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September 25, 2013

Is a Yoga Practice Enough?

I’m sorry, I just don’t think so.

I mean, it probably should be, but it isn’t. For me. And when it is enough—when I have the internal fire, that divine inspiration and a calm and discerning mind…well, then maybe I won’t actually need to practice at all, or at least, this particular practice.

Just to be clear, when I refer to practice, I am specifically referring to what David Keil would cheekily term: jumping around on my mat. Better known to Ashtangis as: The Method.

I confess, my practice sucked this summer. I had good intentions of getting up for practice and following The Method as taught to me—but something was missing. I missed my community. I missed my teacher.

For me, it is the trilogy: the practice (or Method), the community and the teacher. Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor really puts this in perspective for me, as well as eases my sense of inadequacy for needing the presence of each for my own fulfillment.

And she refers me to the idea of the three-legged stool:

“So in the Buddhist tradition, the way this is talked about is as “Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.”In Christianity, my root origins, it’s “the way, the truth, and the life.” In any case, my translation of the trilogy is teacher, method, community. I think if it as the full source code, and without one of these sources, something is missing.”

In other words, it’s not just me. I put up a Facebook status the other day asking how important both community and teacher are to other practitioners. The answers came from around the world and were pretty consistent: to some degree, we need both. We need all three.

The Trilogy of Ashtanga:

1. Community:

“I’ve found myself overwhelmed by this kind of inspiration; I am filled to the brim to have hard-working peers greet me each morning. While I am disgusted by my own sweat and slime, I am also proud to be part of a group that values hard work and dedication. It’s what keeps me coming back, and it’s something I’ve come to seek out in other parts of my life. I love the proverbial worker bees and I want to be around them and hear what they are doing.”

~ Sarah Weaver

Yup, that’s it. Sometimes I want to give up, but then I think of all those working bees around me and it’s not failing myself that urges me on—it’s the thought of letting them down. We’re sort of a team and there’s this unspoken pact amongst us: we’re in it together. I’m not alone.

The community gets me out of bed, inspires and encourages me, and I am a vital member with a responsibility to the team.  (Heck, they even came up with their own Alarm to rouse the heavy sleepers!)

I’ve heard from students who are in areas of the country where no community exists and to them I say: build one. Build it and they will come. Even if “they” is just a few.

Community isn’t defined by numbers—but by spirit.

And in the meantime, the Inter-webs (Cyber Shalas?) do seem to provide some company to those more isolated. As a friend of mine reminded me,

No one practices in a vacuum.”

2. Teacher:

My teacher promises me it’s 1% teacher and 99% me—but I have a feeling that 1% is heavily weighted. Do I need him watching over me every morning as I practice? (Better question, could I handle that?!) The answer is no.

But do I need a teacher’s guidance? Do I need a teacher to push me onward when I’m fearfully reluctant …or hold me back when I’m foolishly confident? You bet. I hate to admit—I don’t always know. And left to my own devices (if you know me or read anything I write) you’ll know nine times out of 10, I’ll play it safe. Real safe.

Yeah, I know “all the answers are within me” and my guidelines should be the Yamas and Niyamas. I’m working on those, trust me. But they’re still not in the bag…yet.

Children need parents, teams need coaches, businesses need leaders—and I need a teacher.

3. Method:

Sure, I think the method itself is brilliant in its design and structure. It builds yet another trilogy (tristhana) in of postures (bandhas), breath and focus (dristhi). Truth is though, it’s taught differently by different teachers. Not profoundly different, but it does vary – and yet, still does the trick.

That says something. But to suggest, “the practice is the teacher” is incomplete.

Without the inspiration of my community and the guiding force of a teacher, I cannot balance on the single leg. Literally and figuratively.

And maybe you’re reading this and shaking your head. Maybe you are judging me spiritually immature and lacking the faith, discipline and focus.

Well…duh! I mean, do you really think if I had all that I’d feel the need to put my leg behind my head, make ridiculous binds and start my morning before dawn, nearly every day, with self-imposed near-death experiences?

Right. I wouldn’t. Nor would you. And lucky for us—we’re not alone.

This blog was also not composed in a vacuum. And thus, it’s appropriate now to thank Angela Jamison, Tova Steiner, and MJH for helping me form my thoughts around community—as well as Jen René and Flow Yoga Center for my hOMe. I’d like to recognize the Cyber-community including Elephant Journal and yes—even Facebook! I humbly acknowledge the teachers who continue to put up with guide me including David Garrigues, David Keil and Aliya Weise. And of course, I consider myself blessed to practice in a tradition begun by Pattabhi Jois and now carried on by his grandson, R. Sharath Jois.

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

Ed: Bryonie Wise

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