Eight years ago, I discovered something that changed my yoga practice forever. I had been practicing hatha yoga (the general term for all exercise yoga) for 26 years and teaching on and off for 18 years. I thought I was pretty seasoned. I even took a yoga philosophy course while getting my undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara. Yet I was still missing a vital piece of the yoga puzzle.
Say you call yourself a “yogi.” You attend classes regularly, you self-practice, and perhaps even teach yoga. You enjoy the way your body feels—healthy, strong, and flexible. You feel calm and patient when faced with challenges in daily life. That’s it, right? You must be a yogi.
Not so fast! There is much more to it. In fact hatha yoga is not necessary to practice true yoga. What—no poses needed for yoga? If this shakes your foundation a little, don’t worry, I’m with you. When I discovered this, my ego took it with the grace of a two-year-old who had just been told she can’t have any birthday cake. Clinging desperately to all the time and effort I had poured into my practice, I set out at once to find evidence to the contrary.
I finally surrendered to the truth that hatha yoga is indeed supplementary to true yoga. It is not even a part of the eight limbs of yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the ancient text that seems so in vogue these days among hatha yogis. The Yoga Sutras confusion arises over the third limb—asana. In the Sutras, asana means right poise, which is basically sitting still with a straight spine. Hatha postures are not discussed, though some commentaries on the Sutras imply they are. Commentaries are rarely written by fully enlightened masters,
so use careful discrimination. Check the source itself.
Hatha yoga was developed subsequently and separately to the Sutras—to prepare the body for the discipline of sitting still in meditation. That’s how our physical form of yoga came about. This new understanding was an incredible blessing and helped me get my priorities straight. Yoga, it turns out, is not about postures.
True yoga is about Self-realization, the merging of the individual consciousness into Universal Consciousness. In other words, yoga is the union of the individual soul with God.
A common misconception is that Self-realization means a deep understanding of our likes, dislikes, motives, and so on. Not so. It is realizing—not just intellectually understanding—our soul’s complete identity with the Divine. The eight-limbed path in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras tells us the steps—not all of which need be mastered in order —to experience samadhi, or Self-realization, through meditation.
The yogic masters who have attained this state tell us that the purpose of our lives is to discover and know this truth. Why? Because only Self-realization will give us the everlasting happiness and peace we all seek. Our soul will keep reincarnating and evolving our consciousness through life experiences until we become ready to take the final steps into full enlightenment.
Our ego, the sense of an individual identity separate from God, is the major obstacle preventing our Self-realization. Our ego is tied to our body and the feelings and thoughts of our mind. Focusing on the body and personal identity—common in modern hatha practice—is actually an obstacle to practicing true yoga because it reinforces the ego. Yoga is not the union of body, mind and soul, as is often taught, because the body and mind, with which the ego is identified, must be transcended to realize our true immortal Self.
The signs of yogic accomplishment are expressed as: virtuous thoughts and behaviors, humility, non-attachment, equanimity, and “desirelessness”—except for the one non-binding desire for Self-realization. Instagram accounts with beautiful and artistic shots of yoga poses are an art form, which can be inspiring. But be clear that they are merely a sign of hatha yoga accomplishment, not true yogic accomplishment.
What do you do when you understand that a perfect hatha yoga practice will not lead you to Self-realization? I found it painful and guilt-producing at first to surrender my intense daily hatha yoga practice, but I came to realize that it was very ego-driven. Now I look back and am grateful I made the shift to daily seated meditation practice, supported occasionally with hatha as needed.
If you too are ready for yoga beyond exercise, and if this article speaks to you, one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in transitioning to a more meditation-centered practice is a community of like-minded souls. Paramahansa Yogananda, known as the father of yoga in the West, often said that environment is stronger than willpower. Nearly all of us must put ourselves in conducive environments with supportive people if we truly desire to progress spiritually.
The North Shore Silent Meditation Garden and Chapel is a perfect place for this, a sanctuary where you can experience profound peace and stillness as well as the company of others who make meditation and true yoga a priority. The Garden is situated atop Pupukea bluff on Oahu’s North Shore overlooking Shark’s Cove at 59-318 Alapio Rd. This is a gorgeous property, with stunning ocean views, waterfalls, ponds, and exotic tropical landscaping.
Come out for the non-denominational yoga meditation and philosophy service on Sundays from 10:30–11:35 a.m. (arrive by 10:20 a.m.). The cohesive power of two group meditations in the service creates an energy field that is incredibly helpful, encouraging, and uplifting. Or make an appointment at SilentMeditationGarden.org for a private meditation during the week.
It’s all free.
Perhaps this is a “missing peace” you have been looking for. If so, try peeling away from a predominantly physical practice, and find a community that meditates together. It takes courage and effort to make a change, but I have found that the rewards of a strong meditation practice are profound. May all your practices be blessed! Namaste.
By Sabrina Lobdell
Sabrina Lobdell has practiced and taught hatha yoga, and many fitness modalities for over 34
years. She leads a blissful life which she attributes to her practice of Kriya Yoga.