Human bodies change chemically all the time as mood and activity fluctuate. Body structure changes more slowly, partly from behaviour (eg more/less exercise), partly from persistent chemical effects (eg continuous stress depletes immune function). We’re not just what we eat, but what we think, feel and do as well. My body is my history – every previous moment features in the fabric of my being in some way.
Yoga speaks of annamaya kosha (“anna” – food; the “food body”): an adaptable, physical shroud around a core self. The tradition also describes anandamaya kosha (“ananda” – bliss) deep within, paired with an eternal and indestructible, true self. This intrinsic self is not separated from others or the world at large – it’s in constant union with its image in every other living being. It’s life itself, endless celebrating it’s own spontaneity and diversity.
Is this paradoxical – can a human life comprise both mortal, changing and eternal, changeless elements? Well these two aren’t really opposites. All the atoms in our bodies (and everything around us) were part of many other things before us, and will be part of many more after. And each atom is mostly energy anyway – there is very little that’s actually solid. As life itself, the physical universe is an endless interplay of energy. Nothing is ever really created or destroyed.
Yoga practice leads us to look deeper at all the apparent opposites in our lives (such as people we like and those we don’t). We can connect with our internal “opposites” – the parts of ourselves we prefer not to notice. Being aware of our most fundamental, enduring element – and recognising this in all those around us – we live a more content and constructive life.
We still need goals (sankalpa), but it’s obvious that achieving them – or making any change – will be continuous, just as our own bodies change continuously. Things don’t happen at a point in time, we only notice them as such. To try really is to achieve, as change is always ongoing. It sounds obvious but literally every step, every Yoga practice, takes us closer to our goals.
It’s crucial to guide our own changes. They’re going to happen anyway, so how can we direct them? Yoga doesn’t offer a list of do’s and don’ts, because everyone is different and has different needs. Instead we’re invited to develop certain qualities, and think for ourselves how best to apply them to our own lives. These qualities are abhysasa, or consistent application of the right approach and methods, and vairagya – a willingness to drop attitudes and behaviours that aren’t helping.