Yoga is the process of removing the layers of false perception to uncover the truth of your being. Along this path we remove false identifications that we have that cloud our vision of who we are. The central point of yoga is to understand the relationship between the mind, body, and soul (Self).
As a yogi, the biggest false identification that prevents you from going further in your practice is the belief that you are human. We think of ourselves as human beings that at times have spiritual experiences. However, a more accurate understanding is that you are a spiritual being having a human experience through the mind/body vehicle.
Not only is this the most important false identification that we make, it is perpetuated by most people who think that they understand this truth. The reason being that most people understand this only on an intellectual level, not experiential.
We learn through reading, listening, and experiencing. However, experiential learning is the only true knowing. Reading texts like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or hearing our favorite teacher give discourses is only meant to guide us to experiential learning. It is not meant to be the final knowing.
It is meant to provide an understanding of which rooms to enter looking for the truth, but it doesn’t replace going into the room and seeing for yourself.
You Are Not Your Body Or Mind
Intellectually, you can recognize that you are not your body or mind, but this doesn’t constitute true understanding of this concept. True understanding only happens experientially. Nearly every time that I tell students you are not your mind or body, they nod yes knowingly, almost insulted that I am telling them something so basic.
However, when we do a challenging posture, or they have to sit still for a 30-minute meditation, they can’t hold the posture. Afterward, when I ask why they had difficulty being still, they complain of their legs, back, or some other part of their body giving them discomfort.
Through their behavior, it is easy to see that although they said they understood that they aren’t their mind or body, it wasn’t true.
When I have them do a posture that they need to hold for 2 minutes, you see many of them letting go of the posture around 1:45. However, if at 1:40 I tell them, only 20 seconds remaining, they are able to hold it. The reason they can do it when advised how much time remains is that the mind can relax. The mind doesn’t like uncertainty and panics when it doesn’t know.
So this shows that they are still listening to the mind, even though they said they understood that they are not the mind or body. Even those of you reading this, are saying, yes, I know I am not my mind or body, but you probably do the same thing. You have to experience the separation between your soul (the Self) and your human form.
Pain Is A Judgment
Pain is primarily designed to protect us from injuring ourselves. This is why if we touch a hot stove, it hurts. However, there are many people who find pleasure in pain. For them, the pain is satisfying and “feels good.” In fact, many of you keep particular suffering in your life because you enjoy it at some level.
Before going further, it is important to understand the difference between pain that leads to injury, and pain that leads to discomfort. Pain is a protector of injury. We don’t want to ignore this type of pain. It is the pain that leads to discomfort that we are addressing.
So if pain doesn’t exist, what is it that we are experiencing? Pain is actually a judgment of a sensation. The body experiences all types of sensations and based on our experiences, we associate judgments to them. In a simple example, someone may be outside and feel cold and discomfort, while another person may feel exhilarated. It is just judgment based on experience, conditioning, and temperament.
In Buddhism, they teach how to not react to sensations, but to treat them all equanimously. This is the essence of the Buddhist teachings. It is your reaction to the sensations that creates suffering.
This is easily witnessed in the suffering of your life. You have a desire or an aversion to something and a sensation is created in the body. This sensation is then associated with whatever desire or aversion you have. It is this sensation that creates addiction.
How To Experience That You Are Not Your Body Or Mind?
Typically, people deal with pain in one of 3 ways:
The first method is by force. They say, “I am stronger than this pain. It will not move me.” You can imagine someone in a challenging posture tensing all of their muscles to fight the pain. This is how many people approach life. Everything is a fight. We know these types of people. You may even be one of them. Some of them we even consider quite successful.
However, what is happening in the mind? There is tension. No peace. Everything is a battle.
The second method is by distraction. You hold a difficult posture and imagine yourself on the beach or somewhere else. We do this in life through television, movies, drugs, etc. While distraction is a little more peaceful than by force, it creates duality. You are not present. Part of you is somewhere else and the other part of you is here.
The third method is to understand the truth on an experiential level: I am not my body or mind. You begin to experience pain in the body without letting it affect You (the Self). For example, you are sitting in meditative pose without moving and your legs are beginning to experience painful sensations. Your mind tells you, move your legs; stretch them out, just for a moment then you will be fine.
However, what you should do is NOT move at all! Not even a fraction of an inch. Be completely still. When you start to feel discomfort, or just want to move in general, don’t. Don’t try to escape the pain. This leads to more pain. Be equanimous with the sensations. Don’t react.
The first thing to do is remind yourself that you are not your mind. You do not have to listen to it. Just because it is telling you to stretch your legs out, doesn’t mean you have to do it. The second thing is to not try and escape the pain, but recognize that the body is feeling a sensation.
However, remind yourself that You (the Self) is not feeling it. While it is causing discomfort on the body, it is not causing You (the Self) any pain. Remind yourself that it is the body that feels it, not you. Also, nothing will happen if you don’t move. Sure, you may be sore the next day, but nothing else. (Of course, it is important to know the difference between pain that leads to discomfort and pain that leads to injury).
Throughout this process, repeat the mantra to yourself: I am not my body; it won’t hurt me (the Self). I am not my mind, I don’t have to listen to it and move.
At some point the hurtful sensations will turn into just sensations, and eventually disappear. This is the process of experiencing the separation of the Self and the mind/body vehicle. The stronger you can hold your concentration on this, the easier it becomes. In fact, often the painful sensations turn into pleasure, while the Self observes. This is disciplining the mind and experiencing the true relationship between the mind, body, and soul.
False identifications restrict your understanding of who you are. When you identify with anything that is temporary, you are identifying with something false and creating suffering. The most important false identification to break is that you are your mind and body. This is what brings suffering.
Learn to EXPERENTIALLY understand that you are not your mind or body. These are your instruments to navigate this human existence. Learn to be equanimous with sensations of the body and you will learn to let go of your suffering.