October 9, 2013

Ignite the Inner Fire: Develop a Home Practice, Part 1. ~ James Russell

I often get asked by yoga students for advice on how to develop a regular home practice.

In this 2 part article, I will first be offering some thoughts on daily practice. Then in the second installment, I will share some practical advice on how to begin a regular routine.

“Whether young or old, very old, sick or feeble, one can attain perfection in all the yogas by practising.” ~ Svatmarama (Hatha Pradipika 1:64)

Practicing yoga is a bit like learning a musical instrument. When we first begin to practice with a few postures, or meditation, the instrument can make a terrible noise. But then, if we persist, we learn how to tune the instrument and to make more pleasant sounds. Next, we start to learn the scales and the chords. Then, if we keep on practicing, we begin to learn the melodies. The more we put into the practice, the more that we get from the practice, and with a little perseverance we are able to make beautiful music.

In the beginning you have to make room for yoga in your daily life, and give it the place it deserves. But after some time, yoga itself will pull you up by the hair and make you do it.” ~ Vanda Scaravelli

Daily practice requires discipline and an important quality to develop is ‘tapas.’  Tapas comes from the sanskrit root word ‘tap’ meaning ‘heat.’ In the context of yoga practice,it is our inner energy: the fire that burns within that is needed to achieve the difficult goal of enlightenment.

The idea is that we build self discipline: we channel our desire for self development into a tangible practice. In this way, we burn off our impurities in the heat of our work.

Extremes of Tapas, are practiced by ascetic yogis in India: such as holding one arm up in the air for years on end or observing a vow of silence for many months or years. These are drastic examples. Tapas could be as simple as committing to getting up early every day and practicing yoga for half an hour. Or our tapas could be holding a certain posture each day for at least three minutes. A fast is a good exercise in tapas.

Tapas  is an important attitude to develop in order to sustain a daily practice. It is advocated by Patanjali in his Kriya yoga and also as a component of niyama, the second limb of Ashtanga, (eight-limbed) yoga.

It can initially be difficult developing the kind of tapas required to practice each day. In the Bhagavad Gita, after Krishna has explained to Arjuna the science of Yoga, Arjuna replies that he finds it difficult to practice.

He poetically states that the mind is:

as hard to control as the raging wind.’ ~ Bhagavad Gita 6:34

Krishna replies that:

through repeated practice ‘abhyasa’ and non-attachmentvairagya’,the mind can be controlled.

The exact same instruction is also found in Patanjali’s yoga sutra 1:12. I find it encouraging that even Arjuna, who was such an advanced devotee that he was a close personal friend of Krishna, finds it difficult to practice. Is it any small wonder that the rest of us may sometimes find it a little tricky!

There may be times when getting up early to practice is a struggle. Sometimes, in the middle of winter, when its cold and dark and the body is longing for that extra hour in bed, it is really challenging. But part of committing to daily practice is to rise to the challenge. To do the practice anyway. Drag yourself out of bed anyway. Once you get on your mat and begin, you’ve already succeeded. Anything that happens next is an added bonus!

Other times you will spring out of bed and be ready to start early. You may even find yourself looking forward to your practice the night before. These are the ups and downs of a daily practice. The trick is to keep up with the practice (abhyasa) regardless of the extremes (vairagya.)

Yoga practice is most effective when done regularly and consistently, ideally over many years.

‘Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” ~ Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 1:14

After a while, your daily practice will become an essential part of your daily routine, like having a shower or brushing your teeth. You will find that when you practice, your life will be more successful in all areas.  This is when practice becomes much easier because it becomes clear that yoga practice is a tool which supports everything else that you do in life. When you practice yoga, it makes every thing else so much easier.

A consistent practice can be an incredible source of inspiration, strength and refuge.

Pattabhi Jois summed it up most succinctly when he said:

Practice and all is coming.

Hari Om!

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Assistant Ed: Kristina Peterson / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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