Studying and reflecting on the history of yoga is an interesting way to ‘feel up’ your own relationship to the practice.
By traditional standards, I’m a complete lightweight. My average daily sadhana lasts between 45 minutes and 3 hours and is really dictated by exactly how I feel. I barely practice pranayama, I like to feel and muse and daydream, I have long ago given up the intention of stomach churning or nostril cleansing or enemas.
In fact it would seem like I am totally caught up in the realm of languor, one of the afflicted states that is an obstacle on the spiritual path, except that merely the thought that I might be will get me practicing kapalabhati, complicated inversions, backbends and fasting like there’s no tomorrow. Complacency is not my game either.
This piece is a reflection on the modern yogi. How it could be possible to coolly navigate the cultural, societal differences that set apart our world from the world of the Vedic seers who first came up with the notion of yogic sadhana, without losing that fiery heart that burns through the thicket of distraction that keeps us from awakening.
Yoga is a warrior path. You have just to think: B.K.S Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois. That most revered yogi Krishnamacharya is said at times to have been so stern as to put students off practicing yoga altogether. The qualities of perseverance, consistency, relentless dedication... on inspection are essential. But so is the moral practice (niyama) of Ishvara pranidhana; surrendering the fruits of our practice to the creative source Ishvara. This is a foundational consideration in the yoga sutras of Patanjali. Are not the qualities of yielding, listening, opening softly, also aligned with this all-important niyama?
The Middle Way is a snail thread, it glistens and disappears depending how the light hits it. In our yoga practice we are attuned to our midline, our central axis, our sushumna nadi, grasping at the very principle of balance in our own being. The Middle Way is the way to illumination, clarity and all that is pure and light. I would say it takes a little grace to align, we can't do it alone alone.
Sometimes however, we are attracted by the dark and stormy. We slide into the murky subsect of our inner world and consciously take joy in lingering there. How as yogis can we integrate the shadow into our spiritual journey?
Study. Learn from the sources that surround you. Learn about how the yogis lived before you. There are so many assumptions about the yogic path; the blissful yogi, untouched by the sharp stabs of emotional pain that afflict us mere mortals. If you read a bit further you will find that yogis in the past and now too, have chosen to make the stab wound deeper and feel what it’s like in there. You will also learn that the creative source is triadic by nature. One needs to recruit the destructive forces of nature in order to not be overcome by them. You will learn and in learning there is great joy, great bliss, and yet ultimately: Ishvara pranidhana.
Yoga is yours, no one else’s.
Don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your heart.