By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Yoga practice is grounded in centuries of rich Yogic philosophy. Originally, the emphasis, for those who practiced Yoga in ancient India, was on thoughtful presence in meditation. The goal of Yoga was to reach a state of strict discipline of the mind, where Yogis could spend days or even years deep in contemplation. A little-known fact is that the Yoga poses (asanas), that have recently become popular around the world, were initially developed to support meditation practice, and were not themselves the point of practice. The idea was that if you were in control of your body, with strong muscles and clear focus, you would be much better prepared to sit still and harness your mind for longer periods of time.
The concept of “maya” also comes from Hindu philosophy. In Sanskrit, the language of the yogis, “ma” means “not” and “ya” means “that.” Literally, then, maya translates as “not that;” but the idea behind it is much more complex. For the ancient Yogis, the distinction between the universe and the self was an illusion. Due to the fact that we are so focused on our own desires, experiences, feelings, and thoughts, about the world, it is easy for most human beings to think of our lives as separate from everything around us. This separation can also lead to inflated feelings of importance, which, in turn, cause stress over family, work, finances, or other earthly concerns. The Yogis thought that by meditating, we could bridge this divide and truly recognize our presence in the universe. By recognizing and engaging with the unity of all things, we could reach a higher state of consciousness and transcend these temporary worries.
Within the philosophy of Yoga training, maya represents the things that we think are real but are not. The most important of these is the perception that there is a division between one’s self and the universe, because our thoughts and feelings, also, belong to the great unity of all things. More frequently, however, maya is used to refer to the images we have in our minds of reality. Yet, as we experience the world through our sensory organs, we are able to construct an image of an apple, or the color pink, or a sweet smell. However, these images are just pale copies of reality that exist only in the mind – sometimes known as mind-objects. Through the meditation and physical discipline that come with a complete Yoga practice, we get closer and closer to the true reality of the universe.
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