Transformation is often touted in the yoga world as an aim for which we practice. In fact, the phrase “transformation starts here” is written on the door of one of the yoga studios where I teach.
But what does that word really mean? What does the process of transformation look like? How do you teach it or guide that experience for someone else?
To start, Dictionary.com says transformation means:
“change in form, appearance, nature, or character.”
(There are a couple other not useful options, such as “the state of being transformed” or “the process of transforming.”)
The most important word in that definition is change. To change form, appearance, nature, or character there must be a will to change. If there is no will, there can be no transformation.
There are also stages of transformation, starting with form at the most gross level and moving toward character at the deepest, most subtle level. While changing form may lead toward a change in character, the process isn’t always linear or even necessary.
I recently started teaching a series on transformation, so I read up on the yogic perspective of this process.
I am pleased to share with you now some yoga philosophy on change.
Philosophy of transformation
Five thousand years ago yoga was all about chanting, meditating, and practicing rituals (that often involved more chanting). This set of practices evolved out of a philosophical teaching called Vedanta. Vedanta came from the Vedas — texts that outlined all the rituals, chants, and philosophy. As yoga philosophy evolved, some followers decided following rituals couldn’t actually change your life. Chanting and practicing rituals was a passive experience. As a student you would be instructed on how to chant and how to perform the rituals perfectly. Beyond learning and reciting what you learned, you couldn’t DO anything to change your circumstances other then wait for something good to happen!
The process of taking action is one of the defining aspects of yoga philosophy today. To practice yoga is to take action. The model for taking right action is called Kriya Yoga.
Components of Kriya Yoga
Kriya Yoga is broken down into 3 stages.
- Ishvara Pranidhana
Tapas is defined as heat. When we have to do something we don’t want to do but we do it anyway we experience a type of mental friction. When we show up to do something over and over again, we build discipline born from this heat. Heat creates energy that propels us toward action and burns away the conditioned patterns that led to suffering in the first place.
Svadhyaya is self-study. Once we choose to take action, it’s important to study the results of that action. Without analysis of how things are working, it’s significantly more difficult to make a good decision next time. Svadhyaya is the process of creating efficiencies on your path towards action. Work smarter, not harder!
Ishvara Pranidhana is surrender. Ultimately, we must surrender to something greater then ourselves, whatever we believe that something to be. If our action is only for the benefit of ourselves and not something greater then ourselves, the world will eventually end. When we can act in the world without fear because we are certain that we are doing the right thing, our action has the potential to change the world.
This change brings about transformation.
Applying transformation to our daily lives
Transformation is not just about one change. It’s the process of many changes happening over time. No transformation happens overnight.
Showing up creates heat. Being present balances the energy from that heat. Reflection optimizes your energy. Expressing gratitude releases and delivers that energy in a kind, loving way.
In some of my other research on the yogic process of transformation I learned that the old-time yogis had different measures for physical fitness. Whereas today we think about a physically fit body based on numbers, way back when the measurements were based on feelings. A physically fit body was light, stable, focused, and adaptable so that it could withstand constant change. Transformation back in the day wasn’t about losing weight or looking different. It was an inside job.
Taking action produces a change that creates transformation.
How can you start applying these principles to your own life and/or yoga practice? (Hint: DO something :))