I have avoided writing much about the yoga practice since many of you are yoga practitioners and already have your own experience of the day to day coming to the mat. This week I will make an exception with the hope of reaching those of you who wonder what it is this yoga thing is all about. Perhaps some of you are already taking asana practice at home and wonder why come to India year after year when these days it’s hard to walk a block without seeing a yoga studio in the states.
Here in Mysore we sit down each Sunday at KPJAYI (Shri. K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute) for a weekly conference. When my teacher Sharath takes his cross legged seat on the stage the room grows quiet with anticipation. What will he speak about? For one hour we will be blessed with some new knowledge often attained through old stories. Just one glimmer of understanding can make the yoga practice feel completely new in upcoming week.
This Sunday I was reminded of the opportunity practice presents for delving into ones relationship with G-d. In hebrew, the word for soul (nephesh) and the word for breath (neshamah) share the same root. In this tradition we understand words with identical roots to be connected and look for what their relationship can reveal. The relationship between the breath and the soul is one that can be intellectualized but is much better understood through direct experience. It is this happening that I delve into each morning in the stillness of the pre-sunrise hours.
Through focus on the breath (neshamah) I come to know my true self (nephesh). And through knowledge of my true self I come closer to knowing the one truth, the higher power I call G-d, but who is known by many names. This is one of the reasons breath is a main focal point of the practice. Concentration on breath is crucial to attaining yoga- a yoking of the individual and universal consciousness. Too deep? Don’t worry. Concentration on breath can also help release muscle and mind tension and bring you into the present moment, which of course is all there really is! It links the spirit, mind and body so that you can live with more awareness and experience less friction. Great benefits come from this such as being able to make decisions more easily and with less regret. There is also a decrease in covetousness, anger, and anxiety and an increase in overall health and sense of peace and calm. All this from paying attention to the breath!
The beautiful thing is that it works the other way too. If you are a practitioner having trouble connecting with the breath, don’t underestimate the power of surrender. Give the practice up as an offering to a higher entity and watch as the breath spirit fills your body and mind.
So why wait? Start practicing now. As my teacher says, only lazy people can’t practice yoga. All others can. You don’t have to put your feet behind your head to be a yoga practitioner. And if you can put your feet behind your head, that doesn’t mean you are doing yoga. So, don’t be discouraged. You can try for yourself and observe what changes in you. Nothing happening? Don’t worry, “all is coming”.