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There is a fine line between practising yoga, and its opposite, bhoga

The Yoga Sutras state that: ‘Yoga is the cessations of the fluctuations of consciouseness (or citta)’ (YS 1.2). Citta is composed of three parts: ego (ahamkara), intelligence (buddhi), and mind (manas). In our yoga practice we are attempting to achieve an even balance of these three parts, and the refinement of their positive aspects. If we get ruled by the negative aspects of citta in our practice, then we are practising bhoga, the opposite of yoga, or the pursuit of sensual pleasure. As alluring as bhoga may sound, according to the yogic texts, such pursuit will always end in misery.

Ahamkara, or ego, can be used to motivate ourselves to do better. It is behind the will that we need to generate to bring energy into our bodies and focus into our minds when we are practising. On the other hand, it can also manifest itself as pride and create the illusion that we are doing better than we really are. It can be behind the temptation to go straight to the end point of a pose without having properly created the underlying foundation which is supporting it.

Buddhi is intelligence, but not in the sense that we often associate it with. The intelligence of the brain is crafty and immature, whereas the intelligence of the heart has a wisdom that is developed through practical experience, and it is this type of intelligence that we are attempting to cultivate in our practice.

Manas, or mind, can be lured towards the perceived attraction of external objects, or it can be drawn towards a more inward and reflective state. In classes I will often tell students that the part of our mind that doesn’t really want to listen, the part that just wants to move, that just wants to be entertained, is that part of our outward mind. Our bodies are generally slow and less responsive. They appreciate working more slowly, and learn through repetitive movements. In our yoga practice we have to learn to slow our minds and listen to the feedback we are getting from our bodies.

There can be a fine line between the positive and negative aspects of citta. It is important to be aware of these subtle differences when we are practising, so that we are working towards the freedom of yoga, and not ensnaring ourselves in the shackles of bhoga.