My youngest daughter is fond of saying: “If you want to be a runner, you have to run; and if you want to be a weightlifter, you have to lift weights.” A runner, she knows that the only way she is going to improve on her race time is to run. Her no-nonsense attitude toward running serves for me as a reminder of the spirit of yoga.
The Sutras (1.14) teach us that to become firmly established in our practice, we must attend to it for a long time, without interruption, with an attitude of devotion and service, and a full heart.
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Students often come to yoga filled with enthusiasm. They invest in yoga mats and yoga attire; they sign up for classes and declare they now “do yoga.” As they immerse themselves in their practice, they begin to come face to face with their ego, their fears, frustrations and anger that they can’t touch their nose to knees. Bodies long conditioned to a state of numbness respond with pain as underused muscles are summoned to the work they have long leveled on joints. Egos suffer as yogis look around the room comparing themselves to advanced students.
Many stop coming to class and eventually quit. But it’s at that juncture where we meet our obstacles and excuses that the true challenge of our practice begins.
We will not transform our practice – nor, in turn, our practice transform our lives – if we do not practice regularly. The more we practice, the deeper we delve to our potential, our true selves. A daily yoga practice empowers us with the spiritual confidence gained from progressing through the asanas and breaking through mental, physical and emotional obstacles. A daily practice cultivates the attitude that through patience and compassion, not brute strength, we can accomplish just about anything on and off our mats.
In his book Yoga Beyond Belief, Ganga White responds to students who ask the age-old question: How long will it take? How long will it take before I master yoga.
White’s response: It will take the rest of your life.
Yoga is not a destination. It’s a journey. Mastery of the asanas is not the goal of the practice, it is the result of it. Pattabhi Jois said, “Yoga is one percent theory; the rest is practice.”
The sage Patanjali did not prescribe a period of time required to achieve mastery. He taught that through abhyasa, constant and determined effort, and vairagya, non-attachment and freedom from desire, we can establish a firm foundation in our practice.That is counter to the way many of us live our lives: we want instant gratification. A lifetime of practice? That’s way too long for many of us.
But we must practice vairagya and let go of our attachment to the goal. We must approach our practice with zeal—the tapas the Sutras teach us to sustain a practice over a lifetime. Along that journey, we see yoga reflecting back on our lives. We learn that what we do on the mat is what we do off the mat. Our attitude as we approach a challenging pose is a reflection of how we live our lives.
Do you have a daily yoga practice? What challenges have you faced or overcome through this practice?