“He studied a lot, he practised a lot, he taught a lot, our compassionate Guru Sri T Krishnamacharya”~Srivatsa Ramaswami
Sri Krishnamacharya during his lifetime lived relatively modestly. A householder he maintained a very simple home where he slept, cooked his own meals and taught his students day in and out. So intense was his devotion to health, to spirit, to the practice and to the well being of those students who graced his door and stayed the course. Ramaswami says that in all the 33 years of studying with the professor not once did he cancel a session due to illness. His was a quiet and steady discipline that has since inspired thousands across the globe to take up the path of yoga for life.
His is a good example to return to when we consider our own discipline. Given the modern day obsession with success and achievement that word may leave a bitter taste in our mouths. That’s understandable. However, in the shastras it is repeatedly indicated as a key component for practice (abhyasa) defined by Patanjali as…
- dirgha: long
- kala: time
- nairantarya: without interruption
- satkaradara: with (enthusiastic) devotion
- asevito: followed
- drdha: firmly
- bhumih: rooted, established
“practice becomes firmly rooted when done for a long time, consistently without interruption and with enthusiasm/respect.”
time here is a factor. It takes time to shift our patterns first from unhelpful to helpful activities towards a new way. A week of practice, while beneficial won’t do much without sustained efforts.
many of us have been practicing for a long time but consistency is lacking. We may immerse ourself in a week, a month, a day, a year or longer with spells of complacency. It’s common. The mind is crafty and can find so many reasons to drop the ball. But true yogica parinama (transformation) comes when we’ve stayed with it. When we’ve held our practice and our own peace to a higher standard the the many distractions around us. It is a common story that practitioners arrive at a certain peak of practice only to stop. Maybe it’s gross level. Let’s say your aim is to put your foot behind your head in eka pada sirsasana. When that happens a false sense of achievement arises. If we think that is all yoga has to offer we may stop there. Let’s say it’s more subtle than that. Maybe you understand that all the bahiranga are truly a support for meditation and working with the mind so you keep your practice consistent until one day you have an experience of absorption in the object of your contemplation. If you think “that’s it! that’s yoga! I’m enlightened!” then you may either stop altogether in a false sense of nirodhah or you may cease your supportive practices of yama/niyama/asana and pranayama. If we are not established in this new state though then without the support of the lower limbs rajas and tamas begin to pervade the system once more…and back down the rabbit hole we slide. Therefore when there are these markers of change that is not the time to stop, that is the time to maintain.
finally devotion must be there. Without enthusiastic devotion then we aren’t fully invested. Remember that this practice puts us in contact with something beyond our created identity. Devotion to that higher principle helps breed consistency. Beginning each new day with prayer is the encouragement of many great teachers and hence each practice begins with an invocation. That devotion puts the mind in a receptive space.
Each asana reveals something new every day. Pranayama unfolds with each aspect of the breath. The mind settles and shifts. Each text is not to be studied for some passing grade but rather to return to over and over as a reference point of what we are discovering within. Stay enthusiastic and devoted to your development.
So this precise recipe of time, consistency and devotion is the way to become fully rooted in yoga abhyasa.
But why the difficulty with consistency?
1. Maybe the noise is overwhelming.
Many wise teachers in order to spread the teachings of yoga engaged in propaganda (or activities to propagate the teachings). This served an initial purpose to get people interested in practice. Even Krishnamacharya is seen in videos and images doing advanced asana and bandha. However the aim of this activity was merely to create interest and keep the practice alive in a time where colonization was wiping out vast traditions like yoga (still happening). As yoga gained popularity many (especially in the last 20 years) many have really taken the propaganda and run with it. Images of advanced asana in pristine locations are common and even expected, marketing materials selling handstand workshops and 3 week teacher trainings are prolific. It can be hard to sift through the clutter to engage with that which will actually help. There is well…just a LOT of noise. For many that noise is exciting but for many more it is a turn off. So if we find the noise off-putting enough to turn us away from our sadhana we should look to the texts again. As we have previously discussed, the effort applied in yoga is not to be that of grasping or aversion but rather Jivana Prayatna or the effort taken to sustain health and lead to clarity. This is actually effort sustained to remove the veil of ignorance (avidya) and ego (asmita) as we discussed earlier this week. This effort is meant to be a quiet and consistent endeavor as indicated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika….
A Yogî desirous of success should keep the knowledge of Hatha Yoga secret; for it becomes potent by concealing, and impotent by exposing.
This text and many others state again and again the value of secrecy in regards to certain asana, pranayama, kriya, bandha etc. Discipline is for your development and your discovery. Talking about your practice to an extent will only bring the mind into comparison and therefore back into the realm of duhkha and avidya. Instead the recommendation is to commit joyfully, steadily and keep it close to your heart. Krishnamacharya himself did not go around teaching HIS practice as right for everyone. No…he taught from the roots of a strong tree – applying yoga to the individual in front of him and that persons own unique circumstances!
Remember the two key components of tapas as laid out in the structure of kriya yoga? First is mitahara or moderation (mita) in eating (ahara). Next is mitabhasyam or moderation (mita) in speech (bhasya). Excessive chatter externally breeds excessive internal chatter ;fuel for all sides of the ego to run away from us. But if initially kept close to the vest and embraced within, the results are more intimate.
We can also look to the well known passage from the Bhagavad Gita…
You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.
Practice (discipline) therefore is not meant to be for praise, glamour and adoration but because it is our sacred and joyful duty to uncover who we truly are. This world is for the experience of the Observer afterall.
We are taught to beleive that “accountability” is an external endeavor. That we need validation for every good deed. But our practice takes us in: discipline to self discovery. In this, humility is the honest bedfellow of discipline. Egoic righteousness is false friend.
2. Maybe their born with it, maybe it’s tamo guna
Another consideration is inertia. Patanjali says we can’t just commit half heartedly, there must be enthusiasm. It has to be important to you. Often the initial part of the journey is exhilerating! Learning something new is fun for the mind! Eventually though that exhileration gives way to something else. If we’ve been steady and sustainable in our practice then what is left is a graceful new pattern. If we’ve been ping-ponging all over the place, sometimes practicing for hours, sometimes following yama/niyama, and other times letting the whole ball drop well… then what is left is more like confusion (tamas). Additionally, the texts stress the role of a teacher, one who is established in what is being taught and commited to the journey. Krishnamacharya was one such teacher. I consider Ramaswami to be another. No axe to grind. No agenda but benefiting humanity. The professor, a lifelong devotee, did not begin teaching until he was in his 40’s even after receiving the blessing and encouragement from his Guru to do so at a much younger age. Instead he continued to practice and learn, traveling around the subcontinent to several universities and spiritual centers in order to absorb. After receiving several more doctoral degrees and many more years of established practice he finally stepped into the seat of a teacher, in a time when yoga was neither popular nor respected. (A beautiful example of enthusiasm and devotion initially kept close to the heart)
Additionally tamas creeps up when we are over exhausted, when we are not taking care of ourselves and when we are overindulging in sensory output. So it’s a good idea to look at life off of the mat and meditation cushion to adjust. So often practitioners will feel the inertia and stop practicing because it feels overwhelming. A better approach is to look at the rest of our day and adjust so the practice is supported. Maybe that means going to bed a little earlier, eating a lighter dinner, drinking your water, putting down screens 45 minutes before bed etc.
So it is helpful to start our journey with excitement but… excitement must be give way to enthusiasm when the elation falls away. Have faith in what these rishis have taught, have faith in the abiding nature of the atman, and be compassionate and curious. When the thrilling sparks of a new endeavor seem to fade there is no less light. We’ve just gotten used to the glow. It is then for us to keep stepping into the light. Not just for a season of life but for LONG time, without interruption. Let your practice be the soil for how you live day in and day out.
3. Maybe the roots are shallow.
Another consideration is the aspect of respecting lineage. By lineage we don’t mean blind devotion to anyone spouting sanskrit words and demonstrating masterful fetes of the body. Instead this refers to respect applied to the teachings of yoga as passed through rishis like Nathamuni, Yajnavalkya and Patanjali. Respect for these teachings is respect for yourself. This tradition is millenia old passed down through countless teachers, sages and devotees. Yoga is a time tested and the lifes-long pursuit of many desiring to know the Self. We should take it seriously and go deep into our inquiry. I honor my teacher AND I keep studying to understand for myself. In so doing I honor us both.
It is common practice to take a culture, appropriate it’s tools and gifts for our own benefit without a.) truly understanding the impact and intention of what we take and b.) not keeping the thread alive.
Therefore many have lost the foundation and instead of ages old lineage and tradition at our roots, have one charismatic person or appropriated system that is clung to. Shallow roots may support a big tree for a long time but when a storm hits at the right moment the tree falls. When it falls what are we left with? Be mindful of your roots. Maintain respect and inquiry.
4. Maybe we don’t take ourselves seriously enough.
Patanjali points our gaze to that which is jyotismati (full of light) and visoka (free from sorrow). When we let our mind tell us we aren’t worthy of time and attention to ourselves we aren’t being selfless we are denying the eternal within. As yogabhyasis, the Self should be of importance. When we take care of our body/mind complex and clear away the misconceptions we can actually show up from a place of more unconditional love and acceptance for the people in our life, for the world we live in, for all beings. The appropriate bhavas (attitudes) become effortless. Elevating awareness is the best kind of selfish endeavor- it benefits all.
As you move forward into each new day, each practice if you find consistency feels elusive return to this sutra. “practice is firmly rooted when done with devotion, for a long time and without interruption.”
As Patanjali adds on:
- mrdu: mild
- madhya: moderate
- adhimatratvat: superior/intense
- tato’pi: within (the practice)
- vishesah: distinctions
Practice may be mild, moderate or intense. Not everyone’s practice can be intense. Yet with consistency any degree of practice will breed unique results.
Therefore even as householders we can benefit from yoga practice with consistency. More wise words and encouragement from the ages. Stay the course.
See you tomorrow 🙂