How *does* Yoga work?

how yoga worksI’ve just finished reading How Yoga Works. I’ll say it’s not a book I would have chosen to read and I did have to dig in a bit to see it through to the end, but it was loaned to me by my teacher and so I took the recommendation seriously and gratefully. I can’t remember what conversation sparked off the thought — probably me whining about how hard and weird yoga is, and when will it stop demanding strange things of me or prompting me to ask difficult questions… My usual refrain!

If you don’t know the book, it’s a dramatisation of one person’s yoga journey and the effects the practice has on his life and those around him as he transforms himself from corrupt and lazy petty official into a fully-fledged caring and sharing yogi by learning the methodology (for want of a better word) described by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras. It’s also an exploration of the student-teacher relationship to some extent, as the teacher channels her own teacher as she takes on her first student, and about the learning process as the new student comes back each time with questions and reflections as he tries to assimilate new ideas and in turn becomes a teacher himself.

On one level the story was kind of comforting (perhaps what my teacher intended) — the message was clearly that Yoga practice can be (or just is) transformative, leading us to change the way we behave, and by acting well we can have a good effect in the world. But I was still left wondering how āsana practice leads to all this. The yoga lessons in the book always started with a discussion of an idea of a particular sutra followed by the teacher whipping the student through some rigorous, but undefined, physical practice. I’m still left wondering what the one has to do with the other. But I know that’s something being argued out in yogic and academic circles still, so I’m not expected any personal revelations on this anytime soon.

In another part of my bookshelf I recently came across the (outmoded?) concept of Perennial Philosophy. The idea here seems to be that there are core similarities to the mystical experiences people have across the range of religions, and that these experiences can at their core be understood as something innate to human experience rather than being constructed beliefs from any particular faith. So there’s something in us that tends towards an experience of ultimate reality, god, supreme consciousness or whatever words you use.

Is there something in this? Is it that Yoga āsana provides the breathing space for some transformation to happen? It provides a field of awareness, a place to cultivate some inner perspective. It doesn’t matter what you call it, nor whether you understand — or even want it: if you create some inner stillness through āsana practice, stuff will inevitably happen.

listening inWhy then do there seem to be many people who practice yoga for much longer than I have who seem to have only a physical relationship with their practice (in as much as I judge from what they say)?

Perhaps some people are better than others at ignoring the voices? [I definitely mean ‘inner voice’; despite some weird experiences recently, I’m not actually hearing things! 🙂 ]



2 thoughts on “How *does* Yoga work?

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  1. Or maybe they are more comfortable talking about the physical experience? Maybe it’s more challenging to start sharing deep spiritual stuff…


    1. Yes, I wonder…I’d like that to be true.
      But when I see people leap up from savasana and immediately carrying on as normal, I wonder how they manage such a quick reintegration.


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