spiritual yoga practice:
practicing yoga for personal wholeness
The Purpose of Yoga Practice
Yoga Beyond Poses: A Spiritual Approach to Yoga Practice
Ultimately, yoga just is no longer fleeing yourself.
At the root of yoga practice is the cultivation of inner stability. This means being able to sit with uncomfortable aspects of our inner life. We sit with them rather than run from them, because running from them means that they are in control. In sitting with them instead of running from—or trying to destroy—them, we eventually experience ourselves and the world in a way that is relatively free of our own self-interest, and thus free from the various rigidities involved in self-protection.
But the primary purpose of yoga practice is, strictly speaking, not to get rid of anything, including painful emotions, unwanted thoughts, and even desire. The experience of desire is not really optional, and if I find myself compelled to get rid of my desire, this desire (to get rid of desire) only confirms the very thing I am trying to subvert. Furthermore, if I try to get rid of my desire (or my shame or my lack of status), I remain ensnared in a the dualism of desire/desirelessness and, as a result, I become hypersensitive to my desires (or shame or lack of status) and hypercritical of myself for having them. In other words, I become further entrenched in the trap of running from myself towards something that I think will grant permanent security to my identity, further entrenched in self-obsession. I become further entrenched in trying to self-elevate in order to deal with the pain of inadequacy/insecurity, defining reality in terms of my own needs, seeing the world in terms of its relevance/irrelevance for my own projects (including my primary project of eliminating my inner lack). Engaged in this impossible task (and treating both others and the world instrumentally), I suffer. The cultivation of inner stability is simultaneously the cultivation a kind of selflessness. (To learn more about selflessness and its importance for yoga, visit our section on yoga philosophy.)
And so the specific way you practice yoga (e.g., postures, meditation, etc.), doesn’t matter as much as the commitment to cultivating the capacity to simply noticing and sitting with your inner life (including your desires/impulses) rather than trying to fix/eliminate (or even “transcend” anything). This is simple, but not easy—if only because the ego is quite capable of trying to fix or eliminate ourselves in indirect ways. In a so-called spiritual approach to yoga practice, it is this impulse—to fix/eliminate or be somewhere or something else—that must remain on your radar (while, of course, not trying to fix/eliminate it).
But this is only the beginning. Inner stability will divest your experience of your self-interest and your memory/habit (or karma), and will create the conditions for the realizations that are, ultimately, the purpose of yoga practice. The practices we associate with yoga—dhyāna [meditation], prāṇāyāma [breath control], yogāsana [postures], etc.—are actually somewhat preparatory.
That said, benefits of these practices abound, and they make changing your life/self much easier; in other words, it is easier to change your habits from a place of focused, stable awareness than from a place of reactive avoidance. We explore what this looks like in our section on yoga lifestyle & personal growth. We also have content about the philosophical foundations of yoga. These are all part of our guide on yoga spirituality.
Videos on yoga practice and articles about a spiritual approach to yoga practices can be found below.
Meditation, Inner Life, and A More Spiritual Approach to Yoga Practice
The Practice(s) of Yoga Spirituality
The Most Important Part of Prāṇāyāma
An Introduction to Haṭhayoga