Now, the Practice of Yoga Begins

In the last entry, I wrote about the effects of a physical practice lingering throughout the day. Granted, if you run into obstacle after obstacle, that state of semi-bliss can dwindle quickly. Often, it doesn’t take much: a slow-poke driver when you’re in a hurry, the Starbucks barista who gave you the wrong drink, landing behind the customer who has sent a store clerk on a scavenger hunt for a product. We obviously cannot just jump onto our yoga mats and practice every time someone or something annoys or upsets us. We can make a choice, however, to deal with it gracefully or not.

The very first sutra from Patanjali, the bible, if you will, of yoga, is translated by Satchidananda as: Now, the exposition of Yoga is being made. A fancy, Shakespearean-like way of saying, “Now, the practice of Yoga begins.” He does not qualify it by saying, when you get on your mat or meditation pillow, Yoga begins. Or after you finish your glass of wine, it begins. Or tomorrow, it begins. There is an imperative call to action to begin Yoga right now, at this moment.

He then goes on in the second sutra to explain that Yoga is the “restraints of the modifications of the mind-stuff.” To simplify, it is the ability or attempt to stop all the craziness we think about all the time — most of which will never happen or has already happened and there’s no longer anything we can do about it. So while most of us connect practicing yoga to the physical practice, it is much simpler and, yet, a whole lot more challenging to keep your mind quiet at every moment. I can assure you that is not going to happen to me in this lifetime, but I can’t abandon the idea entirely because I know it’s absolutely impossible for me. I’ll try, when I remember.

Of course, I can hardly remember to practice this Yoga when I’m cursing myself at five in the morning because I forgot to move the Elf on the Shelf again and the kids are stirring. But, really, this is the practice: to keep an even mind when things are not quiet and peaceful. It’s far less challenging to find an even mind when we are in a quiet yoga studio with our yoga teacher who is reminding us throughout class to keep our minds steady. On top of that, the movement and hard work help to rid the mind and body of these disturbances, or vrittis. The intense focus on each and every pose stops us from looping back to whatever our own personal crazy thoughts are. The harder we work, the less likely the mind is to wander off.

So, the physical practice is vital, not only to help shake out the vrittis, but also because, and maybe more importantly, the asana practice can teach us about ourselves by revealing how we approach poses and how we react to them. We can then try to take this knowledge off the mat, so that, when we’re faced with one annoyance or hardship after another we can, as Patanjali says, right now, begin the practice of yoga.

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