Practice, Practice, Practice…

PracticeMany of us began practicing yoga because of asana.  Many of us, as a result, have found physical relief and have begun living a healthier life, free from pain.  However, beyond asana, if we wish to deepen our Yoga practice as a way of life, it is important to understand that Yoga is not just about health or therapy.  And even if we take it as such, it cannot cure everything.  Yoga is not the solution to all of our problems.  True, it has the ability to help us more than we had hoped.  But even so, the results are not necessarily what we might expect…but this is okay—once we understand exactly what the practice of yoga (yogabhyasa) entails.

As you know, Yogabhyasa is composed of different branches or angas.  It is important to cultivate all the angas, in the order that they are given in the Yoga Sutras (Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi) because the angas are the foundation upon which a yoga practice can develop and grow appropriately.  Usually, when people speak of “practice,” they are only referring to asana or meditation, neglecting other important aspects, such as Yama and Niyama.  In time, this misunderstanding confuses the student, who turns toward other disciplines in search of what is “missing” in yoga.

The first two steps (Yama and Niyama) support the others.  This concept is described in Krishanmacharya’s book Yoga Makaranda: “Just in order to climb the Tirupati hill one has to climb step by step and only at the end does one achieve darsanam of the swami and expierence happiness, similarly everyone who follows the path of yoga sastra has to climb the eight steps of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahrara, dharanan, dhyana and samadhi proceeding according to the given order.”1

Relatively quickly, we may benefit from certain aspects of Yoga (like asana and pranayama)—a stronger, more elastic body, better blood circulation, and detoxification of the body.  However, it will be very difficult to practice meditation and focus the mind on one point without distraction (ekagrata), UNLESS we simultaneously purify our minds and develop our compassion by paying attention to our actions (in word and in thought).  Cultivating compassion requires the work of Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana…no easy task.  So, what should we do in order to practice Yoga as a lifestyle?

First, have Faith in the practice, in the accumulated experience of individual teachers who have given us access to Yoga today.  Second, dedication is important; carry the practice with you so that it becomes a regular, daily practice.  We must understand that often ‘doing the right thing’ does not get us what we want, but just knowing that it was the right thing to do allows us to keep our minds quiet and directed toward a higher purpose.

Time is also a very important aspect of yoga—not only the time we dedicate to practice itself, but also the time period we must be patient until we see any tangible results.  In our hectic lives, if we have only two hours to fully dedicate ourselves to Yogabhyasa, then it would be appropriate to divide the time among Asana, Pranayama and Dhyana.  However, although asana practice can be meditative, it is NOT meditation; although the kramas (sequences) should be coordinated with the breath, they are NOT pranayama.  Therefore, it is important to spend the necessary time and attention on the other aspects of the practice—not just asana—to allow us to further develop our Yoga practice.  It takes time, much more time than we are used to today in our society…Think of how anxious we get if an email doesn’t arrive in a few seconds!!!

We must then understand that it’s not a matter of a few years.  It takes time and patience to maintain and cultivate all the aspects of Yogabhyasa that must be present.  Personally, I believe that an individual’s search for a teacher who can guide him or her is essential.  Every day it becomes easier and easier to find information than it was just 15 years ago.  So, it is our mission if we want to go deeper into living a life of yoga to find a teacher that can answer our questions.  How will we know who is the right teacher?  The Yoga Sutras define of Yoga, if someone lives in accordance with these principles, we are on the right track, if actions speak for themselves and we consider appropriate to our logic, is a teacher with which we can grow. If a teacher can only teach asana, do not expect to learn much more … a teacher should at least guide you, tell you what is the way forward.

Reciting mantras or going to Temple, actions that raise our spirits, also motivate us with a profound Desire for understanding.  We must make this Desire so great that it eliminates other smaller desires that can become annoyances, like the desire for approval or fame.

We live a very fast time, filled with expectations and goals.  Yogabhyasa gives us the key to accessing what our mind naturally seeks…

Freedom.

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