Q: How is self-transformation related to yoga practice? When does the practice of yoga come to an end?
A: Self-transformation is the goal of yoga. If your practice is not bringing about a qualitative change in you, it is not a yoga practice. Self-transformation is the goal, and the practice of yoga is the means of achieving that goal. Yoga is not simply a set of exercises, breathing practices, or various methods of concentration—yoga is an amalgam of philosophy and practices designed to make us aware of our deepest nature. Attaining this awareness requires that we transform ourselves at the level of body, breath, and mind.
Yoga means “union.” Yoga techniques are designed to unite us with our highest nature. Along the way, yoga removes the walls between various aspects of our personality and awakens our capacity for inner peace, harmony, and clarity of mind. By establishing a harmonious balance within and without, we find ourselves in union with the deepest aspects of our being. But we must first find ourselves in union with our families, our immediate relatives, our friends, and our neighbors and colleagues. Without the ability to create a harmonious balance in our immediate external world, we will not be able to create a harmonious balance in our internal world.
Self-transformation is a never-ending process, so the practice of yoga is also a never-ending process. This does not mean that the practice of yoga remains the same throughout, however. As you grow and transform, the nature of your practice changes and becomes more refined. When a good deal of your energy and attention is being consumed in handling various physical complaints, for example, the immediate purpose of yoga practice is to help you overcome physical complaints. At that level, you focus on the proper way of eating, sleeping, and exercising. You learn how to establish a healthy breathing pattern, as well as how to do some relaxation techniques. As you transform your habits, your health improves, and addressing physical complaints is no longer your most pressing need.
At this point, your focus shifts to the mind. But here, too, there are various layers to address. The first layers are simple, day-to-day concerns: how to manage your family life, how to deal with your colleagues at work, and how to be successful in your worldly endeavors without accumulating stress. Yoga offers a variety of techniques that can be used to achieve worldly success while maintaining a state of inner equanimity. The next layers are concerned with freeing the mind from negative emotions and the distractions created by cravings, obsessions, and unhealthy desires.
Then comes another level of yoga study and practice. Life seems to be moving along quite comfortably, but from deep down more subtle issues begin to surface. You are healthy, you don’t have any mental or emotional problems, your family life is harmonious, and your relationships with your friends and neighbors are pleasant. Everything is going well, but you begin to wonder, “Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? What is the purpose of life? What will happen to me when I die?” As you search for answers to these questions, your yoga practice moves to an entirely different level.
At some point along the way, you come to realize that understanding yourself ever more deeply is the goal in your life. You also come to see that yoga is endless, and what you achieve from it is also endless. Your potential for self-transformation is infinite. The deeper your understanding, the more you realize there is more to be known about yourself and your ultimate nature. You come to realize that your relationship with the Infinite is also infinite. The joy radiating from this knowledge is also infinite. In this way, the process of self-transformation, which is never ending, becomes a source of never-ending delight.