In the West there has been a substantial emphasis on yoga postures, so much that we commonly associate Yoga as a physical practice.
The practice of yoga has been reduced to group classes, stylish yoga clothes, power yoga, hamstring stretches, strengthening the triceps, and maybe some breathing. From over emphasis on the asanas, people are starting to contend that Yoga can wreck your body. I regularly hear people tell me that they are intimidated to start a Yoga practice because they are too inflexible, too overweight, or too impatient.
It is not about getting your leg behind your head, or touching your toes, or how much you sweat, or how quickly you can achieve a posture. It is not a workout as defined by our Western minds. The vast perception of Yoga as just a physical practice has distorted this profound ancient healing system.
Let’s face it we are missing the point!
Yoga comes from the root word YUJ which means to yoke, to bring together, to connect, union (union of mind, body and spirit, union of all being and all things). Yoga is a continuous integration process of connecting where we have been disconnected, finding balance where we have been imbalanced and seeing where we are in conflict and creating resolutions.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is the roadmap for the yogi’s experience and journey into consciousness.
In the second Yoga Sutra Patanjali defines Yoga as Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodaha, the art and science of yoga is the calming and quieting of the turnings of our minds. It is the intentional effort to reduce the self-limiting, self-destructive, self-negating thought patterns that hold us back from seeing who we truly are. A state of yoga quiets the storms of our minds so we can see ourselves and the world around us through a clear lens.
Yoga is not about trying to attain something that we do not already have, but rather it is the process of thinning and reducing the veils that cover our true nature, revealing the light that has always been there, yet forgotten and colored by the impressions in our mind field.
Nowhere in Patanjal’s definition of yoga does he say anything about stretching the hamstrings, or engaging the triceps, in fact, of the 196 Yoga Sutras, three speak of the Yoga Asana (posture). Although, the asana practice is important and is a vehicle that can lead us to a state of Nirodaha (Control, calming, quieting) of our Chitta (Mind), it does not mean that you have to practice physical postures to practice Yoga or be a Yogi.
How do we awaken to a state of Yoga?
May the truth be told that we always have an opportunity to be practicing Yoga. The practice of Yoga can happen all the time if we intentionally choose to awaken to new, clear perspectives in every moment. Patanjali suggests that the mind will become quiet through practice with non-attachment or dispassion.
What is practice?
Practice is not a certain sequencing of postures, or a particular system of Yoga, rather practice is the effort to be steady and the steadiness of our efforts for long uninterrupted periods of time with respect and earnest devotion. Along with steady practice we have to have dispassion, non-attachment, non- attachment to the fruits of our actions. Dispassion is the loss of all cravings for objects of experience, either seen or heard. When true knowledge of the self is revealed freedom from all desires of worldly manifestations and experience is achieved.
The path is uncovering our inner freedom, peace and joy. This can be revealed through purification practices, self study, asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra, consistent integration! Freedom to know thyself, to love thyself, to be with oneself. The deep and profound relationship that we can develop with the self enhances our relationships with those that we love the most, with all beings and all things.
As with anything, there are obstacles that distract us from awakening a state of Yoga.
As long as distractions exist in the mind, the mind cannot enter into one pointed concentration, and ultimately Nirodaha (the control and calming of the storms of our minds). The obstacles that distract the mind are illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, delusion, lack of perseverance, and instability. The symptoms that accompany a distracted state of mind are pain, depression, nervousness, and hard breathing. Patanjali offers us ways to overcome come these distractions and symptoms by practicing one principle, cultivating feelings of love for those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, delight for the virtuous, and indifference for those who are non-virtuous.
At times we may feel defeated by the difficulty we come up against in calming the mind, in connecting where we have been disconnected, in striking the balance every day, in every moment, in not being in conflict. The gift of Yoga is not a power hour workout, it is to provide us with the tools that are necessary for expanding awareness and consciousness so the art of quieting the mind becomes more like second nature, rather than something that seems out of reach. Practice makes familiar! As Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois said,
“Do your practice and all is coming.”
Read more from Adi: Good Pain Vs. Bad Pain.
Prepared & edited by: Tanya L. Markul
Adi Amar is the Co-founder and Co-director of the Teton Yoga Shala in Jackson Hole , WY, and is an instructor for Yoga Today. She has been studying and practicing yoga since the age of 15 and completed her formal training in 2001 at Mount Madonna under the guidance of Baba Hari Das. In 1998 Adi had the fortunate experience to practice with Tim Miller and immediately found her teacher. She considers Baba Hari Dass, Tim Miller, Bhavani Maki, Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini as some of her most influential teachers. She offers specific tools for each individual to extend his/her own growth, wisdom and healing capabilities within challenging and inspiring classes that integrate the spiritual and philosophical teachings of Yoga. Adi believes that the practice is the teacher and aims to inspire a passion for regular practice.