sometimes deviates from a small cloud and joins a big one. But if it cannot join a big one, then it is blown away by the wind and becomes a nonentity in the vast sky.”
I think this is a key point to remember. If we lose our way, it doesn’t make us bad yogis, it makes us human. It’s our nature, just as a cloud drifting and taking a different form is a cloud’s nature. The important part is finding our practice again.
If we lose our way, it doesn’t make us bad yogis, it makes us human. It’s our nature, just as a cloud drifting and taking a different form is a cloud’s nature.
These verses let us know that we are not alone when we do drift away from our yoga practice. Sometimes we need a break in order to arrive back, feeling more enthusiastic. Everyone stops practising at some point, be it for a day, weeks, or longer. It really doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been practising for, it occasionally happens. Yoga allows us to accept this fact and to not judge ourselves or feel bad if we do find ourselves drifting back to material desires.
Most of us live in a material world and so there will be material things that interfere with our yoga practice. So relax. Let go and don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t stepped on your mat for a while. We are only human and we can only do what we can manage. Whether things sway us or not, as long as we have it in our hearts that spiritual enlightenment is our goal, we will always return to it.