How does yoga relate to love? Perhaps there are obvious ways – like doing something you love or doing something that is good for you. But the true Yoga of Love is much more subtle and much more profound. We can look to the Yoga Sutras to help us expand: “Or by meditating on anything one chooses which is elevating.” (Sutra 1.39, translation by Reverend Jaganath Carrera)
This sutra expounds upon all the ways one can steady the mind. In several commentaries, love has been mentioned as something which is elevating, or which one desires to meditate upon. As it is such a pervasive feeling in the human repertoire, it’s readily available for us to engage with.
Firstly, what do we mean by love here? Love can be many things to many people. Since it is impossible to say with words exactly what love is, let’s say what it is not. Love is not possessing another person. Love is not a nice neat little box of expectations and fulfillment of those expectations. Love is not conditional.
In Charles Johnston’s translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (in reference to Sutra 1.39), he defines love as “a form of knowledge.” He goes on to say, “…that we truly know any thing or any person, by becoming one therewith, in love. Thus love has a wisdom that the mind cannot claim, and by this hearty love, this becoming one with what is beyond our personal borders, we may take a long step toward freedom.”
The heart has the power to feel and to see in spite of what the mind is calculating. This deep knowing, feeling, or seeing brings us outside of our self-motivated tendencies. When we love, we become effortlessly generous. Our love does not need to be conjured up, manipulated, or faked. It just flows freely, from a place of abundance. It doesn’t run out. This can be contrary to our habitual patterns of fear, greed, self-serving tendencies, and protection.
Thus, love invites us to experience union, or “one-ness”. Yoga literally means yoking, or joining together. Joining body, heart, and mind. Joining ourselves with our world and our experience. Recognizing that we are interdependent. That the lines between self and others are much thinner than we think.
So how do we get to one-ness through yoga?
The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard about is non-attachment. (Sutra 1.15, translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
The Yoga Sutras teach us how to steady the mind through the eight limbs of yoga. Part of this is non-attachment. Non-attachment is being free from craving or wanting to possess. When we truly love, we have liberated ourselves from attachment. The confused version of love is still attached and totally contingent on conditions and claims. But the wisdom version of love is unconditional.
We practice non-attachment not only to material possessions and to other people, but also to our own experience, and even our own human body. Practicing yoga, we learn that our poses are different every time we do them. We see how our minds can become obsessed with wanting to achieve some result, or look a certain way, and we have to let that go. We learn to relate with the impermanence of all things- even our fleeting emotions- and our temporary human body. Non-attachment is not the same as apathy or avoidance. Non-attachment actually allows us to engage more fully with our experience because we are liberated from false actions fueled by the desire to manipulate the situation toward a desirable outcome. When we are not attached, we can actually show up and relate to things as they are in the moment.
Love is like this, too. When we are not attached, we can love freely and show up with another person in the potency of the present moment. Or we can love ourselves, not because of some achievement or accomplishment, but just because we are who we are, alive and breathing.
This love, this heart wisdom, can steady the mind and lead us toward samadhi.
As Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry reminds us in the words of Le Petit Prince, “the eyes are blind; one must look with the heart.”
This kind of love we often feel naturally. But it’s also good to cultivate it. With our friends, our children, even our partners, we can contemplate where we are possessive and attached, where our love has conditions. We can recognize the utter vulnerability of loving another person that often results in fear-based reactions or conditions. With gentleness for ourselves, we can practice yoga in our lives – through honesty of things as they are, and surrender to the vast potentiality that is all around us. Beyond the asanas we practice on our mats, we study philosophy which is the context of these poses. We study ourselves – our own hearts and minds – and our relationships with others. What we cultivate is deep heart-based wisdom that is all-accommodating.
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