Paying Attention

I love my practice on the mat, because it's TRAINING for paying attention. Because I spend so much time quietly exploring and investigating, it makes my interactions with the world that much more interesting. The SUBTLE aspects of life, the quiet things, the small things are fascinating and I find, totally worth my while.

I also think that this ability to PAY ATTENTION and openly investigate makes me a better friend, sister, partner, and person in life. The more I pay attention to my habitual patterns and frequent reactions on-the-mat, the more I can begin to tune in when they're happening in my off-the-mat life. And hopefully, through continued EFFORT, change my reactions as necessary. Perhaps even react with better integrity or more thoughtfulness next time.

Deborah Adele says, "When we open our eyes and see everything as an opportunity to explore and to learn, nothing becomes insignificant in its ability to teach us and to grow us."

How about that?

Transformation through Tapas

Sutra 2.43 says, SELF-DISCIPLINE in practice leads to the destruction of impurities and to the perfection of the body and senses.

Hm. Lofty goals.

The 3rd NIYAMA (practices for self-care) is TAPAS. Tapas can be translated in many ways -- regularity of practice, heat, fire, discipline, continued effort, transformation -- but the message is pretty much universal. The MORE you come to your mat with regularity, the more you will create positive change, leading to the likelihood that you'll keep coming to the mat. FUN!

In tapas practices, we build heat or INNER FIRE which is said to burn off impurities. These impurities may be due to what we eat, how we act, how much screen time we take in and/or environmental factors. And when we experience the transformational potential of our practice, it creates a positive neural groove to encourage us to come back again and again.

Newness in Each and Every Moment

Every day, every hour, every minute offers us the possibility of NEWNESS. But, how often do we see that potential?
How routinized is your every day, every hour, every minute?
The composer John Cage said, "I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I am doing." His composition style certainly reflects this sentiment -- he was an extremely innovative and provocative composer.

I myself am extremely routine oriented. I love a good schedule, and a finished to-do list and all the "good" habits that I've incorporated as I try to be a better human. But sometimes, life can feel like a series of morning meditations and brushing (and flossing!) my teeth. I don't mean to lose the spark, but the day-to-day grind can make it a challenge.

The same could be said for our ASANA practice, our time on the mat. Do you tend to always do things the same way? Can you approach each practice with an openness to NEW experience, NEW pathways, NEW information?

Yoga practice teaches us to be IN THE NOW. The more I practice, the more I'm interested in the SUBTLE nuances of my body, breath, heart and mind. The deeper I dive into meditative work, the more often I find myself IN THE NOW, taking a breath, enjoying the MOMENT.

Yoga in Action: abhyasa, diligent practice

Daily practice is challenging. Especially if you aren't comfortable with a home practice, have a long commute to and from work, have a regular work-week, have children, etc. Carving out the time to get on the mat and get on the cushion may not fall high on the list of priorities. I feel really grateful to have established my yoga practice at a time when I didn't have a lot of responsibilities and I could make yoga and meditation a daily priority. It just stuck and now it's in there for keeps. 

Wild Thing. Practice, practice and all is coming.

Wild Thing. Practice, practice and all is coming.

The good thing about coming to practice regularly is that you end up practicing through the ups and downs of life. When you are rooted in a regular routine of morning meditation or evening asana you can't help but do it even when things are really bad, or when things are really good. When I think back over the past decade of my practice, I think of practicing through break-ups, through moves, practicing on vacation, making it to the mat in India, practicing through health issues. And a great thing about the versatility of a yoga practice is that you can always practice something, no matter your state of mind, state of body.

Some days I seriously don't feel like it. And not always, but sometimes, those are the most fruitful days of my practice. 

Now I know that some of you are probably thinking that I obviously practice every day because yoga is my job and that's what I do and so I have to. But it isn't that simple. I think about my personal practice, my personal spiritual quest as somewhat separate from my teaching. I incorporate a lot of my findings into my classes for sure and my training is usually translated right into my teaching. But, my time on my mat and my morning meditation is mine. It's work that I do for me, it's work that I do to actualize my potential, it's work that I do to fulfill my dharma. Being anchored in regular practice is the key for me to living in the middle ground.

In the Yoga Sutras the sanskrit term for diligent, continuous practice is abhyasa. (The following translations and explanations are taken or adapted from Nicolai Bachmann's The Yoga Sutras. It's a great resource with a workbook, flashcards and several cds explaining the philosophical concepts. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of yoga philosophy)

There are several sutras which explore the concept of abhyasa

The most commonly cited is sutra 1.12:

abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah
The stilling of the vrtti-s (mind-chatter) is due to diligent practice and vairagya or unattached awareness. 

Sutra 1.13 goes on to further explain abhyasa:

tatra sthitau yatno 'bhyasah
Diligent practice is the effort put forth to maintain a point of focus. 
Ganesh, rooted in practice as the lord of the root chakra.

Ganesh, rooted in practice as the lord of the root chakra.

Nicholai goes on to list the qualities of a yoga practice that represent abhyasa. They are effort of focusing on a point, over a long period of time, uninterrupted, with sincerity and firmly grounded. The following sutra 1.14 suggests that abhyasa becomes firmly established when pursued with eagerness, sincerity and continuity for a long time. 

Whether it's good news or bad news, there is opportunity to practice yoga all day every day, even when you're not on the mat. The work of the yamas and niyamas is never ending and can be put into action with every interaction with another person, in your daily routine and each time you find yourself aware of your thoughts. 

Mr. Iyengar (R.I.P.) translates abhyasa as practice and about the everyday work of yoga he says:

"I have said that the cure for our inherent flaws lies in sustained practice of the eight petals of yoga (here, understood as the eight limbs). Knowledge of yoga is no substitute for practice. Since the difficulties lie within ourselves, so do the solutions." —Light on Life (pg 94)

And so, we must practice. The more often we confront our difficulties, the more likely we can create solutions to them. If you find yourself struggling to commit to regularity on the mat or the meditation cushion, what can you do to encourage yourself to get there? How can you make greater lasting changes by incorporating your yoga work with regularity?