At the very basic level, Yoga is a scientific system of specific practices which help to balance the Body and Mind. Through regular practice, one begins to improve physical strength, flexibility and overall vitality. As one's body becomes lighter and more flexible, so does the practitioner's mind. Increased focus and awareness combine with a healthier and naturally more relaxed body to bring about a refreshed and positive attitude towards life, full of enhanced emotional and mental clarity.

At the intermediate level, Yoga's scientific approach continues to build upon the basic foundation with increased awareness on focusing the mind and diving deeper into the present moment. Through deeper meditation, advanced Yogic Postures (Asanas) and Breathing Exercises (Pranayamas), the practitioner begins to steady the erratic nature of the mind, thus enabling greater focus and concentration in both Yogic practice and in daily life. This increased concentration begins to draw the practitioner into the flow of life. Daily tasks become simpler. There is less struggle in life and a growing sense of acceptance and peace. This level also begins to awaken a deeper awareness of the mind's relationship to life and the energy which makes up all living things.

At the advanced level, Yoga's scientific approach begins to reveal the nature of reality. The mind becomes one pointed and focused on the peace and love which naturally arise within the practitioner. Steadiness of mind becomes automatic and the nature of the Self begins to illuminate the practitioner's mind.

The above descriptions and examples are, of course, the ideals of Yogic Practice. They are achievable by anyone who stays committed to correct practice with correct understanding. However, for best results in Yoga Practice, one should keep the goals of Yogic Practice in the background and bring them out only to fuel the fire of motivation and devotion to one's practice. Rather than obsessing about some ideal, the practitioner then remains present to one's current abilities and experiences: gently stretching and expanding the boundaries of experience over time.

A common trap in Yoga Practice, as well as life, is impatience with the present experience. We want great results and advanced experiences now. And when we do not get them, we may feel discouraged or at least a little disappointed. Even though rationally we know that one week of Yogic practice will not likely result in immediate Enlightenment, or even much more than the beginnings of positive changes in our bodies, the impatient mind can spin round and round with desires of supreme bliss and super human flexibility.

This type of subtle and sometimes not so subtle impatience can be a big obstacle in the practice of Yoga. By expecting a certain high result, we may fail to see the positive subtle changes that are happening initially. Even after a few months, as the body is obviously more flexible, we may allow our growing peace of mind to be disturbed by the unrealistic goals we are expecting. Not meeting these goals quickly can, unfortunately, fizzle one's motivation. Therefore it is important to be realistic about achieving small goals, setting a steady pace, and remaining fully present and accepting of where you are in your practice.

In the case of Yoga, as is often the case in Life, slow and steady is the best course of action. Being present to your body's state of health in this moment is part of the practice. The joints are a little stiff? Yes. I can feel their inflexibility, and I simple acknowledge that right now, my joints are stiff. As I stretch, I feel the gentle tug on my muscles and stiff joints, inviting them ever so gentling and lovingly to let go and open. And I breathe into them, ever so slowly and deeply, remaining fully present to the sensations and experience which arise. This is the path of Yoga. Presence. Acceptance of what is.

In contrast, the nature of our Mind is usually looking towards the future, or obsessing about the past, causing us to miss what is happening now. The mind goes over and over the past - what it wishes it said yesterday during that fight. The mind frets about the big presentation tomorrow, or how it is going to get the money to buy some certain thing. And with the mind's attention away from today, away from this moment, we often miss the simple, beautiful moments that are happening right under our noses. A moment of genuine kindness from a stranger. A moment of delight and wonder from a child. A moment of joy and love with a friend or spouse. And most importantly, a simple moment of Peace without worry or fear.

How could we possibly miss these things? Because when the mind is worrying about tomorrow, it has no room to take in the beauty that is happening all around it. It has no focus or awareness for anything outside of its experience based upon expectation of tomorrow: worry, fear, suffering, desire.

This is not to say that we always miss the special moments. There are moments of clarity and beauty that happen for most people, no doubt. But what about the other moments that are missed? Why miss anything?

Yogic practices are vast and varied. The practices most commonly known are the Asanas (Yogic Postures) and Meditation. Pranayama (Yogic Breathing) and Chanting are then likely to be known by people with at least some general yoga experience. These practices are common to many traditions, and along with rules for self-discpline and social-discipline make up the core practices of the Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga Traditions.

Despite what is commonly understood about Tantra in the west, it is a huge array of yogic techniques that deal with many different aspects of life, teaching the practitioner to experience the Divine in all of life. Tantra is really an umbrella term in a way, which houses all these different techniques. The popular Hatha yoga comes directly out of Tantric Traditions and lives peacefully under that umbrella with so many other techniques and practices.

Just as a doctor only gives a specific medicine to a specific illness, Tantra Yoga prescribes specific practices for specific needs of practitioners based upon his or her state of mind. But one important commonality to all of these practices is Being Present. To bringing the awareness into the present moment and fully surrendering to what is.

As our mind is focused through yogic practice, we stay present to all of life's blessings. And the troubles of life begin to roll through our mind like the images of a movie on the big screen. As soon as the frames containing the pain and suffering have ended, they are no longer in our mind and therefore no longer part of our experience. We are then aware of the next frames of the movie.

Over time, as we stay increasingly more present, we begin to see through our own direct experience that pain and suffering always come to an end and are replaced by pleasure. This rising and falling of states is part of the flow of life. When we begin to acknowledge the impermanence of our experience, of pain and suffering, they begin to lose their hold on us. They are no longer the fearful beast that we took them to be. They no longer have the power to destroy our peace of mind, because we know they will end just as quickly as they arose. That we simply need to patiently wait for the next frames of the movie of our life to roll along.

As fear of suffering and pain slowly vanishes, we begin to more closely pay attention to the nature of reality. The flow of Presence. The stillness and silence between the frames of the film. And our awareness begins to rest there. Rest in that Silence. Rest in that Peace. This is the direction that Yogic Practices can take someone who is truly dedicated and devoted.

Although most of the Yogic Texts come from Eastern cultures, they are not a religion, but rather a scientific exploration of Life, Reality, the Mind and our relationship to those things. Like in the East, Yogic practices can be incorporated into a spiritual practice based upon any religion. And they can also be undertaken by those who have no religious beliefs. The scientific nature of the practices proves itself over time, with or without Spiritual affiliation. It can be undertaken as devotion to God, or as an exploration of the Human Mind. Either way, the path leads to the same experience. An understanding of the Nature of the Self.

Along the way, the path is sometimes clear and sunny, and at other times difficult and full of thorns. Overcoming obstacles and strengthening the desire to continue the exploration is part of the journey. The important thing to know is that with dedication and devotion to practice, you will progress. Your body WILL become healthier and more flexible. Your Mind will become calmer and more peaceful. Your life will begin to transform in unexpected and delightful ways. And for those who press on further, eventually, a deep and profound connection with life will awaken.

The practices and tools that Yoga offers are methods to purify and relax the body and mind, while training the mind to be fully present and experience the depth of Being. But we must remember that the practices are tools and not Yoga itself. The tools teach you to be present, to relax the body and mind and to open to life. Being present to life and present to the journey itself: Pure Awareness of Being. This is Yoga.

Author's Bio: 

Jeff Craft has studied and practiced healing and Spiritual practices for over 13 years. For the last 6 years, he has been studying and practices under a Spiritual Teacher.

His studies have lead him to deeper Spiritual experiences and at the end of 2007, his Teacher instructed him to begin teaching Tantra Yoga and related Spiritual Advancement techniques to others.

You can get more information about Jeff Craft, his classes and private services at his website:
BodyCraft Wellness