To become grounded in practice.
“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.”-Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:14
What is practice?
“Effort towards steadiness of mind.”- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:13
You practice 6 days a week, or whatever your tradition requires, to become firmly grounded in a steady mind.
I recently read an article that stated, not practicing every day is an act of compassion. I think the opposite. Yoga was created to alleviate suffering in ourselves and in the world. Therefore, doing our chosen yoga practice is the ultimate act of compassion. Doing your practice not only serves you but the entire world. When our practice is established, we are steady. We are all born with amazing gifts that can be used to build our world up or tear it down. Steadiness of mind can mean the difference between splitting atoms to make bombs that destroy human life or splitting atoms to make clean energy that benefits human life. Steadiness of mind can be the difference between using charisma to inspire positive change or using charisma to control and denigrate.
If you are having trouble maintaining a consistent practice, shift your perspective of what a practice is.
When I get on my mat for purely physical reasons, I get burned out. I get frustrated. I push too hard. I suffer because I expect an impermanent body to have permanent results. This goes against the laws of nature!! It is not even possible! Nothing in nature stays the same. The purpose of steadying the mind is so that we can abide in the Self, which is permanent. “Then the seer abides in his own nature.”-Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:3.
Shift your perspective out of a place of physicality and to a place of communion with the Self. Yes a physical yoga practice does require awareness of the body. No, there is nothing wrong with having goals for your physical practice. Yes, the physical practice brings tremendous benefit to the body and there is nothing wrong with looking to gain these benefits. It is just important to temper all of these benefits against the ultimate purpose of practice. When working on physicality results in an unsteady mind and and an unsteady practice, it defeats the purpose of yoga.
Tips for cultivating a daily practice
Understand why you practice and remind yourself of it everyday. Write this reason on your mirror, tattoo it on your body, put it on your calendar; do whatever you need to keep it at the top of your awareness.
The chapter on practice, chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, starts out by saying, “Tapas, Svadyaya, and Isvara Pranidhana constitute yoga in practice.” I don’t believe this to be an accident. Patanjali started his discussion on practice with these verses because they are the most important components to maintaining a solid practice. Unfortunately, these are the ones that are most often neglected. How many people regularly practice svadyaya which is the study of yogic texts and mantras? How many yoga studios have regularly scheduled mantra and yogic studies classes? The only reason I have maintained a steady practice over the years is because my daily study of yogic texts reminds me of the true purpose of yoga.
If you are fortunate enough to practice at a studio that has conferences, chanting classes and talks on yoga, go to them every single week. Read every book on yoga you can get your hands on. Sign up for newsletters, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels and daily inspirational emails on yoga.
Constant study provides constant inspiration. People often ask me, “how do you stay inspired to write? How do you come up with inspiration for your classes?” Its easy. I am constantly studying. I am constantly having “ah ha” moments. I am constantly shifting my perspective and being proven wrong and I love it.
Surrender/Isvara Pranidhana. Surrender to whatever is going on in your life. If life is coming at you hard, soften your practice. Just breathe. Relax effort and find sukha/ease. Don’t even worry about doing a “full” practice. Do your easiest sequence for whatever amount of time you have. If that is 10 minutes of deep breathing while the baby is sleeping or a 15 min walking meditation at lunch, that is what you do. If you practice at a shala or studio, talk to your teacher and let them know what your focus is so they are not pushing you into asanas that you are not up for or assisting you when you want to just flow with breath. On the flip side if you are full of energy, determination and drive, work on your tough asanas, sit on your meditation cushion longer. Whatever your practice is, go hard.
If you find that you rarely have the energy to “go hard”, then take a look at where you are surrendering your energy up in other parts of your life. If you are loosing energy due to lifestyle choices such as poor diet, going to bed late, associating with toxic people or not asking for help, make a shift. Also, know that “going hard” is different for a 20 year old, a mother with 3 kids and a 70 year old retiree. Make sure you are being reasonable.
Train yourself to practice to the point where it is not even a thought in your mind. Just like you (hopefully) don’t think about brushing your teeth, taking care of your kids or taking a shower. Its in you. You just do it. Not that I am condoning violence but this is the reason the military does drills and extensive training. A soldier pausing in battle can mean death for every one in their unit. They are trained to automatically act. I am not saying this is desirable in all aspects of life. However, it is highly useful when trying to cultivate a practice. How do you drill yourself into a practice? Set your clock, throw your stuff in the car and go. Don’t think. Just go.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.