Maintaining a Home Practice
"What's a home practice?!" my friend Suzi from Portugal wrote, her irony not lost in the facelessness of the typed page. "Well, I guess I could say that my kids are my Yoga, as my husband is also, or the dogs, or making the beds, or doing the dishes.".But of course, aren't most of us householders, with Yoga as the focus of our lives being just behind round-the-world cruises and a fleet of sports cars in that ever-present lottery win fantasy? After all, for the majority of us it's not Yoga that feeds the kids, makes the beds, pays the bills."The kids go back to school on Monday," Suzi continued, a hint of relief in her words.
"And then I shall be able to put my thoughts back in order.".And that's when it struck me - what use is this Yoga thing if it only works when we are free to clear the time and space to let it take effect? Who needs to feel the wonders of Yoga more, I wonder - the stressed business executive as she faces the demands of an uncaring world, or the reclusive monk with hour after day after month to indulge in the finest of India's philosophies? And if Yoga only works for those with the time to follow a strict and lengthy course of behaviour, what use is it to the you or me in our everyday lives?.And yet, how useful this Yoga thing is was my very first thought after my first ever Yoga class. So strange, I thought, that I could lie there in a class full of complete strangers and yet be relaxed enough to fall asleep. There was something in this Yoga thing indeed!.
Skip several months forward and, much as I still enjoyed classes, there was something limiting about the set times and places, the postures chosen by the teachers. Something inhibiting in the pace of the classes, by necessity aimed at the slowest learners, and (again, by necessity) lacking in the philosophical structure that I now know to be true Yoga. All in all, something that wasn't quite right.At that time, the "some is good, more is better" attitude still ran strong in me, and I tried (without much success) to go to more classes each week, desperate to find that "more" that eluded me. But gradually, over months (perhaps years), the realisation came that it wasn't more of the same I needed, but less - and more of something different.
Less them, more me.I took my first tentative steps towards a home practice quite early, after just a few weeks of classes, when I received my first Yoga video as a present. But like a teetering toddler it continued in bursts and stumbles for over 6 months before finding its feet in any way. Even then (and even now) the falls are frequent, the merest social events or most inconsequential working demands wreaking untold havoc on my good intentions.
Could this really be what Patanjali had in mind?.But something in Suzi's words seemed to click, a connection to the very first sutra of Patanjali's finest work. In fact, the very first word - Atha.Now.Not tomorrow, not next week. Not when the kids go back to school, or when work eases up and lets you home before dark o'clock.
NOW!.Yoga cannot take place another time, it must begin now with your intention to practice. Easy for me to say as I sit at the keyboard, typing ideals and impossible goals for people I don't even know! Or is it? Where in the Yoga sutra-s does Patanjali say that Yoga must be a ninety minute class of asana-s? Or an hour? Or half an hour? Does he even prescribe that we must dedicate one minute to Yoga?.This fallacy, that we must set aside a block of time is second only to the prevailing misconception that Yoga equals asana. Together they make a deadly combination.
So you're at home, the dog's barking, kids are screaming and tearing up the joint, dinner's burning on the stove - right now, an hour's asana practice is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. But can you spare sixty seconds? Or thirty? Close your eyes (oh yeah, better switch off that stove first!), take a deep breath and bring yourself just one step closer to calmness. Feel better? Of course. Was that Yoga? For sure.But what can we do to maximise the likelihood of a regular, if not daily, practice? To begin, I think taking a good long look at yourself, your environment, and your needs from Yoga, is an excellent starting point. This is a large part of what Patanjali calls Svadhyaya or self-study, one of the three essential elements of Kriya Yoga (the Yoga of action.
) And the first question must be to ask yourself what you are hoping to achieve from Yoga?.Discovering your intent is a very important preparation for practice, for that determines largely what you will do, and how you will do it. If your needs are spiritual, a dynamic asana-based practice is unlikely to help you achieve that - on the contrary, if you look to Yoga as a means of physical therapy, a practice centred around chanting and prayer will probably not meet your expectations.The next step should be to look at how you can change your life to move towards those goals.
"Having a Yoga space helps me," said Suzanne, another friend and a Yoga teacher from North Carolina. "I have my Yoga room back again it makes a huge difference. My stepson is still in and out, so there is still some of his stuff there, but having a space that's clear and clean and dedicated is wonderful.".
Your 'Achilles heel' may be very different - for me, I know that the key to a regular practice is a good night's sleep. A night owl at heart, I prefer to stay up late but know that if I do not get up and practice in the morning before work, I am less likely to do it. Several late nights have a cumulative effect, and it then becomes a feat for me to break the 'downward spiral', a much greater effort to drag myself to the mat.
But how do we summon that initial effort?.A story springs to mind of an in-house training course run by my work, where the old seasoned veteran is trying to teach the next batch of young whippersnappers how to do the job. As they sit in expectation he forms them in a circle and places a lit candle in the middle."Now I want you all to close your eyes, and think hard, and concentrate on putting out that candle with your thoughts.
" A few doubtful glances, then the eyes are closed and the trainees strain their faces as they will that candle to extinguish."Open your eyes," he says, but when they do the candle is still lit. "Try again, but this time I really want you all to picture that candle blowing out." Again they try. Again the candle is still lit when their eyes are opened.Shaking his head, this dinosaur steps into the middle of the circle, licks his forefinger and thumb, then snuffs out the flame.
"Don't think about it! Do it!".While self-study may prepare you for success, all the planning in the world will never take you one step closer to extinguishing that candle. What you need is Tapas - often described as fire, austerity or self-discipline - to take you to your mat. This discipline always seems to begin with a sacrifice -whether a warm bed on a frosty winter's morning, or a few more minutes with a loved one watching the latest blockbuster. This is where the elements of Kriya Yoga begin to interact - how much do you want to reach the goals that Svadhyaya have revealed to you? Enough to sacrifice fifteen more minutes in bed? Enough to miss that wonderful movie (and associated munchies)? Only you can decide, but without that discipline your candle will still be burning every time you open your eyes.
So you've done the thinking (and boy did that hurt), and summoned the willpower to take you to the mat. But then the phone rings, and your boss needs you in at work immediately, or a good friend has found a crisis to distract you from your path. Surely even Patanjali cannot get you out of this one?!.This is where the third element comes rushing in to the rescue - Ishvara Pranidhana, or surrender to god. And this is where a large proportion of Yogin-s go rushing out the door, as the threat of theology looms over their favoured pastime. But far from some devotional ideal, I see the practical application of this surrender as being a simple acceptance - acceptance that sometimes (most of the time) we are in a river not of our choosing, and that we must swim along with the current or perish.
"The slump is my guru!" declared David (yes, you guessed it, yet another friend), who teaches in Utah.Just five words, but instantly I knew what he meant. Beyond the asana-s and the pranayama, beyond meditation and chanting, Yoga has so much more to teach us. A home practice is a far greater gift than a half hour's mat time, and often seems amplified when Swami Slumpananda is in control. The trick then is to recognise your control is gone, accept it, wait and watch.
Sooner or later the Swami cuts you free, and it's time to dish out the Tapas again!..Scott currently teaches at Kilmarnock College, Kilmarnock, on a Saturday morning during the academic term. He is also available for one-to-one sessions in order to help you develop a regular home practice, to deepen your existing practice or to tackle specific issues that cannot be addressed in group classes. You can find further details or contact him through his website at http://www.exploreyoga.
By: Scott Rennie
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