When you are in a state of yoga, all mental misconceptions (vrttis) that can exist in the thoughts (citta) disappear.
The statement above is the second sutra of Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”, which guides the way through the 8-Limb path of Ashtanga yoga.
Imagine how a ripple on the surface of a pond distorts our view of the bottom. This is just like the mental fluctuations of the mind. They distort the truth. Yoga is freedom from the misconceptions and illusions of the human mind. Yoga is seeing clearly. The implication of seeing clearly is seeing how everyone, everything is connected, how we are in union with all that is.
Inspired by others to commit to myself
Recently, I have been introduced to three Yoginis who practice Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. They are my new friends and fellow yoga teachers. Pilar, head of Bodhi Shambala Yoga at Bodhi Surf School, has had a self-practice for 7 years, and has traveled to Mysore, India to study with Saraswati Jois, the daughter of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Anastasia has also had a daily self-practice for years, has traveled to India to study with Sharath Jois, and is now teaching a guided self-practice class at Bodhi Shambala Yoga. Melissa began studying Ashtanga with Pilar last year, and now teaches the Yoga for the Community class every week at Bodhi. The traditional method of practicing asana is “guided self-practice”. Under a teacher’s guidance, every student has their own set of postures to practice daily. There are 6 series of postures, which are learned in linear progression until they are mastered. Each person is responsible for practicing their sequence each day, as the teacher observes and adds postures when the student is ready. Each of these women has inspired me through their graceful dedication to themselves via their yoga practice. They practice 6 days per week. Here at Bodhi Shambala Yoga, I have been participating in guided self-practice for the past month.
I have found tremendous healing from practicing yoga throughout the past 8 years. I have even taught for the past 2 years. But the truth is that I have never been very disciplined. Until 4 weeks ago, I hadn’t developed a daily self-practice. I practiced yoga asana (physical postures) and meditated—when I felt like it. This translated to: when I was “in the mood”, craving it, in desperate need of it, or in a yoga class led by someone else, etc. During that time, I thought that I should be gentle with myself, that I should “listen to my body”, and allow my intuition to guide me. Of course, this is true so that I don’t get hurt or pass out. But otherwise, I was giving in to the many resistances of my ego mind. I thought that I was honoring myself by rolling out my yoga mat only when I felt compelled, and to stop whenever I felt the urge. (And I wondered why my hips were still tight…) But now I feel that I wasn’t allowing myself to commit nor to transform, to my potential.
The easy and convenient response to the mind’s resistance is to give in. The more difficult and transformational response is to question it. By questioning, I am reclaiming my power of choice. This is why, I believe, Ashtanga yoga has come into my life now — to witness all the chitta-vritti (fluctuations of the mind), to question them, and attempt to calm them. My goal is not to avoid my thoughts, but to bring them into the light so that I can choose how to respond. After all, I want to see clearly.
Resistance & attachment
Pilar introduced me to the real Ashtanga practice, and to this article, which is transforming the way I see my mind. The main idea in this article is that Ashtanga practitioners often respond to the practice in one of two ways: by resisting or becoming attached. “Oftentimes, the mind behaves like a pendulum, swinging between extremes of attachment and avoidance. These extremes are evident by the reactions of the Ashtangi to the system itself. When we practice asana without succumbing to these extremes, we can begin to undo the psychophysical patterns that underlie them.” (“Ashtanga and Gratitude”)
During the past few weeks, I have noticed many thoughts in reaction to the daily practice (which consists of the same set of asanas every day). My thoughts have mostly been in the form of resistance, such as:
- “I’m too tired
- “I don’t have the strength to finish.”
- “I don’t feel like continuing.”
- “Maybe this is too rigid.”
Many people, like me, tend to see discipline as very stifling, and then walk away from it, wanting to feel “free”. But…
What if discipline can be on the path to freedom?
Tapas, or purification through self-discipline, is one of Patanjali’s 5 niyamas, or self-observances. By committing to something every day (be it a yoga practice or anything else you feel is beneficial to your life) you will be shown every inner resistance that comes up. Your ego mind will create excuse after excuse to try to derail you from your commitment, to stay the same. When resistance appears, you have three options: ignore it, give into it, or look it straight in the eye. If you choose the latter, and are willing to see it, you can work with it. You are not an unconscious victim of your thoughts.
So, though commitment is terrifying, (“What if I fail?”) it is also enlightening. It will show you every fear, every resistance, every excuse, if you only are willing to pay attention, to see. As Carl Jung famously said,
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
I am choosing to commit to this one hour of self-practice, 6 days per week, even if I feel resistant. I don’t know where it will lead me, but I know that it is showing me parts of myself that I would not have been able to see otherwise.
Written by Sam Rose