Many students come to me having practiced yoga for many years, yet they’re still filled with deep spiritual questions and confusion. Feeling deep clarity and resolve is an essential step in any spiritual path. It’s impossible for the brain to move from the alpha (disturbed) state into the theta (calm, relaxed) state—where meditation happens—without first feeling clarity.
Finding clarity in the modern world is increasingly difficult. It seems that half the work of the modern yogi is simply weeding through the vast array of yoga stylesand spiritual philosophies. It takes only a single instant, however, to return to clarity. This is the role of the spiritual teacher. If you were lost deep in the woods, even the darkest woods, it would take only a single candle light from very far away to guide your way out.
The Importance of Regular Practice
Growing up in a monastery taught me many things about meditation, which have stayed with me to this day. In the monastery, we didn’t have access to thousands of books, philosophies, and teachers like the modern seeker has. From age 7, I was given a daily practice by my master, and it was the same practice I did every day for 12 years. It was a difficult and rigorous practice, but one that I now see as necessary to penetrate the deeper layers of the mind.
In the ancient yoga ashrams, students had to dedicate themselves for 12 years to even begin the path to learning yoga. It was designed this way because it is simply impossible to understand and experience the subtle layers of yoga and meditation in a short amount of time. While this is not very realistic for the modern student, there are many insights that can be drawn from this tradition of deep, intentional, single-focused study.
When students feel confusion or hit a plateau in their practice, I believe that developing a single set of clear practices and beliefs, practiced with clarity, is the missing link. It’s common to resist this initially; this is one of the many tricks of the mind.
If you have hit a patch of confusion, follow these 4 tips to find more clarity in your yoga or meditation practice.
4 Ways to Find More Clarity in Your Yoga or Meditation Practice
1. Don’t get lost in spiritual terminology.
Throughout the ages, yoga and meditation masters needed ways to share their states of being to the world. When Buddha first became enlightened, he first lectured to his former ascetic followers in the Deer Park at Sarnath. While sharing the details of his “samadi,” it is said that the attendees of his first lecture were somewhat underwhelmed by what he shared, as it was much of the same that teachers of the day were already sharing.
This required Buddha to come up with some creative solutions, so he invented some new terminology. “Enlightenment,” he called it. Rumors of this new state of being quickly spread throughout ancient India.
A similar challenge meets every enlightened teacher who tries to share his findings with the world. Each teacher is forced to make the same realizations sound new and original in order to perk up new ears. This pattern has continued through the ages into the modern day, where the modern yogis are pulled between “self-awakening,” “mindfulness,” “consciousness,” “Kundalini awakening,” and “chakra opening.”
I always remind my students that the various words to describe spiritual states are simply different terminology all pointing to the same exact thing. This realization alone can bring great clarity and relief.
2. Avoid measuring spiritual progress.
It’s easy to begin comparing our levels of spiritual progress. This is another very harmful pattern of the mind.
My master taught me that the role of a spiritual teacher is to help each student realize they are full and complete exactly how they are. That’s it. The path of yoga and meditation is not to achieve anything, but rather to accept yourself exactly the way you are. There are no levels, degrees, or achievements on this path. You are perfect, complete, whole within yourself—just as you are. The only movement in yoga is to see this, and it takes no special practice to do so.
A good spiritual guide will have the ability to make you feel more complete within yourself, and you will know it when you feel it. It is not the duty of the teacher to impress upon students any obligation or specific ritual. I would consider this wrong guidance.
Whenever coming across a new, impressive teacher, I encourage my students to see that they are in no way different or less than the teacher, and that they are simply having new dimensions of their being revealed through that teacher. Any good spiritual teacher should always leave you feeling more free and empowered within yourself—not with more unanswered questions.
3. Study the history and original intention of yoga.
There was originally only one yoga pose: sitting silently in a cross-legged position.
Throughout time, the ancient masters needed ways to loosen students’ bodies in order to return to sitting silently. It is said that that’s why they invented the various yoga postures.
You could imagine the ancient yogis sitting in meditation thousands of years ago, when suddenly a new student begins experiencing a leg cramp. Acting out of compassion, the master would walk over to the student and whisper in his ear some simple instructions to stretch that part of the body until the cramp was relieved. This has been the development of the yoga postures throughout the ages.
Fast forward thousands of years, and the world we live in is quite different. The modern yogi is put under patterns of stress and stimulation significantly more powerful than in the ancient times. The need to counteract these deeper stress patterns is what inspired modern masters like Yogi Bhajan, K. Pattabhi Jois, and B.K.S. Iyengar to bring new systems of yoga into the world.
As a yoga practitioner, it’s important for your own clarity not to get lost in these various styles of yoga. Rather, try to see them all as different systems leading you back to the same end point: sitting silently. After all, meditation is the essence of the yoga practice. This simple understanding can help you become significantly more clear on the intention for your practice each day.
4. Reduce the number of influences you allow in your life.
It’s easy for us to be like frogs, jumping from lily pad to lily pad when we come across a new philosophy. It may seem shiny and new for a time. Yet after a while, we run into its limitations and begin looking for the next lily pad to jump to. This process can go on forever if we don’t notice the pattern.
Having an abundance of spiritual influences can limit your ability to go deeper into meditation. Rather than constantly searching for new teachers, I recommend committing deeper to the teacher (living or dead) who your heart feels most naturally drawn to. Spend more time with that teacher’s words, allowing them to sink deeper into your thoughts and actions. Something beautiful will surely follow.