Beauty in Practice

Recognize beauty and ugliness is born.
Recognize good and evil is born.

Ku yu wu hsiang sheng
Is and Isn’t produce each other.

Hard depends on easy,
Long is tested by short,
High is determined by low,
Sound is harmonized by voice,
After is followed by before.

Therefore the Sage is devoted to non-action,
Moves without teaching,
Creates ten thousand things without instruction,
Lives but does not own,
Acts but does not presume,
Accomplishes without taking credit.

When no credit is taken,
Accomplishment endures.
— Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu

There are many levels of beauty in the practice of yoga, layers much deeper than that which is obvious to the visible eye. There is no doubt that asanas (postures) practiced to their full expression, with ease and grace, is a form of art in itself, however, if yoga is being practiced authentically the journey to the full expression of asana brings about a deep connection between the mind and body. We learn how to soften and let go, mentally and physically, bringing about a deeper sense of awareness and a new quality of  beauty.

When the mind softens, so does the body. The mind has more space to connect within therefore, we are less likely to hold tension in the body, as we grow more and more aware we can feel when we do hold tension and what situations, thoughts, events in our lives make us tighten up, and with this awareness and understanding we can finally start to release and let go.

Beauty has some delicate connotations in our society and its easy to get caught up in only the visual sense of the word. Unfortunately, it is hard to simply just appreciate visual beauty without some kind of insecurity forming, then rears the ugly head of comparison, jealousy, competition, constantly striving to be better in a pressurised way. We scrutinise and judge ourselves and others whilst trying to live up to a somewhat unattainable standard of beauty. It is unattainable because most of the time this kind of standard isn’t natural to us, not to mention these standards intentionally demand the constant purchase of clothes, products and objects to stay in line with the current trend. This never bringing about true satisfaction; we are left feeling empty and wanting more.

This cycle occurs in every industry, and it is definitely prominent in the yoga industry. There are countless brands that seem to be promoted everywhere by beautiful people performing beautiful postures in the most beautiful places on earth. It is important to know that this isn’t yoga. They are promoting all things related to yoga and the people may genuinely practice yoga away from it all, but in reality, you don’t need a mat, fashionable clothing, yoga accessories and props, in order to practice yoga at all. All you really need is your breath.

Once you start to work with your breath you start to unravel many, many layers of discovery. Connecting the mind and the body, feeling into the body and allowing ourselves to really feel is something that we as a society are disconnected from. We are always in our minds, running from one thing to the next, hardly ever stopping for breath. When we stop and actually focus on our breath, we start to create space, when we have space we are free to create whatever it is that comes naturally to us. We start to pave our own way in life and do so with a sense of clarity and with joy.

In our physical yoga practice we use the breath to move into postures, when we are in the posture we use the breath to soften tension in the body. Usually this takes a softening in the mind first. A lot of postures look strange or hard, unattainable even,  we may be faced with fear, all kinds of blockages can occur and it can be confusing to feel parts of our body that may have been dormant for a long while, but once we let go of expectation and come into the present moment by focusing on the breath, then we are able to feel what it is like to actually accept, soften and let go.

 It takes a lot of mental strength to release in the body, and this is where we find the beauty in practice. When we relax, we come into acceptance and begin to open up. Eventually the practice starts to manifest in daily life, not only in the physical practice, we start to notice beauty everywhere, moments that we would usually ignore that actually make our lives easier to live. We start to make choices that allow us to live life to the full, not extravagantly but simply. The beauty is in how simple it is. It is the most natural thing for us to breath, so natural that we do it without having to think about it, it’s a constant in all of our living lives. There’s power in it. It keeps us safe. It speaks to us. It’s so very simple.

Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t need to look good, it doesn’t need anything. Everything is already in you, it’s just about learning to find it, breath by breath, practice by practice, lesson by lesson.

“Yoga has precise definitions of mind and consciousness, and the English words we use do not always correspond well to the Sanskrit. I will explain them as I go along, but suffice to say that normal English usage often uses mind and consciousness synonymously. In the precision of the Sanskrit, mind is described as an aspect or part of consciousness. The mind forms the outer layer of consciousness (citta) in the same way as the skeletal and muscular body is the outer sheath that contains the inner body of vital organs and circulatory and respiratory systems. Consciousness means our capacity to be aware, both externally as well as internally, which we call self-awareness. One good image for consciousness is a lake. The pure waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it (external), and one can also see right through the clear water to the bottom (internal). Similarly a pure mind can reflect the beauty in the world around it, and when the mind is still, the beauty of the Self, or soul, is seen reflected in it. But we all know what stagnation and pollution do to a lake. As one has to keep the water of a lake clean, so it is yoga’s job to clean and calm the thought waves that disturb our awareness.”

BKS Iyengar, Light on Life.