My teacher said once “What is the greatest obstacle to practicing yoga? [dramatic pause] Getting started. “ That is a challenge we face day after day. It’s not just the first day we practice. It’s every day. Sometimes the second class may be the hardest one to get to because after the first class we know that we will change if we continue to practice. What then do we draw on to get us past that point to the mat for the second class? Or the 10,000th class? Faith. Faith in what? Faith in the practice of yoga. Faith in the practice of yoga how? Faith that something good may come of our practice which would be worth the effort. Faith that something good will happen in spite of all the disappointments we may have faced. Faith that yoga might help us to find something, something beyond the fringes of our current understanding of the way the world works, that might help us to live in the world more easily. Nurturing our curiosity brings us to the first class, nurturing our faith helps us to continue the practice. How do we nurture our faith in yoga?
In the days when I began my yoga practice, my teachers drew on the stories of the enlightened masters of the old schools. I understood that yoga brought about a state of liberation. Upon deeper investigation and searching I learned those states of liberation often involved removing ones consciousness entirely from the material world and dwelling in absorption with the divine. It was a sexy, titillating idea peppered with promises of deep bliss states. After years of practice, I fell into questioning this. While I’d never attained the exalted states of the Jivanmuktas (the ones who attained this exalted state) I had experienced enough connection to the divine to have experienced detachment from the material world. Big deal, I thought, I still have to go back into the material world, pay my bills and deal with difficult people. So, I left that goal behind and continued to ask myself, what is this yoga for? After so many years spent in practice I couldn’t give up. That is when things began to change, and a deep teaching it was.
I went back into the world of work, inhabiting job roles I found oppressive and navigating social and economic hierarchies which were not always kind. Here is what I found. The disciplines of yoga had freed me. Physically I was still entangled in these roles and hierarchy but my mind was free….most of the time….free to choose who I wanted to be in that moment and by that I meant how I wanted to respond to the aggressive or unkind environment.
There was no overt breakout that occurred. It was subtle and gradual. If my employer said something which hurt my feelings, I felt I could detach my attention from the pain and direct it to something useful. Completing the tasks at hand which would provide useful skills for a better position. In the unkind social hierarchies I could keep myself from retaliating for longer and longer periods of time and later detach enough to exit those social circles all together.
My focus developed in such a way that I could apply a healthy balanced measure of discipline to my day – allowing me to consciously own the power of a moment so I could focus on creative activities long before neglected.
But most of all this freedom which emerged from the disciplines of yoga opened the door for me to choose to be different. Instead of feeling like I was stuck in a role I hated I could choose to move in the direction of being someone wanted to be, rather than being condemned to repeat the same story over the over again.
So the goals look different from how they were lived by the great yoga masters of history, but the practice and disciplines themselves still proved to have a valid result.
So what exactly does the process of yoga do? Done in accordance with the original recipes, with an willing heart and an open mind, the process of yoga breaks down our conditioning. From the time we were born we were conditioned by schools and governments, our families our friends, the media and our fears , in subtle and deep ways. Sometimes this conditioning is so deeply entrenched that we are unaware at all that we aren’t seeing what is there. But it controls our every moment by moment decision.
So how do we get to our second class? Faith. Faith that it will be worth it. Faith that there substance in the practice which will be valuable. A good use of your time. Faith that, while what happens for us may not look like what happens for others, that it will be a good result, aligned with our personal truth. IN the words of yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, “Keep practicing, all is coming!”