Thomas Aquinas said that beauty arrests motion. He meant, I think, that in the presence of something gorgeous or sublime, we stop our nervous natterings, our foot twitchings and restless tongues. Whatever that fretful hunger is, it seems momentarily filled in the presence of beauty. To Aquinas’s wisdom, I’d add that silence arrests flight; that in its refuge, the need to flee the chaos of noise diminishes. “We let the world creep closer, we drop to our knees, as if to let the heart, like a small animal, get its legs on the ground” (Barbara Hurd: Stirring the Mud).
In North America, the nervous twitchings of the mind and body can find refuge in yoga. For one hour or whatever the length of your practice or class, you are filled with the presence of your whole self in a discipline that guarantees depth in the path to self awareness. Yoga asks us each the big question: Who am I?
Asanas are relevant in the west where compulsive movement seems to prepare one for meditational enquiry. Most of us were conditioned to be out of the body and into compulsive thought. We think we must make our way in the world with the thinking aspect of ourselves. And the cost is the connection to the body and breath as well as to the inner world of Self.
Our teachers point us to the places in our “outer selves” (of skin, flesh, bone and breath) that we can reconnect with and deepen our silence.
The quality of the stillness is a new and maybe unexpected discovery and may lead to the questions such as what is a good life, in general? And what is right livelihood?
The openings of yoga reveal our hidden beliefs and values. The body is our autobiography written for all the world to see and to read. The teachings of the yamas and niyamas become a moral and ethical code by which to examine our own practices towards other life forms and ourselves.
Also calming the body-mind in asana and pranayama both conserves and accumulates energy. Flashes of insight and inner intelligence require huge stores of energy. Concentration comes with the effort of patient and simple practice. Illumination comes with the practice of yoga which energizes the process.
Then “inner body” energy or presence can emerge as a glimpse of purusha or Spirit accessed by immediate intuition. Thus the techniques and methods of our yoga training draws attention to the body as a field in which conscious awareness, or presence, or the real Self can arise as an actual experience. We invite it but we cannot create it.
Yoga is often advanced for physical health. The Sanskrit word for health is svastha which means established in the Self. So health in that sense is holistic/holy.
So if the inner body becomes available to conscious awareness then yoga, as we know it, is not limited to psycho-physical attainment but also spiritual realization.
That is why I practice, study and teach yoga.
Kelly Murphy is owner of a yoga studio in Nanaimo.