Saturday, April 19, 2008

Same Same But Different

Sometimes practice is hard. We would all like it to be easy, but realistically this is not always the case.

We have a student who comes to us intermittently. He is an artist, and a yoga teacher, and has a loving free spirit. After working through some strains and sprains, aches and pains, he asked us if his practice would always be this difficult. He was referring to the many struggles he was having with discomfort in his body: "Isn't yoga supposed to be all about bliss?" he asked. Physical suffering can be hard on us psychologically, and our motivation to keep up with the practice can decrease.

It is a great question though, "Isn't yoga supposed to be all about bliss?"
I guess the simple answer is NO! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out however. We need only to observe the nature and the truth of our existence. Pain comes, and pain goes. Pleasure comes, and pleasure goes. There is an arising and a passing away. Yoga is the ability to keep our mind steady during the rise and fall, the ebb and flow of life, and the successfulness our practice shows up in our ability to deal with the changes, great and small, that manifest within us and around us in every moment.
The most difficult form of satya, or truthfulness, starts with our own self. One good question to ask of ourselves is this: "Am I being serious or sincere?"

Our teacher Tiwariji encourages us to be sincere, as seriousness is an expression of the ego. When I get "serious" about my practice, I push too hard, I tend to move out of a balanced state and into an ego-driven state, and I increase the potential for injury. Yoga practice is difficult enough, without creating more obstacles with our ego. Finding the balance beyond pain and pleasure, and creating steadiness of mind and body to help us move beyond the dualities of existence, is an essential part of our quest. Searching for "bliss" results in a constant disappointment. To crave bliss is really a craving for misery, as all sensations, pleasant or painful, are conditioned by our temporal existence, and so are always impermanent and changing.

I am reminded of what my friend David Swenson says, "If at first you find this practice hard, don't worry, it gets easier! And if at first you find this practice easy, don't worry, it gets harder!" In my opinion, David is one of the great Ashtanga Yogis of our day, and what he said pretty much sums it up: Sometimes practice is hard, sometimes it is easy. What is important is not to crave the easy, energetic, light, enjoyable practices, as this is a recipe for disappointment, but we must strive to keep our equanimity during both the pleasant practices, as well as the difficult ones.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Satya - Bringing Truth to the Mat.

Satya or the second yama arises out of ahimsa. It is a continuation of the foundational practice of non-harming, as it is the application of truth in our lives. It not only refers to being truthful with others, but it also includes the awareness of being truthful with ourselves, and this means meeting ourselves each day on the mat as we are, as we practice.

We had a new student came to our Mysore class this week to begin learning the wonderful practice of Ashtanga Yoga. His wife practices with us, and so he was familiar with the practice and brought with him many pre-conceived ideas, expectations, and concerns about what a yoga practice should look like, and how long it needed to be. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the other students, and that he had to do it for over an hour every day. I think he was pleasantly surprised to find out that this practice "truthfully" can fit into his busy schedule and that it doesn’t have to be a long and laborious activity, and that when practiced with awareness it could add value to his life.

This brings up a few questions though: Are there times when the practice truthfully doesn't fit for us? Are there times when the practice is too much for our day-to-day schedule? Can we approach the demands of life, and the demands on our time in a truthful way and still make the effort to find the middle path between laziness and egoistic ambition? I believe we can.

Finding this middle ground is vital for us. Our yoga practice should be
something that creates more balance in our lives not further imbalance. We must find ways to integrate our practice into our daily living without increasing the stress we already have. Only in this way will the practice be maintained over the long term, and can we hope to find the true benefits of a yoga practice. Patanjali says: "Sa tu dirghakala nairantarya satkarasevito drdhabhumih" – which means: “Only after a long time of continuous practice with sincerity will the benefits of yoga be achieved.”

This then must be our aim. To be truthful with ourselves and our capacity each day not only when starting and integrating yoga into our lives, but also when sustaining the practices we have already established, and in doing so we will gain all he benefits that come from a daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga.