This month, we are celebrating our lives with a little more YOGA! At SBG, we encourage everyone to practice a little yoga everyday. We motivate and encourage with sequences, reflections, jokes, demonstrations, parties, and lots of cheerleading.
I sent this reflection out to our students this week. And I figured that some of you would like to enjoy it, too! Cheers to you and your practice!
The second sutra of Patanjali’s treatise on yoga is succinct. Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness. In the practice of forward bends, we are taught to fold “inward” as we fold forward. We are told that if we practice in this way, we have an opportunity to look within and practice svadhyaya, or self-study. This is how we find the peace and harmony of a quiet mind, we are told.
But that practice of looking within can create a dilemma of sorts. Set aside the common pains of folding forward (holy hamstrings!), the seemingly simple act of studying ourselves can be difficult. The mind wanders. The flow of thought, the breath, the emotions… there’s just so much commotion! We remain steadfast and search for some sense of peace, quiet. (That’s what they say we are supposed to find, right?). And still, how on earth can we find peace when our hamstrings and hips are SCREAMING…?
All jokes aside. This is the practice. This in fact is what it’s all about.
“But everything great is just as difficult to realize as it is rare to find.” – Ethics, Spinoza
Often people come to yoga in the pursuit of happiness. They may walk through the door and ask for help with their low back pain or to limber up to better play their sport. But ultimately, it comes down to people looking for more peace within themselves. And their exploration can easily turn into a fight. Like the early explorers who were so quickly turned into conquerors, fighting instead of listening and looking. As Spinoza’s wisdom reminds us, this balance is often easier said than done and all the more important.
The crux of the physical asana practice is not unlike this balance that we seek within our minds. Abhyasa (Practice) and Vairagya (Non-attachment) are the two foundational principles of yoga. Balancing these two in life and on the mat in asana practice is a key to finding the subtler quietness of the mind.
Specifically, Abhyasa means cultivating the actions, speech, and thoughts to lead ourselves in a positive direction, rather than following the path toward the negative. Vairagya is the practice of letting go of the habits, persuasions, and colorings of the mind that lead us away from the positive direction. Practice points you toward the finish line, while non-attachment keeps you playing the game instead of turning on the TV.
As you fold inward during your practice, accept the challenge. Look inward, dig deep, and breathe. This is you. This is yoga. You’re okay. In fact, you’re perfect. We just have some work to do. 😉