The journey from known to unknown
by Shobhan Richard Faulds
The first in a series of articles on yoga's transformative process
The journey which takes one from the base of an undisciplined life to the highest peak of a spiritual life is variously called the journey of yoga, the journey of the soul, or the journey of eternal truth. It is not a straightforward journey, but a very intricate and uneven one. At times, it can feel uphill all the way.
Anyone dedicated to the practice of yoga sooner or later encounters a "yoga experience." Whether it's the bliss of relaxation, the raw power of emotional release, or the heightened awareness of meditative states, your first powerful yoga experience feels like the first step on a pathway leading to greater vitality, meaning, and fulfillment. As a result, practitioners often tend to ask the same question: How can I have experiences like this more often?
Unfortunately, yoga experiences are unpredictable. They seem to occur when you least expect them, the apparent result of serendipity or accident. Yet the yoga tradition is founded on the belief that regular practice opens the body to deeper levels of feeling, expands the mind to loftier states of awareness, and leaves you "accident-prone" to a rich mix of inner experiences. Learning how to open yourself to these experiences, and to let them touch and teach you, takes your practice into the deeper realms that lie beyond body mechanics and physical fitness.
Yoga experiences are one part of a much larger phenomenon that Kripalu Yoga refers to as the "transformative process." Traditional yoga casts the transformative process in the language of purification. More contemporary views emphasize physical healing and psychological growth. In these times, when the physical benefits of yoga are touted so prominently, it's helpful to remember that yoga was designed to initiate a profound evolutionary process, one that heals, strengthens, and uplifts every level of our being.
A regular practice of yoga postures, pranayama, and meditation awakens pranathe invisible engine of the transformative processto higher levels of activity. This energetic quickening stimulates the entire system, freeing the way for healing to occur at an optimal rate. Continued practice, coupled with a wholesome lifestyle, removes the obstacles that so often stunt and stifle the natural process of human growth and development. Along with peak experiences and exciting quantum leaps, the transformative process includes the slow and steady growth that occurs during lengthy plateaus that can test our patience, as well as the difficult tempering of character that results when we face the fires of health challenges and other personal crises.
Manifesting in myriad ways, the transformative process has three core components: healing, growth, and transformation. Healing is the process of returning to a normal level of healthy functioning after trauma or injury. The clearest examples of healing are physical, as when a wound or broken bone mends, but parallel types of healing take place on the emotional and psychological levels. Growth is the incremental process of unfolding into a full expression of our human potential. Whereas healing returns you to ordinary functioning, growth is the gradual process of expanding your sensitivities and skills to extraordinary levels through learning.
Transformation is something altogether different. It's the sudden shift in your sense of self that happens when you touch into the core of your being that is already whole and complete, that doesn't need to learn or to get better. This is the "True Self" that yoga teaches is infinite, eternal, and joyous. While growth is the result of learning or insight, transformation is an unlearning process in which layers of mental or emotional conditioning fall away to reveal effortless being as your natural state.
Swami Kripalu taught that yoga is a journey from the known to the unknown, meaning that the transformative process is mysterious and at times confusing. Rather than a linear process in which healing precipitates a period of growth that culminates in transformation, it is a holistic process in which we are constantly healing, growing, and transforming at deeper and deeper levels. Because we are truly unaware of emotional and mental content that has been repressed, there are many surprises and more than a few pitfalls along the way to regaining our wholeness. A regular yoga practice keeps the intelligent and evolutionary energy of prana flowing freely, allowing it to guide the process from within. As prana becomes more active, the pace of transformation picks up. The heart opens to fully feeling what has been pushed away. Anything denied by the mind is brought into the light of conscious awareness. Shifts happen and integration results.
Each of us proceeds down the path of transformation in our own unique way. Your experience will depend on your personality and the specifics of your habits, history, and current circumstances. The value of walking this path lies precisely in that it cannot be anticipated or manipulated. It is a path that unfolds in its own way and time, originating from a place beyond mind. As practice deepens, the techniques of yoga become ever more powerful tools to access the unconditioned and transpersonal dimension of your being. A thin crack appears in the thick wall of separation from self and others that lies at the root of human suffering. Simply by remaining present on your yoga mat and in your life, you proceed step by step on your journey.
Editor's Note: The next article in this series will focus on the traditional yogic model of purification.
Shobhan Richard Faulds, M.A., J.D., is a certified professional-level Kripalu Yoga teacher. His latest project, with his wife, Danna, is Sayings of Swami Kripalu: Inspiring Quotes from a Contemporary Yoga Master, a collection of quotations with accompanying commentary. To order copies, available at wholesale prices to KYTA members when you buy five or more, e-mail Danna at email@example.com.