When I run into someone whom I haven’t seen for a long time, I am often asked “Are you still doing your yoga?” Fortunate to have discovered it at a young age, I have never swayed from my commitment to my yoga and mindfulness practice for 36 years. In the early days of my teaching career, my husband commented that I was different from others because the majority of people will generally try new things but eventually move on to the next trend. Yet this incredible multilayered eight-limbed approach with its multiple benefits has kept me hooked for almost four decades! My yoga practice has been the foundation from which I live my life. But what exactly is it that keeps me coming to the mat? How has my learning curve been maintained and how has my passion been sustained over the years?
Although this practice is 5,000 years old, it is only in the past fifteen or twenty years that yoga has become an integral part of mainstream society. In the early 90’s I was invited to audition, and was hired for a spot in a car commercial that included a few yoga practitioners in a yoga posture. This was one of the first ads to use yoga as a marketing tool; today yoga is a billion dollar industry. Because my understanding of yoga and the myriad of its benefits runs deep, I often cringe at the commercialization of yoga and the dilution of its essence. For it is the essence of the practice and its value that has drawn me to it over and over again and which relates directly to and informs my life.
The essence of the practice is the single-pointed focus that spreads through one’s entire being and into one’s life experience. Richard Rosen speaks about this in his CD “Pranayama: Beyond the Fundamentals” and I find his words to be very inspiring. He says, “Yoga is simply about attention training, and the goal of all such training is presence. Presence is the essence of what the yogis call the juice, the rasa. Presence and essence arrive from the same Latin word, to be. Simple being is our true nature.” Rasa, a Sanskrit term that means “sap”, “essence” or “fluid” is the juice of the practice, the nourishing energy that infuses us with life. Remaining mindful of the rasa during the practice helps me to keep the spark alive. But to stay present for any length of time is a challenge. Using the breath, focusing on the rasa, and attuning to the alignment, precision and detailed execution of the posture helps to anchor our presence in the moment.
Every time I step on the mat I have the opportunity to ask myself: What do I want to see more of in my life? I can then set an intention to use the energy of the practise to help make it real. And then, the relevance of the practice shows up long after I have stepped off the yoga mat. This is in part what keeps me wanting more and returning to the mat. I have always shared with my students my belief that consistency is key for it is one of the pillars of a strong practise. In spite of the busyness of life and the many challenges that it presents, I have discovered that once committed to yoga, cultivating inner life and mindfulness unfolds. And as these benefits permeate my life, enthusiasm for the practice is naturally ignited. Through learning the philosophies of yoga and practising the 8-limbs of yoga, yoga values such as gratitude, contentment, non-harming, and non-attachment become ingrained. The tenets of yoga create the lens through which I view life and ultimately how life is lived.
The effects of the practice has a direct impact on how you feel, perceive, understand, and interact with yourself, with others and in the world. The amount of postures and breathing or pranayama techniques to learn is truly staggering; I try to approach each practice with an enthusiastic beginner’s mind and infuse the practice with a new level of curiosity. It is as if I am studying and experiencing each posture for the first time because I come at the pose from the inside out, feeling the pose and experiencing sensations all over. Each time I practice the posture, I learn more about myself and experience something different. Self-study or Svadyaya is a Niyama meaning rule or laws and svadyaya is one of the five internal observances or tools. It connotes introspection and “study of self” which results in increased self-awareness and self-understanding. The learning is constant and I am simply never bored with the poses nor the practise.
Creating change in body and mind in order to execute the more advanced postures and breathing or pranayama techniques is an ongoing challenge and process. Learning and refining old or new poses, providing my body mind and spirit with what is needed on any given day, or learning what is needed to facilitate the healing of a specific issue, injury or condition further maintains the learning curve and sustains my interest. Over time, I develop an intense and refined alertness to states of being and to the subtle body, and I experience a greater understanding of how the poses or asanas or poses deeply affect me. Each cycle of breath is different as are the many distracting thoughts that pull me away from my practice. Witnessing these differences and distractions provides an opportunity to refocus my attention and maintain my presence in the moment. Regularity of practice done with intention and focus supports my understanding of myself and the practise continues to deepen and replenish me like a well that is never emptied of its water.
Other ways that I have kept the spark and fire alive have included regular month-long studies with the Iyengar family in India over a span of twenty years, and with other teachers around the world. While on vacation, I will take classes in different systems of yoga to learn both what I like and don’t like and what I might bring from that learning to my practice and to my teaching. When I return home, I happily immerse myself back in my own practice of Iyengar yoga with a renewed sense of freshness and gratitude. Even though the discipline of yoga is serious, it is important to me to ensure that I am enjoying myself and having fun. Other ways I create inspiration may include adding different elements to my practice such as changing the environment or adding something to it. Weather permitting, I will unfold my mat outdoors or I may choose to play music, light incense or candles, enjoy related readings including Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, or explore yoga photos from BKS Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” or other books. Undoubtedly, Guruji’s life – his practice, teachings, writings, and profound influence in the dissemination of yoga worldwide – continues to be one of the best inspirations for my own lifelong practice. But ultimately, the greatest inspiration for my yoga is my actual practice! This is what truly keeps the flame alive.
Investment advisors will tell you that you have to accept fluctuations in the market and maintain your focus on the distant horizon line in order to realize the long-term benefits of the investment. The yoga process is the same for when we keep showing up on the mat and continue to make our deposits in our practice, over time our investment grows. Like the market, there may be downturns or occasions when we crash but if we trust in the process and maintain our commitment to it, inevitably even a single spark of passion will stay ignited. We feel its impact as it spreads within us and then outwardly into the world. Passion can be slow burning or intense but when we practice yoga on a consistent basis over the years, the benefits will manifest into our day and we will feel nourished. It simply keeps us wanting more.
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” -Confucius