Does Yoga Make Us A Better Person?

Occasionally people come to my asana classes and they have zilch body awareness. Apart from not being able to distinguish left from right, which is a common theme amongst even the bodily aware population, these people have problems with instructions like step your right foot forward. Many of these people have also never considered that things they do or food they eat might have an effect on their health. However, somehow or other, if they stumble along to yoga asana classes and stick at it for a while, gradually they will develop more body awareness, more awareness in general of the effects certain things have on them and then they are on the way to self improvement.

Yoga asanas (which include pranayama or yoga breathing) are a great way to start our path towards upliftment, whether it’s simply an upliftment to better health and awareness or whether it is more of a spiritual journey, the transformation will gradually take place. Let’s look at the yogic understanding behind this upliftment.

According to the teachings of yoga everyone is governed by varying mixtures of what is known as ‘tri-guna’ or the three modes of material existence. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas or goodness, passion and ignorance. The example of the person above with very little bodily awareness is governed in this part of his awareness by the mode of ignorance. He might also have a great deal of passion or goodness, everyone is different with varying mixtures of the three modes. Therefore the example is not perfect, but in general those governed mostly by the mode of ignorance have very little bodily awareness apart from overt pleasure and pain and they usually find their happiness and relief from pain in self destructive types of habits like drugs and alcohol. Typical of the mode of ignorance, they don’t pay much attention to cleanliness and can be depressive and sleep a lot.

If these people were to come along to yoga classes, gradually, gradually they would start becoming more bodily aware, they might start taking a bit more care of their life, eating better, feeling more energetic and a little happier. They might develop other less destructive interests and the old habits might fall away.  Yoga asanas coupled with yoga breathing are physically cleansing. They gradually loosen up all the tight areas in our body which helps the energy to flow a little more freely, delivering nutrients and carrying away wastes. Some people even notice that over time their brain has become a little less foggy.  We have been elevated to the mode of passion.

Actually, the mode of passion is probably where most new comers start from. We have a vibrant interest in the world around us and there are many things we enjoy or would like to try. We may come to yoga to find some balance in our life, maybe to find a little peace and to release our tight muscles. Through yoga our awareness may slowly become a little more refined. We learn how to watch the breath, to quieten the mind and learn how to move with more grace and ease. Whereas in the past our body and mind might have felt a little depleted, a little spent, through yoga we may find more clarity, our energy levels may pick up and our life may calm down a bit. Yoga gives us a feeling of exhilaration. We have a feeling of empowerment over our body and mind.

Many will stay on this level using their new found energy and enthusiasm to pursue their goals in life. This is one reason that we find articles written on how yoga can make us wealthy or more productive. Some goals may even be altruistic if the person has a good smattering of the mode of goodness as well, but there are many yogis who will move on to the next stage.  These practitioners appreciate the calmness and peace of meditation, they develop a taste for simple plant based food, they find themselves more caring and compassionate towards others, and they may even lose interest in accumulating all the things that previously they thought would bring them satisfaction. Some may even start their spiritual journey from this platform and grow to embrace the deeper meanings of the yoga system, union with the Supreme.

Whichever platform we start from, once we start coming along to yoga classes regularly and maybe even applying some of those wonderful yoga principles to our life — like compassion for all living creatures, non-stealing, introspection and many others — little by little our inner light starts glowing a little brighter. This means that me, the pure person within who is covered by varying degrees of goodness, passion and ignorance is gradually being uncovered by the purificatory processes of yoga. So yoga is not making us a better person, it’s just uncovering the sweet person that we already are deep within!

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