No matter what are our intentions or efforts may be, no one can control each and every thing that happens in life. Yet, too often, we let distractions and other situations outside of our control affect us as if we could have done something to create a different outcome. We think too much about our desires for something better, or become anxious about tragedy or loss. We create a cycle of misery and it doesn’t go away when we obtain what we want or even when we are safe from harm.
We see the same problems all over society: Many people are so stressed out, they can’t enjoy this life. Instead, life is like a misery to them. They don’t know how to be calm and, therefore, they make themselves, and others, unhappy.
This can be risky because experiencing stress for long periods of time can lead to mental instability and weakness, which can create serious health problems in the future. Of course, in life, there are things that happen and it’s impossible not to worry. For example, if you’re affected by a natural disaster, you will be greatly disturbed; but regardless of how stress enters your life, if external activities disturb you all the time, eventually you will put too much stress on your nervous system.
Stressful situations can arise in places that don’t even exist in our physical world, but are coming from the digital world. This adds more pressure and tension and, as a result, people become even more distracted and pulled in different directions. At times, people react and post things [on social media] that they might not normally say in person. They become angry and very critical. These people may even call themselves “yogis,” but they aren’t because they are distracted by too many dramas instead of utilizing the time to see inwardly.
Yoga is an inwardly seeking path, but, unfortunately, people in yoga sometimes get sidetracked into seeking attention. These people want, desire and expect attention, and online it becomes even greater. They post constantly about themselves: “I did this. I did this so well. I just got a new asana; I. I. I…” is present inside these people all the time. But yoga is not about the “I.” The more attention you want and receive, the more distraction will come. In yoga, you don’t need any attention for the spiritual process to happen within you. It happens silently. Many people do not understand this.
There are many people, however, who seek true yoga because they feel their approach to life hasn’t worked. It has become harder to manage themselves and their lives. They seek something better, something positive, that can help them obtain a sense of calm and happiness. This is why many people also seek places like ashrams. They want to gain peace within themselves in a supportive environment away from their regular life and away from online chaos. With time spent in ashrams, people, oftentimes, come to better experience yoga, not only through their physical health, but also the mental and spiritual health as well.
For people who work and have a family, it’s difficult to spend time at an ashram. However, a local yoga shala can help calm the mind and improve focus. It depends on the spiritual development of the teacher, of course. A good yoga teacher will show you that yoga is a journey inward. It’s not an external journey.
From the beginning, the goal of yoga is to focus on the inward journey and to choose one method that is right for you—one that you believe you can grow within that method. The most important thing is to choose a method, be it Iyengar, Ashtanga, or another. If it’s too physical, then choose a method that carries only a little bit of asana and has more philosophy.
Regardless of the method, when yoga is approached without the chatter, in a silent and humble manner, the more effective yoga will happen within you. This is called Pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. If this path never becomes an inner journey, it never becomes inward seeking and you will never understand what yoga is. Until you see inwardly, you will not see the truth of what yoga is by drawing your senses inside, and you will always see and experience suffering.
Related: Stay Present in Distracting Situations
As students develop and begin their sadhana, they go to satsangs, or lectures. They read and acquire knowledge to better manage themselves. It is important to also consider how social media is used in our lives, and to what degree, because when we become affected by what is happening externally, we lose many things internally. In fact, a true yogi, no matter what happens externally, will not be bothered at all, and they won’t react to posts meant to disturb. The Upanishad and Vedas both say, once the external influences stop, then peace comes. In other words, when you see inwardly, everything becomes more peaceful.
This will help develop a proper foundation, which is essential to spiritual seeking. When people get easily persuaded or distracted, it’s largely because there are no proper fundamentals in them. These people have never understood the principles of yoga. If you don’t understand the principals of yoga and don’t have a strong foundation, you will suffer your whole life. After posting how you feel, or how you look, or what you like and don’t like, at the end of the day, everyone has to manage themselves without the care or attention of anyone else. Only they can manage themselves.
Related: Sharath Jois on How a Local Shala Offers More Than a Workout
This is the research, the subtle part of yoga. It’s simple and you feel very good after listening to a guru or a teacher. It’s a form of therapy that leaves you more inspired than spending an hour on social media, which only increases your cravings for attention.
As a seeker in today’s world, I recommend switching off your cell phone. Try to go to an ashram or nearby shala, where you’re connected. Stick to your daily practice and try to gain as much yogic knowledge as possible. Knowledge comes through experience. Once you experience yoga yourself, once you take it to a certain level in a spiritual path, you can experience many things, things which you have not experienced in your whole life, things you didn’t even know existed because you are too much attached to external activities.
Photography by Agathe Padovani