Years ago, when I was an Ashtangi, and people asked me what my spiritual practice was, and I answered that my asana (physical posture) practice was my spiritual practice. What followed was often a disconcerted silence.
And I understand why; my practice was not, at that time, very spiritual at all. It was, however, very sweaty, athletic, and achievement-driven. I hadn’t yet learnt to put the breath into my practice. What I mean is that if you practice with your breath as the primary mover, any asana sequence can become your primary spiritual practice. This is because, as Desikachar says, the breath is the intelligence of the body.
If you are ignoring the rhythm of Life moving through you as your breath and going too fast through vinyasa, you may as well be doing gymnastics for all the good it is going to do you.
Yoga is both an action and a state of being.
Sometimes that state appears to result from the action, but it is actually always there: sahaj samadhi, the union that already exists. We are in union with that which moves us because we are alive, because we breathe. We can’t possibly be separate from the Mystery. If we were, we would be dead. Simple. My asana practice is still my primary spiritual practice. But my mother no longer asks what my spiritual practice is. She can see.
Why move, you ask, when you are trying to experience the stillness within? Well, we all sit on our asses too much, and that leads to creaky bodies and disrupted breathing patterns. So moving and breathing brings us back into our bodies and into the body-breath-soul link that is always there but is sometimes hard to experience. Breathing properly is the most effective way I have ever found to participate in the world. Just being aware of our breath makes most of us feel better.
So, for me, yoga is both the actions of asana, breathing and so on, and the experience of just being alive and connected with my world.
Ways I experience yoga most acutely:
- On my mat, when I am deep into the experience of a pose, in the rhythm of my breath, and there is nothing else, just that moment. In the last few years, practicing this way, my body has healed from injury, become stronger and more flexible, and my teaching skills have deepened as a result.
- When I am with friends, laughing, eating, drinking, and, again, just there, just in that moment.
- When making love. I do not mean just sex, but rather, a deep, and deeply desired, connection with someone who cares about you and whom you care about, or at least respect. Again, fully present, fully alive, and fully connected to that Other
- Playing with children: there is a way they have of noticing the wonder in small things, of being completely honest, and of remarking on things (often about you) that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. And then they grow up and have to re-learn how to do that
- Through music: it’s a direct conduit to yoga
- In the mountains and at the beach. Nature just IS. As we are. Except that our fast-paced lives tend to divorce our perceived reality from our animal natures
So it’s both the action of connecting and the experience of it. That’s what life, and yoga, is about!
Not how many salutations to the sun you can do, or whether you can stand on your hands. Those things are fun, but they aren’t necessarily yoga.
- Yoga – a top 10 revelry. (ahimsamaven.wordpress.com)
- Yoga vs. Asana Practice (kareninyogaland.com)
- No, you do not look like a whale. (yoga really is for everyone) (yogawithnadine.com)