Since we are all committing to practice yoga for 28 days straight, I thought we might like to get a few things clear– for example, what do we mean by “practice?” So I started where many definitive searches start, with the dictionary!
Definition of Practice:
- Repetition of an activity to improve skill.
- The ongoing pursuit of a craft or profession, particularly in medicine or the fine arts.
- Actual operation or experiment, in contrast to theory.
- To repeat (an activity) as a way of improving one’s skill in that activity.
If we take the above definitions to be true, then in yoga practice, what exactly are we experimenting with? What are we practicing to improve? Do we practice different asana (poses) to improve our physical body’s strength, flexibility and stamina? Are we refining our breath with pranayama (breathing exercises) and learning to focus the mind in meditation in order to tame our restless thoughts? Perhaps.
But how does one define Yoga practice? Just for fun, let’s check in with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In Yoga Sutra 1.2, yoga is defined as the quieting of the mind (cessation of fluctuations of the mind stuff/thoughts). And in 1.13, practice is defined as the effort to secure steadiness (or “vigilance in remaining there”). It doesn’t really say anything about keeping your pelvic floor lifted or your breath smooth or your toes spread apart and evenly grounded in triangle pose.
The sutras then go on to say in 1.14 that yoga practice becomes well-grounded when continued with reverent devotion and without interruption over a long period of time. Well that makes a lot of sense, anyone who has ever learned to play an instrument or a sport or a craft knows this simple fact– practice makes perfect.
That all sounds well and good, but why? Why practice yoga? Why bother quieting the mind and becoming steady and dedicated to this practice over a long period of time? The best answer I have for this is, and I’ve thought about it a lot– is to be more healthy, sane and joyful in the midst of a constantly changing world that does not always behave the way we think it ought. Or as Rod Stryker put it on his recent visit through Seattle in December, “The main purpose of yoga is to train us to make the best choices when we’re not doing yoga.”
Yoga teaches us to pause and connect to our own true wisdom before we decide how to move forward in any given situation. It gives us the opportunity to act in accordance with our highest good. Yoga gives us the chance to recreate ourselves over and over again in new and more creative and satisfying ways, instead of staying trapped in habitual karmic patterns of automatic knee jerk reactions and dog tail chasing repetition that keep on bringing us the same unsatisfactory results. Yoga reconnects us to our Authentic Self. Yoga brings us back to the One. Because it works on so many levels (body, mind, spirit) yoga is the perfect vehicle maintenance for this journey of life.
Thank you for joining us on this adventure, looking forward to seeing you on the mat.
Namastè ya’ll, Tracy Hodgeman