Yoga, friendship and the heart

Whether you are a yoga student or teacher, the practice of yoga (in the spirit of Patanjali’s Astanga path) and in particular practice with others, inevitably starts to tease the edges of your heart. The spirit of working with the breath, creating space in which to move the joints and in the mind in which to absorb the finer details of instruction, is evocative of acceptance, allowance and inclusion: the qualities that underpin both friendship and wisdom.

Anyone who has been on a yoga day, a weekend or a week will most likely have felt this ‘softening of the edges of the heart’. Patanjali’s famous aphorism

‘perfection is attained in asana when the effort to perform them becomes effortless. Then he is no longer ensnared in duality and feels union with the boundless with the infinite’.

The phrase ‘when the effort becomes effortless’ points not at some peak level of physical prowess but to a sense of ‘how’ to practice. The Astanga (8-limbed) path includes truthfulness, surrender to god and non violence, all of which point to the possibility of being lifted, guided or led from within. It is this kind of intuitive awareness that places the practitioner outside the realm of trying or doing, in the ordinary sense, as the actions taken are no longer pre-constructed but are deep-felt creative responses to the present.

‘Beyond duality’ points to the constructed, conditioned nature of subject/object. It points to the deluded nature that has to hold reality in its dualistic state, through clinging onto ideas and opinions and over-riding the way things are to maintain these black and white divided perceptions. The ‘effortless effort’ then, is sustained, not through ordinary learning or accumulated knowledge but from an immediate openness that ‘allows’ experience and therefore sees it. The response then is appropriate, skilful, creative and comprehensive.

We act inappropriately then when we are not responding to a situation as it is, and we do not respond to a situation as it is when we don’t ‘see’ it, as it is. When things appear as they are, duality dissolves, and it is revealed as a construct. The fact that when effort is effortless duality dissolves, proves that duality takes effort to maintain, and it is not the way things are. Subject, object, self and other, right and wrong, praise and blame, duality dissolving, leaves us with a softer sense of me and you, less alienated and more connected and, above all, more able to see one another and hold one another in this space.

This is not a sense of losing one’s self in another but feeling the continuum that flows between us. Ultimately it is an experience that is beyond words a fact but not one that can be formulated without degrading it. This ability to form a relationship with reality beyond conceptual constructs about reality is a big part of what we are practising in yoga. Union with ‘boundless infinity’, the reality of one another, is a pointer at just this, unknowable, unlimited reality.


You shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future.
What is past is left behind.
The future is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present you clearly see right there, right there.
Not taken in, unshaken, that’s how you develop the heart.
Ardently doing what should be done today, for — who knows? — tomorrow death.
There is no bargaining with Mortality & his mighty horde.
Whoever lives thus ardently, relentlessly both day & night, has truly had an auspicious day: so says the Peaceful Sage.

— The Buddha