Sunday Oct 14, 2018 NYC
Today we would like to introduce the third article of our blog series Actual Practice of Yoga in Everyday Life. This was written by Sadhya in 2017 as a part of a reflection on her practice of asana, which she began daily practice of in 2012, how she practiced during that time and some of her discoveries of what Shri Mahayogi is teaching us along the way.
Her journey doesn’t stop after what is expounded upon here in this writing. Instead, she continues to discover and work towards mastering Shri Mahayogi’s ASANA, so that she can come to know and understand what true ASANA really is.
We recommend that you read her Testimony in the current issue of Pranavadipa (Vol. 47), which is a reflection on her experience having to come to face herself while participating in a kamishibai project in 2013.
Actual Practice of Yoga in Everyday Life 3 : Overcoming Discomfort
Shri Mahayogi teaches us that asana should be practiced daily as a part of kriya yoga. In kriya yoga, which consists of tapas, svadyaya and ishvarapranidana, asana is where the practice of tapas takes place. Consistent practice of asana may lead to many changes in the physical body, in the mind, and in the amount of energy one has or the amount of sleep that one requires. Asana may have many benefits for the practitioner, but that doesn’t mean that all such benefits are felt right away, nor does it mean that we should focus on attaining those benefits, or measure our practice or the usefulness of our practice based on our perceived notion of what benefits we are receiving from asana or what benefits should look or feel like. More importantly, we need to throw ourselves in and immerse ourselves fully—with sincerity to learn and without concern for the result.
One May Need to Really Put Oneself Through the Ringer
In the practice of asana, we often have to put our bodies into positions that we do not usually take or spend time in. These positions may not always be comfortable and many complaints and concerns are likely to arise. I remember at the end of a small class Anandamali explaining that indeed when we practice asana we are actually intentionally putting the body into an uncomfortable position and then working on focusing on the breath. By doing this, we are actually training the mind. If the position is too comfortable then there is no training for the mind and the benefit is much less. She explained that practitioners who experience more stiffness and less flexibility have their own advantage in asana since they may perhaps have the greatest opportunity to learn how to go beyond both mind and body. So what is this training all for?
Our day-to-day lives!
No matter how much we may wish to be able to control what happens in our lives, and experience only good things, it is inevitable that we are going to experience things that we find pleasing and things that we find unpleasing. We may find ourselves in situations that are comfortable for us, but surely we will also find ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable or less than ideal. Depending on the circumstances, we are pulled without break up and down as we experience comfort and discomfort and then have to deal with it. Yoga teaches us that we cannot avoid what is meant to come to us—this we have already created and is determined by our individual karma. However, what we can do is control the effect that our changing circumstances and experiences have on us. It is completely unnecessary to be pulled up and down and tossed about by our emotional reactions to circumstances that we already know are going to keep changing. But unless we learn how to control the mind and train it accordingly, then we have no choice but to be completely under its control, and to endure these never-ending ups and downs that exhaust us so much.
Later on, I came to understand that, in a way, in asana what we are doing is creating the condition in which practice can be optimized and this training can happen swiftly. This does not only apply to practice of asana though. As our practice begins to extend outside of asana and into all aspects of daily life, yogi often seek to create conditions that are ideal for practice. (But this is a topic to elaborate on more at another time… )
Going back to asana, after a rigorous practice in which we have created many seemingly uncomfortable positions for the body, we may feel soreness in the body the next day and think, “I should rest a day and allow my body to recover.” This is typical thinking when it comes to exercise and sports training. Often the suggestion is that you balance workouts with days of rest and recovery. However, the instruction we receive for asana is to practice everyday, 365 days a year—no breaks.
Once I finally realized after the first few months of practicing with the Mission, that this instruction of practicing everyday also applied to me, I took it very seriously. Before that time, I practiced on the days we had class with the Mission and perhaps another day or two on my own. But on other days, I would practice asana at another school, where I had been attending since before meeting Shri Mahayogi, and where I also happened to be doing some office work at the time. In the beginning, I took the instruction of “practice everyday” quite casually and generally to mean practice any asana daily—it didn’t matter the school or how the asana was instructed, just as long as it was something every day. So, in a way I felt that I was doing that already and therefore this instruction did not apply to me.
But there came a point, when I started to feel that I wanted my practice to go more deeply…but I didn’t know how to make that happen. There was an intense longing to know what to do that settled into my heart. When that yearning became very strong, I clearly remember pleading internally to please be shown the way to deepen my practice, that I would do anything…I just needed to know exactly what to do. That was shortly after Shri Mahayogi arrived for the second time to visit New York after I first met him. There was a class that night, a Wednesday class, and directly at the beginning of the class, Anandamali came to me and presented me with a list of asana that I should take as my practice from that moment on. No longer should I practice with the same sequence as everyone else in the class, but I should follow this order. I looked at the paper. There were some 32 asana listed there. At the top of the paper it had my name and the word “Program.” At the bottom of the paper it was written, “Must practice Everyday! 365-7.”
When I received this paper I was shocked and speechless. I felt that Shri Mahayogi had felt my yearning and that this was the concrete answer and direction that I had just been asking for. When I saw “Everyday” and “365-7,” I knew right then and there that that was what I was going to do, and there was absolutely no question in my mind about it. I knew that I would not allow myself to not do it—how could I let that happen—this was a direct answer to my most internal request. To not do so would be a waste. I recognized this to be an extremely serious thing and as the concrete demonstration that our prayers are indeed heard and answered.
Although I may appear to have a good amount of flexibility in my body, I can honestly say that after I began practicing asana consistently and daily, I think I had soreness in my body for almost 2 years, without break. Even so, I quickly learned that regardless of how sore the body was or wasn’t, I could still practice asana and that soreness really didn’t make the least bit of difference. When I was actually in the practice, I rarely noticed or paid much attention to this soreness. It was only in between practices that I would notice it. But I really was not concerned about it, even though I had it for quite some time. In the past I might have complained about becoming sore from some sort of exercise or physical exertion, but with asana I simply accepted it and therefore no longer felt any complaint or uncomfortable feelings towards it.
A few months after I had been practicing my daily program of asana, I returned to the previous school where I had practiced before meeting Shri Mahayogi. A friend of a friend was visiting from out of the country and really wanted to take a class at that school. And since I already had plans with my friend, we all went to take a class at this school together. My experience in this class was shocking. The only word that came to my mind to describe this class was “violent.” It’s not that the class was physically violent or overly demanding or anything like that, but rather it was the internal experience that felt so violent in comparison to the practice I had been grounding down into now for a few months without pause. It was then and there that I began to realize how truly fine and refined the practice that Shri Mahayogi teaches us is. There is a meaning and a purpose to everything, every movement, every breath, every direction of the eye gaze, every step-by-step instruction, the order of the asana, every savasana, everything. This fineness comes not from the physical positioning of the body, although that certainly has a part, but from the way in which all of these details and the order of the asana, affect and move the prana throughout the body. The definitive sense that this practice given to us by Shri Mahayogi is so incredibly fine-tuned down to all of the most invisible elements was truly shocking to me. Never before had I experienced anything like that or had the ability to begin to perceive anything like that. In comparison, the class that I had just attended, even though many of the asana looked very similar, seemed to disturb the physical body and the prana. There was excessive movement that felt too jarring for the body and it felt as if the internal and invisible parts of the practice had been left completely unattended to, and as a result the external seemed to allow the internal prana to run loose, uncontrolled and misdirected in a way that felt as if it could wreak complete havoc!
As I continued on in practicing daily, I felt as though my body was becoming entirely reworked. I still cannot say I know what exactly was happening, but I began to feel as though the body was like an old rag. I was using it to wash and clean day after day, wringing it out again and again and again. Various pains arose and passed away, as did emotions, and memories. It was as if the practice of asana was going into all parts and pushing various things out. Perhaps this feeling of the body becoming worn out like an old rag was a necessary step for me…once many things had been squeezed out, it could start to reconstruct in a way that would be more suitable for the continued practice of Yoga in all its forms.
There may have been times when I pushed too hard in asana. To give an example, there was a time when I developed a pain, deep within the shoulder blade area. For a long time, I disregarded it because as soon as I would begin asana, my focus would go to the breath and I would lose all such sensations of pain or discomfort in asana. I knew that there were certain asana that were exacerbating this pain, but I did not want to not practice them. I felt incredibly committed to adhering to the list I had been given, not understanding that I also had to learn to not hold on too tightly. All practices are means to an end, not the end itself. Eventually all practices must change or fade away as the condition of our mind changes, or our understanding deepens. But that is a lesson it would take me more time to learn. In a way, I feared to shift my practice much, because I felt like that would mean that I was not following Shri Mahayogi’s instruction to me and therefore the asana practice would not serve its purpose correctly (whatever that was—I certainly didn’t understand much then).
When I look back at this time now, I can see that what was lacking in my practice was discrimination. I could not see that I was suffering out of a fear of losing something gained or even simply from the idea of possibly losing something I had not even gained yet, but was hoping for. All of these ideas were stemming from my own imagined idea of what the goal was or should look like. As I practiced further, even these ideas, which seemed to not be subjective at the time, began to reveal their subjectivity. One by one, many of my preconceived notions about what practice of Yoga is and what my aim may or may not look like was shaken and the mind was brought little by little and again and again to have to face itself.
Sadhya (November 2017)