Updated: Sep 27, 2020
Practice, Focus, Surrender. These words have been etched on my mind since my teacher first imprinted them onto my consciousness. They underpin the essence and depth of why we practice Asana, Pranayama and Meditation. They are a summary of what we do, how we do it, and what the results are.
Yoga, unlike many other spiritual disciplines, is not a dogmatic system. It is a process of getting to know our selves and the workings of our mind, our reactions to situations, how we feel when we challenge the patterns in our body or how the breath shortens when we move into resistance. It is the wellspring of knowledge rising within.
As we become more conscious of ourselves in this intimate dance with our own life-force, we become more honest and more present. We observe ourselves from many different perspectives, like the facets of a diamond, illuminated in the mirror of our relationships with others. Daily practice is like removing the dust from the ego, so we can see clearly who we truly are, away from the compulsive patterns of the mind.
According to Patanjali this two-fold process of ‘Abhyasa’ and ‘Vairagyam’, the repeated ‘practice’ of effort and ‘surrender’ (letting go), allows us to become a clear channel for grace to step in. We are merely containers of consciousness, in other words consciousness shaped into a body.
Through practice, we channelise the behaviour of the mind, letting go of the need to control and redirecting this life force energy back to the heart, not the mind. Practice unblocks the channels of fear that keep us in a state of separation and disconnection. The result of continually going inwards guides us to make decisions from an open heart. It helps us to evolve consciously and together as a greater whole.
If we can focus on sensations that arise during Asana practice it will help us to develop our powers of concentration. In this way the body becomes the ‘field’ of awareness and a tool for meditation.
Some days this will feel good, but some days there will be discomfort and it will bring intense emotion to the surface. If we allow our breath to guide us, softening and backing off if the breath becomes rapid, short or restricted we can love ourselves back to wholeness.
In addition to our Asana practice, we can nourish ourselves by spending more time in nature, eating wholesome and nutritious food, taking a hot bath or being with a loved ones. There are lots of ways to care for our body, our vehicle of consciousness.
Practice also needs to be sincere, not serious, so it can lead us back to the heart. There is no need to compete or compare, because we are accepting and loving all aspects of who we are. If you are listening to your body with the ears of the heart, Asana practice becomes a moving meditation. A means to return back home.
Yoga Asana and Meditation need to be fully integrated, not separated, to fully inform each other as part of the process of Nirodhah (channelising the activity of the mind). This brings a laser-sharp focus to the mind, bringing the turnings (the chitta vrittis) into stillness so we feel more present and awake.
Patanjali the great sage, gave us 8 step to achieve this; Astanga means eight limbs, described by Richard Freeman as " the many different interrelated approaches within the school of Hatha Yoga that develop a laser like focus of the mind".