Like many yoga practitioners, I often wrestle with daily practice, called abhyasa in Sanskrit. This investigation has taken many shapes and forms over the years, but recently I found a brand new edge.
A month ago I realized that my relationship to asana was one that continued the pattern of control I have used for several decades to keep my physical body at a certain level of fitness and tone. I have been “using” asana rather than practicing it.
Finally ready to look at this old habit, my relationship to practice has been (no past tense here) quite the rollercoaster, taking me down some dark tunnels of denial (read Spiraling into Solstice on this Blog) and occasionally into patches of light. Turns out it was a pretty big draw, the whole fitness through yoga bit, it got me on the mat “religiously.” But it was fraught with attachment, raga.
Fortunately there are guides for this path of yoga. One particularly pithy one from 2,000+ years ago is the author of The Yoga Sutras. Patanjali offers us the following prescription for yoga, which he defines as the stilling of the movements of consciousness:
Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah: Both practice and nonattachment are required to still the movements of the mind. (Sutra I.12)
In each Yoga Sutra, every word carries import. The one that I am finally addressing is nonattachment, vairagya, albeit in a rebellious and slightly destructive way. In the process, the two first words in that definition are being tested, and I am honestly just realizing this as I write. Of course my ego is rebelling. It’s being asked to give up one of its favorite cloaks. It deeply wants to be beautiful and strong and thin and muscular with nothing that jiggles. It loves it when my clothing fits. It loves attention.
But back to Patanjali. So this concept of practice, what exactly does it mean? Is it two hours of asana daily? Forty minutes of alternate nostril breathing? Standing on one’s head chanting OM?
“Practice is the sustained effort to rest in that stillness.” (Sutra I.13) Ah. That’s pretty straightforward, and something I can get behind, especially at this time in my life. It provides new interest in this daily habit I’d tired of.
This month I will maintain my observance of nonattachment to the physical fruits of practice, but bring fresh attention to abhyasa. Instead of only a duty, a prescription, I will come to the mat interested in resting in stillness. And borrowing from Sutra I.14, I will “cultivate skillfully,” practice daily for a minimum of 30 minutes, choosing a few asanas, a pranayama technique and a meditation practice that will align me with stillness, one day at a time. At least once a week I will attend a led practice, participate with the intention of moving into stillness, and practice nonattachment to what is served up by the teacher. I’ll let you know how it goes…
What is your own challenge in maintaining a daily practice at home and in the studios?
For many it is lack of sleep. If so, check out the “Falling in Love with Sleep” Insights from the Edge podcast, enjoy some Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) with Tracy Hodgman in February and look for a Yoga for Sleep Workshop with Dawn Jansen in the Spring.
Feet dragging? Learn how to Jump Through with Power and Grace with Tracy Hodgman (January 28) and get ‘em off the floor or build overall strength and endurance through Douglas’ Yoga Conditioning Series Mondays in February.
Ready for instruction on Pranayama and Meditation? Check out Jenny’s Intro to Pranayama and Series this month and the two Meditation classes at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill, Thursdays at 8am and/or 8pm. Also check the notes section of class schedules for classes that focus on P and M.
Let us know about your own path with practice and we’ll consider it for a blog post. Send entries of up to 300 words to: email@example.com.
Posted by: Anne Phyfe Palmer
P.S. Thanks to great teachers BKS Iyengar and Chip Hartranft for their enlightening translations of The Yoga Sutras.