During the past nineteen years of practicing yoga asanas, I’ve unrolled my mat in a variety of places including parks, balconies, beaches, hotels, airports, rooftops, basements, backyards, mountains, classrooms, living rooms and many, many yoga rooms. Over the years, the headstand, shoulder stand, cobra, fish, spinal twist, etc, have become my faithful friends and companions. Through nine moves in three states, several jobs, the joys and struggles of married life, in sickness and in celebration, asanas have been my constant grounding factor in a life of continual change. Why is this third limb of Raga Yoga so important to me? There are many excuses (and I know them all) why not to get out the mat, but in my experience, nothing else helps me to heal, open, connect, clear out and recharge like “pose-therapy”.
The beauty of consistent practice is that it is always a unique experience. Every day our energy and receptivity levels are ever changing. Because of this, we always have an opportunity to discover something new about ourselves. Long-term practitioners learn how to flow with these various bouncy castle for sale rhythms and adjust their approach, duration and intensity accordingly. In a way, consistent practice makes us like great scientists and our laboratory is body, mind and spirit. It makes us like bold explorers and our undiscovered territory is body, mind and spirit. In light of conscious evolution, it makes us like skillful physicians and our willing patient is body, mind and spirit.
Some students of today view Hatha Yoga only as a means to achieve bodily fitness. I wish them genuine success with that goal. However, it’s been my experience that asanas can offer more enduring benefits. The wise yogis of yore taught that these positions are much more than a workout. It can be a way to connect with the sacred space within, the space of peace, truth, knowledge, love and light. They encouraged students to use what changes ie the body and mind as a means towards a higher end ie realisation of the changeless, eternal spirit. By developing a practice around this idea, we can cultivate the spiritual asset of “yogic attitude” which bestows true elevation and true expansion (even if our half moon isn’t quite stellar).
It’s not that big of a stretch to see how asanas can supplement other yoga practices and help us develop needed qualities for spiritual evolution. First, they teach discipline. The body and mind always like to take the path of least resistance but yoga, at any stage, requires self-effort and constant vigilance from laziness, justification, fickleness and fluctuation. Discipline, for serious practitioners, also means making a commitment; commitment to a practice, to a teacher, to a routine, to one’s self. Anyone who has tried balancing on their hands, feet, heads or seat knows that patience is another valuable lesson asanas can teach again and again, along with humility, every time we ungracefully fall out of place. Physical and, more importantly, mental flexibility is essential for those who want to maintain long-term asana sadhana. We must be able to adapt and adjust ourselves (and our diet and dinner times) around our other duties in life. As for moderation: overdoing it leads to injury, under-doing it leads to stagnation, but if we use our intuition, asanas can help us fine tune our approach so we can find the middle path of all the poses we strike in life. And, no matter what kind of a wonder poser we strive to become, ageing is inevitable. Because of this, detachment comes in handy. Pain, sorrow, obstacles, disease and other upsets may harshly remind us that the body has its limitations but detachment can shield us from much of the grief that comes from identifying only with the physical frame. Finally, asana becomes sadhana when there is devotion. With devotion, we can offer every pose and repose to the Lord seated in the lotus of our heart. Through pure intent, surrender and relaxation our practice becomes joyful and in that joy we can understand why it is important to bend beyond ourselves, to be receptive to all that is now, and to steadily reach within for the strength and clarity of what endures.
Tips for enduring practice:
• Show up Sometimes the hardest part is rolling out the mat. After ten minutes, you will be thanking yourself.
• Conscious company “Sanga” or positive association helps cement the habit of practice. Stay near a qualified teacher and make some yoga-minded friends.
• Round out a routine Primary asanas such as sirsasana, sarvangasana, matsyasana, paschimottanasana, mastyendrasana, bhujangasana lay the best foundation but don’t be afraid to mix it up now and then.
• Be consistent Keep a regular time, as best as you can, to train the mind and stomach.
• Go with your flow If you are tired, adjust to a more restorative practice. If you feel energy, take on a challenge but remember every day doesn’t have to be a Power Yoga day.
• Take it outside Practise in nature as much as you can-the elements, scenery (and gawkers) will encourage, inspire and refresh.
• Relish the rhythm Yes, of your inner world but also with your favourite selection of yoga/relaxation music to chant, reflect, dance and pose away to.
• Experience group energy Practise in a class or at least with a partner as often as you can, this encourages fellowship, gives guidance and brings out a little healthy competition.
• Eat like a yogi Be vegetarian, limit salt, refrain from alcohol and take fresh foods and juices for better bending on the mat and compassionate action off the mat.
• Picture this. Yoga look books inspire! Some good ones: Kailashananda’s (aka Yogi Gupta) Yoga and Long Life, Yogananth’s Yoga From the Heart, Dharma Mitra’s 608 Yoga Poses, Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, Sivananda’s Yoga Asanas.
• Health is wealth Meditate on the enormous value of radiant health, strength, focus, flexibility and balance which are asana’s gift to loyal students.
• Make your life a mission, not an intermission Keep the goal of Self-Realisation always in your heart and mind and know that no practice is ever in vain; every session will improve your life in some way.
It is with deep gratitude that I salute the jumping castle light-giving sun of my teacher, Swami Kailashananda, who introduced and instructed me into asana sadhana and also to all those yogis, ancient and modern, who have inspired me by their shining example of strength and poise through their enduring practice. May the foremost dancer, Nataraja, move us to make the most of our time on the mat.
Aum Shanti, Shanti, Shanti