At the very basic level, Yoga is a scientific system of specific practices which help to balance the Body and Mind. Through regular practice, one begins to improve physical strength, flexibility and overall vitality. As one's body becomes lighter and more flexible, so does the practitioner's mind. Increased focus and awareness combine with a healthier and naturally more relaxed body to bring about a refreshed and positive attitude towards life, full of enhanced emotional and mental clarity.
At the intermediate level, Yoga's scientific approach continues to build upon the basic foundation with increased awareness on focusing the mind and diving deeper into the present moment. Through deeper meditation, advanced Yogic Postures (Asanas) and Breathing Exercises (Pranayamas), the practitioner begins to steady the erratic nature of the mind, thus enabling greater focus and concentration in both Yogic practice and in daily life. This increased concentration begins to draw the practitioner into the flow of life. Daily tasks become simpler. There is less struggle in life and a growing sense of acceptance and peace. This level also begins to awaken a deeper awareness of the mind's relationship to life and the energy which makes up all living things.
At the advanced level, Yoga's scientific approach begins to reveal the nature of reality. The mind becomes one pointed and focused on the peace and love which naturally arise within the practitioner. Steadiness of mind becomes automatic and the nature of the Self begins to illuminate the practitioner's mind.
The above descriptions and examples are, of course, the ideals of Yogic Practice. They are achievable by anyone who stays committed to correct practice with correct understanding. However, for best results in Yoga Practice, one should keep the goals of Yogic Practice in the background and bring them out only to fuel the fire of motivation and devotion to one's practice. Rather than obsessing about some ideal, the practitioner then remains present to one's current abilities and experiences: gently stretching and expanding the boundaries of experience over time.
A common trap in Yoga Practice, as well as life, is impatience with the present experience. We want great results and advanced experiences now. And when we do not get them, we may feel discouraged or at least a little disappointed. Even though rationally we know that one week of Yogic practice will not likely result in immediate Enlightenment, or even much more than the beginnings of positive changes in our bodies, the impatient mind can spin round and round with desires of supreme bliss and super human flexibility.
This type of subtle and sometimes not so subtle impatience can be a big obstacle in the practice of Yoga. By expecting a certain high result, we may fail to see the positive subtle changes that are happening initially. Even after a few months, as the body is obviously more flexible, we may allow our growing peace of mind to be disturbed by the unrealistic goals we are expecting. Not meeting these goals quickly can, unfortunately, fizzle one's motivation. Therefore it is important to be realistic about achieving small goals, setting a steady pace, and remaining fully present and accepting of where you are in your practice.
In the case of Yoga, as is often the case in Life, slow and steady is the best course of action. Being present to your body's state of health in this moment is part of the practice. The joints are a little stiff? Yes. I can feel their inflexibility, and I simple acknowledge that right now, my joints are stiff. As I stretch, I feel the gentle tug on my muscles and stiff joints, inviting them ever so gentling and lovingly to let go and open. And I breathe into them, ever so slowly and deeply, remaining fully present to the sensations and experience which arise. This is the path of Yoga. Presence. Acceptance of what is.
In contrast, the nature of our Mind is usually looking towards the future, or obsessing about the past, causing us to miss what is happening now. The mind goes over and over the past - what it wishes it said yesterday during that fight. The mind frets about the big presentation tomorrow, or how it is going to get the money to buy some certain thing. And with the mind's attention away from today, away from this moment, we often miss the simple, beautiful moments that are happening right under our noses. A moment of genuine kindness from a stranger. A moment of delight and wonder from a child. A moment of joy and love with a friend or spouse. And most importantly, a simple moment of Peace without worry or fear.
How could we possibly miss these things? Because when the mind is worrying about tomorrow, it has no room to take in the beauty that is happening all around it. It has no focus or awareness for anything outside of its experience based upon expectation of tomorrow: worry, fear, suffering, desire.
This is not to say that we always miss the special moments. There are moments of clarity and beauty that happen for most people, no doubt. But what about the other moments that are missed? Why miss anything?