Adhikara, Yoga and Grad School

yoga study
Photo by YogaKula

There is a word in the Sanskrit language for studentship, and it’s called adhikara. As a concept, adhikara means “to make oneself ready,” “qualifications” or “authority,” and is used to describe a level of competence, integrity and commitment to one’s studies or vocation. Additionally, it refers to a person’s qualifications to engage in a particular body of work.

As a graduate student walking the path of higher education, I’ve stepped into my own life of high adhikara. I’ve chosen to answer the call for refinement and a deeper knowledge of writing and literature, moving beyond the knowledge gained during my years as an undergraduate.

Many of us opt to attend graduate school not just as a step toward mastery for its own sake, but because something inside was seeking more extensive answers to complex questions. The answers we seek are not just found in books, but lead us toward greater Self knowledge as well. This is what adhikara is all about: refinement towards greater understanding of your chosen study, which happens simultaneously and often as a result of greater understanding and mastery of the Self.

As we all know, proficiency doesn’t happen overnight, which is why in yoga and education, we begin with the basics. Years of study prior to graduate school prepare students for stepping out of the “multiple choice” and “fill in the blank” model of education and into an environment where independent study and presenting a well-researched thesis are the models for evaluating success. In yoga, we start with basic poses and breathwork before diving deeper into advanced asana, shatkarama (purification rituals) or sense withdrawal (pratayahara).

Finally, after many years of study, graduate students—especially those driven by passion and spirit—are free to explore an academic path tailored to their dharma, or purpose in life. Grad school is the time to take your grand ideas and run with them while still being guided by the support of mentors and professors along the way. Though it might not feel like it at times due to the increased responsibility, graduate school is a time when students are stepping into complete freedom to manifest their dreams. After all, they’ve earned it—through years of building adhikara.

Thinking of graduate school in this way has helped me to stay grounded and committed to my goals when life feels overwhelming. Taking cues from my yoga practice, I know the two are similar: yoga unfolds slowly and methodically, taking years or lifetimes to “complete.” Yogis don’t go from beginner to enlightened in a few months of practice, just as I’m not going to be a top selling author from the first paper I write. When we first come to yoga, we it’s typically in an class or studio where we connect with our bodies in new ways. As the body becomes more accustomed to the practice, the mind also clears, and we’re better prepared for meditation. Meditation is usually introduced through simple, universally-accessible techniques for short periods of time, which prepares yogis for longer sits and deeper introspection. And it is high adhikara that gives us the ability to recognize when it’s time to move onto a new teaching, or when the work is to stay where we are on our path.

In the same way that graduate institutions require years of transcripts and admissions exams before acceptance into advanced programs, a life-long yoga practice is most supportive when it grows with your level of adhikara. To put it simply: the more you’ve practiced, studied and embodied the teachings of yoga, the further you can walk down its path.

How has your yoga practice evolved as your adhikara grows?

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