Guruji always used to say, "You take practice, you think God."
Guruji also said, "Yoga is mind-control."
His words were simple, and hit exactly on point.
In many ways, yoga isn't actually about our physical practice at all. Rather, it is concerned with controlling our mental-world, and specifically, how we direct our thoughts. If we are really yearning to practice yoga, and seek to attain the ultimate goal of waking up our inner Divine Nature, then we need to take Guruji's words to heart, and continually practice directing our thoughts towards God.
This is also called: Brahmacharya.
Literally the word brahmacharya means, "the path that leads to Brahman" or "moving in Brahman."
Brahman is the fabric of the universe, Absolute Reality. It has nothing similar to it and nothing different from it. It is Infinity. In Vedanta philosophy, it is described as saccidananda: sat (Existence absolute), cit (Consciousness absolute), and ananda (Bliss absolute).
(A concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy, John Grimes, 2009).
In his classic work entitled, Sadhana, Swami Sivananda states that there are three things essential for God-realization: constantly remembering God, cultivating the yamas (ethical codes of conduct), and making every activity an offering to the Divine (p.32).
He suggests that alongside ahimsa (non-injury) and satya (truthfulness) that brahmacharya is, without doubt, one of the most important virtues to develop through our spiritual practice.
I would go so far as to say, that without integrating a practice of brahmacharya there can be no hope of progressing in true Yoga at all.
This begs the question, how can we develop more in the field of brahmacharya?
I feel it begins by creating a clear intention to shift all of our thoughts, words and deeds into closer alignment with God. This includes increasing our investment in all of the people, places, and things that encourage us to cultivate a more intimate connection to Brahman, and reducing our exposure to everything that pulls us further away.
We must start by developing our awareness around who and what are we surrounding ourselves with. Are we generating positive thoughts or cycling in negativity? What are we watching? What are we reading? How are we spending our time? Are we wasting our energy chasing after fleeting experiences and momentary gratification? Are we feeding our senses or our soul?
We need to examine and evaluate our mind, speech and actions to determine whether we are being propelled closer to the goal of Yoga - Self Realization, or driven by old habits of obsessive ego-gratification. Is our yoga practice motivated by a desire for deeper union with "God," both within and without, or is it pushed by an insatiable hunger for the fickle affection of others, fame and fortune, or instant pleasure?
I practice asana because it is a very effective tool for directing my attention more acutely towards the Infinite. I can see the direct results of this integration happening on a deeper level in my approach to life. Taking the time to make contact with the pulse of this ancient life-force, even for a second each day, generates more internal positive energy then I can describe. However, this is rarely a pretty process, neither is it a perfect one; frequently it is baptized through sweat and tears, and hardly ever do I have a practice that feels "YouTube" worthy. It is a private sacrifice of my ego each day; and regardless of whether I'm crawling or floating, I know that I am aiming to align my inner world, and consequently, the rest of my life with Brahman.
And if I have nothing else to show for my efforts, at least I have that - an honest yearning for God in my heart.
David Williams is often quoted as saying, "Yoga is all the things you can't see."
I believe this to be true.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what your jump-backs look like, how long you can hold a handstand, or whether or not you can grab your ankles in a backbend. How your practice looks on the outside is inconsequential, what matters is the effect it is having on the inside.
Yoga is a path that leads to God-Realization, and if it isn't heading in that direction, you are on a different path.
When we start to nurture our practice with the understanding of moving in Brahma, we begin to engage the world with an different attitude. We start to experience the beautiful art of self-surrender: "I am Thine; All is Thine; Thy will be done." We begin to ask questions like "how can I serve" instead of "what can this do for me."
Often brahmacharya is defined as celibacy. However, celibacy need not only mean sexual restraint.
The whole idea of creating a more celibate environment, is to purify not only one's body, but more importantly, one's mind, so that all faculties of attention can be one-pointedly focused in unbroken communion with the Source of all existence. When we actually start to feel this Reality as the ancient Source of all things, pulsating both within, and all around, we can begin to practice yoga continuously, uninterruptedly, all day long, in everything we do.
Another one of Guruji's favourite quotes comes from Patanjali Yoga Sutras "sa tu dirgha-kala-nairantarya-satkarasevito drdha-bhumih" (1:14). "Practice becomes firmly established when done continuously, without break, for a long long time, with sincere devotion."
Lara Land has been talking about brahmacharya all month, and wrote an exceptional piece on her blog, Adventures in Yogaland, at the start of September. I hope you will read it. There is so much to think about and talk about on this subject - that it might possibly take us a lifetime to introspect and put it all into practice!
One thing is for sure... Ashtanga Yoga holds so much more promise then just the physical aspect of asana, and we must start to actualize All Eight Limbs in our daily experience.
This is where the growth is. This alone, will take us on a journey of self-discovery and transformation.