Do you find yourself anxious or fearful much of the time? Do you dwell on bad things that happen, no matter how small, and blow them out of proportion? Do you feel unfulfilled and exhausted by the constant need to strive for goals, whose achievement brings only fleeting happiness? You are not alone. The truth is that almost everyone feels this way. It is part of the human condition, a condition that is hard to escape.
200,000 years ago when humans lived in caves, the most anxious and vigilant had a better chance of survival, being constantly primed to fight or run away. Now in the modern world, each of us is descended from those fearful ancestors and, while we may no longer need to be on constant high-alert in order to survive, we remain hard-wired to be permanently on the lookout for threat. This evolutionary process has left humankind with a negativity bias, where we pay more attention to the bad things that happen, making them seem much more important than they really are, while barely registering positive things. To make things worse, our brains have become adapted to ensure that any pleasure we experience is only fleeting, so that we do not become demotivated to continue the fight for survival.
To summarise, the human brain has evolved to ensure that
- we are hard wired for fear and anxiety;
- we have a negative bias;
- pleasure has a short-lived impact and always leaves us craving more.
The human condition, therefore, is one of suffering. Our subconscious is hard wired for this suffering, a suffering that, while inevitable is not inescapapable. Yoga, in its true sense, provides a means to escape this suffering; a tool to help the diligent practitioner master the subconscious, conquering fear and negativity and driving out cravings.
To be released from fear, anxiety and cravings, the yogin must begin by seeking to understand the true essence of yoga. Yoga is not just a physical practice that happens in yoga classes labelled Vinyasa Flow, Hatha, Iyengar or Yin. It is a spiritual science of self-realisation; a holistic practice, which includes every aspect of life. These aspects include
- universal ethics (Yama),
- personal ethics for self-purification (Niyama),
- body cultivation through practice of postures (Asana),
- mastering of energy through breathing exercises (Pranayama)
- control over the senses of perception (Pratyahara)
- concentration (Dharana) and
- meditation (Dhyana).
Through yoga we learn to master our body and mind, to cultivate inner stillness and become free of suffering.