English is an indo-european language - our word yoke is a direct descendant of the sanskrit word yoga. It means - yoga - to bind or link, to connect, to unify. To be bound to. The question is, bound to what? At its most basic, most pared down, bare as dust definition, yoga is the linking of mind, body, and movement. Our soul to our skin.
Binding the pieces of ourselves back together again. Perhaps knowing where they severed; maybe not.
This is the important point: the belief that body and mind are separate is part of our cultural, philosophic, and medical heritage. We believe when we have a mood or an anxiety we should be able to just 'snap out of it'; that diseases are strange things visited on our animal bodies, having nothing to do with our 'self'. We believe our bodies are just vehicles, handy mechanisms for wheeling the brain around from one part of the world to the other, but mostly disgusting, inconvenient, bestial. Mostly a thing to be contained, controlled, covered up and cleaned up. Managed. Hidden. Used.
Yoga, when I found it, was a life saving bridge. I didn't know it then. It wasn't what I was looking for, exactly. I didn't give much credence to the idea that what I felt and believed and thought everyday could be altered, let alone healed. I didn't believe life, or myself, could be any different. I certainly didn't suspect and would not have believed that my body would be the thing to do it. I scoffed at faith healing, energy talk, wispy and weak kneed ideas about karma and souls and manifestation. They simply didn't hold up to logic and experience.
I still scoff. But yoga's heart and very definition have very little to do with wispy and weak logic. There is nothing about auras or faith healing there. It is simply and forcefully the stated fact that our mind and our body do interface. That our body hears and remembers everything our mind happens to say.
And our mind feels, remembers, everything the body has lived through.
Yoga has been a bridge. It has, in ways that no political science, biology, doctor or religion or common sense self help book ever has, given me actual tools and ways and means to sort through things. Tools that work.
For as much as the mind body separation is taken as fact in our culture, we are confused about it. We say one thing but mean another. We say 'self' or 'soul' or 'personality' as if it were distinct from the bag of bones, but we suffer. And we say that ideas are more important than bodies, but we act as if bodies were something, after all. Politics is very much about bodies, what they are worth, who gets what, who gets to be where and who is excluded. We have bought and sold bodies, buy and sell them still. We pretend to be intellectual, democratic, evolved homo sapiens but when it gets right down to our hours and our relationships and our days it involves hunger, fatigue, sex, boundaries, love, anger, disgust, and longing.
Approaching my days, now, from yoga, from the starting point that mind and body are both aspects of self, I suddenly have a better way to live. Hour after hour, how I deal with hunger and sleep and posture and schedules; but also in how I understand what to do in terms of global politics, familial relationships, art and philosophy.
It is important to wonder how personal growth, character, phsyical sturcture, and health/dis-ease relate to one another. It is important to realize the way our body has been acted upon, cared for, regarded both by ourselves and by others are stored into our bodies on a deepset, cellular level. It is important to realize that our craving for 'something more' and sense that something missing, or ambition and hope, or hints of god and joy or simply the wishing we could know joy, are part of our human body and as real as blood is. As actual as the kneecap.
It is wonderful to realize the questions, simple stress, out and out boredom or dull abiding inner fears can be touched. Not by talking about them or popping a pill. Not by removing something wrong with you or getting over it. But by listening to your breath, lowering your forehead to the ground, spreading the fingers of the hand.
Many of our medical, educational, religious and philosophical institutions base themselves on the assumption that such an interfacing system and, indeed, such direct relationships do not exist.
Yet wellbeing (either purely from a physical point of view, 'success', or an intellectual/emotional standpoint) cannot be infused intravenously or ladled out by prescription. Nor can they be willed or manifested by positive thinking or die-hard pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Health and disease do not just happen to us. They are part of a matrix, laid out on the lines of the body mind.
When I begin to teach, when the student is new, I repeat and repeat myself: yoga means connection, unity, binding. The mind to the body, the intention to the action, the breath to the movement, the brain to reality.
All our dis-ease, from headache to chronic illness to broken bones, to longing and depression and overwork, are disturbances of that connection. Yoga is reconnecting. Yoga is return.
Our bodies and our imaginations are walking autobiographies. We hardly know who we are. Yoga is reading, and writing, our own stories, our own lives.
By listening to the breath, lowering our foreheads to the ground, and spreading the fingers of the hand.