If someone were to ask me why I do yoga—and the reasons change and all the reasons and their changes are valid—and I had to pick just one, I would say: to be freed from the endless and exhausting tyranny of self; to be freed from the concerns, both pedestrian and profound, that constitute the daily life of the ego; to be freed from the vicissitudes of thought, emotion, perception and judgment; to find peace, in other words, that authentic, eternal, profound peace that is only promised us—for the most part—over the threshold beyond life.
None of us are strangers to that peace: we’ve all felt it on rare occasions—moments of undeserved grace, of arresting beauty, of profound love—and their very infrequency is what has us believe that the default state of our existence is a life characterized by their absence. The most we can expect of life is a certain degree of comfort, and our energies are accordingly expended in either creating that comfort or consolidating it.
I practice yoga because I desperately want that peace, and like all practitioners who understand the philosophy behind the practice, I am aware of the paradox that permeates my search. To want to be free means that one is not free of wanting; the very beginning precludes the end. But all journeys must begin somewhere, even if the intent of one’s journey is to cease the desire for mobility altogether.
And it’s a profoundly humbling practice, because it takes so little to get off course. Successes are far more dangerous than failures, because they provide transitory pleasures today that become enduring sources of pain tomorrow. The challenge, always, is how to remain committed without getting attached; how to put in the hard work day after day while renouncing all reward.
In the end, what keeps me going, and what keeps other practitioners going, perhaps, is the conviction that accumulates from tiny, almost imperceptible victories: discovering that you can bind a wrist where before you could only hook a finger; finding that you can sit quietly for half an hour where before you could only sit still for half a minute; realizing, in short, that your body, your mind and your soul are far, far more pliable than you ever believed them to be, and infinitely greater than you ever gave them credit for.
It’s a journey of a lifetime—of countless lifetimes, in fact, if you’re a Hindu—and it’s worth it.