Commitment and passion. Self awareness and study. Devotion to something bigger than yourself. This is the practice of YOGA.
At the end of the teacher training course last year the students gave me a present to say thank you and farewell (or thank god and good riddance!). They presented me with a silver necklace and the front was simply engraved with ‘2:1’.
Of course we studied Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in detail during the course and I had shared with the group that this was my favourite sutra. I can’t tell you how much this gift meant to me, I never take this necklace off.
Yoga is not an easy practice. Even turning up on the mat to do your regular asana practice requires tapas, commitment and discipline, but the practice of yoga as a whole, the practice of living yoga every day both on and off the mat is tough.
But then so is life and I am a big believer in yoga giving us tools to deal with things on the mat, so that we can keep them in our toolbox for when they are needed off the mat. For example, we become frustrated trying to practice a tricky arm balance. Let’s face it, your life is not going to be any better or worse if you master that arm balance, but on the mat you learn how to acknowledge and deal with your frustration, and then you take that away with you. That’s the yoga.
Or you might be in a particularly dynamic vinyasa class and the teacher leads you through three rounds of wheel pose. The first round is awesome, the second round is tough, on the third round you would rather lay in savasana for a few extra breaths. You don’t want to do it. So you face a choice, you don’t have to do it, no yoga teacher is the boss of you but maybe if you are disciplined enough to do that third wheel you will feel your inner fire, your inner strength lit up. And then when you find yourself in a situation in life where you don’t want to do something but maybe you need to, you can tap into that inner flame and fire it up again.
Likewise yoga can teach us to be soft. A restorative practice is often the hardest practice because while our body can be still, our minds don’t like to stop the chatter. If we can learn to still the mind a little on the mat, we can find peace wherever we go in life. I remember practicing in New York City, mat to mat with 50 other yogis, the sounds of horns and sirens and life passing under the studio windows and yet, when I dropped in savasana I could have been lying on a deserted island. That is the magic of yoga.
So back to this sutra. The sutra that helps me navigate life. The sutra that I believe holds the answer to living life.
Tapas – be committed to whatever it is you do, be disciplined, be passionate and you will excell
Svadhaya – study whatever it is that stimulates your brain, for me its yoga, this year I’m learning to play the harmonium so I’m studying kirtan, and this is also about the constant need to study yourself, get to know yourself deeply, the light and shadow side and you will become so much more self aware in every situation
Ishvara Pranidhana – remember, whatever your religious beliefs, that there is something out there bigger than you. Divinity is in each of us, this world we live in is incredible, this universe is so powerful. If we remember to pause and give thanks and devotion to this amazing world and the people in it, if we can give back and keep a spark of bhakti in our hearts, then we will live fuller lives.
Kriya Yoga – just as yoga is practice, so is life. As I mentioned above, I believe yoga gives us the tools for living life but beyond that, we are all human, we all make mistakes and the wise ones among us learn from these mistakes. This is the practice of life, fall, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and have another go! Keep trucking on.
When times have felt tough or difficult for me, I chant this sutra to remind myself to stay focused, stay on my path, keep learning, keep practicing and keep living life to the fullest.