Yoga is designed to be a lifetime practice. Well-done practices evolve with us as we move through the changes of our lives – inviting ongoing processes of healing to unfold as our consciousness opens into deeper levels of awareness. We’ve been talking about awareness of the spiritual heart. One facet of the practice is that discipline and structure are required in order to have mastery over the mind and body so they don’t interfere with or obscure our experience of our essential being – our spiritual heart.
In observation as a teacher, and as a long time yoga student, a primary focus in discipline is managing sloth and torpor – and their opposites – ambition and grasping. To obtain the best results in our practice – we are well served to find a structured path between these two extremes. We might call this the “Goldilocks” amount of effort. Just enough. When we are a bit lazy about our practice – it won’t be enjoyable enough to motivate us to make a commitment – we won’t really get the full picture what the yoga can do for us. When we drive too hard there can be a backlash that causes us to drop out for some time. Consistent practice (which in and of itself requires discipline) joined with healthy effort creates not only a lifetime practice, but also sufficient internal results to ignite the desire to keep practicing.
One simple and very universal nonaggressive technique that we can develop to up our game in yoga is focus. Generally the practice of focus in asana will unfold from the external to the internal. At first, we cultivate focus by not thinking about what is going on outside the room, then not thinking about what is going on beyond our mat, and then having full attention in the body and then full attention in the breath and then being able to abide consistently in the small quiet space in our hearts or minds as we move through a series of postures. At some point we are able to do this for a sustained amount of time. One way to check your focus is whether you are sweating or not! Yep. Breath makes you sweat, but so does focus. If your practice isn’t “warming up” for you, try bringing a little more focus. Some ways to do this might be practicing moving from one asana to another focusing on the breath. The same move over and over i.e. Downward facing dog to Warrior One. One breath one movement. If your mind drifts outside of your body, try really focusing on the feeling of your hands and feet on the floor. At first, it’s good to focus on something really neutral – and within your own body mind. It can be helpful not to tell a story to yourself about what arises. Just observe. And stick to it for a while. One week breath and movement, one week feeling hands and feet.
I publish a newsletter in conjunction with these blog posts which rolls out themes related to the inner practices of yoga – the landscape of the mind in practice – often tied in with classic philosophical notes. Like to take a look? It only comes out every week or so, and there are no ads. I promise!