why do we practice?
The yoga sutra lays this out for us from the start with a seemingly simple premise: yogas citta vrtti nirodhah (1.2). The practice of yoga calms the swirling thoughts of the mind- the citta vrttis. Or, the state of yoga is when the mind settles. Instead of bouncing from one thought to the next as they bubble up, the attention narrows- like many tiny tributaries flowing into a smooth river. Yoga is the state of being absorbed in a moment- on or off the mat. Even if you have never practiced yoga a day in your life, you've experienced this: looking into the eyes of someone you love, enjoying a delicious meal, listening to live music. Being captivated.
Like so many of us, when I first began practicing yoga, it was all physical. Poses were something to conquer, to master, to figure out. The 'rules' and correct alignment were important to me. So I practiced, and studied, and put in some time. Things started to shift. Don't get me wrong- safe alignment is important. It's hard to be attentive to the subtleties of the practice if your joints hurt. And daily asana- even just a handful of poses some days- keeps me comfortable. But the boundaries of practice- rather than "on the mat" or "at the studio" have bled into daily life. I will never be able to do all the poses, and that's not the point anyhow. The practice of paying attention has started to pay off. The "flashes of insight" come- and this can be calming and reassuring or super uncomfortable. That's the nature of change. And it is also hard work! Which is why one of the eight limbs of yoga is dedicated to this part of the practice- dharana.
Life can be tough. I have been struggling with sorting mine out this summer, and to be honest my cittas have been vrtting all over the place. My natural state is a bit anxious and I have spent much of life fretting in my head or daydreaming. The practice provides insight into reality as it is- not how I wish it was or fear it to be. The awareness I have developed from paying attention to the poses helps me catch my old patterns (samskaras, in yoga) playing out before they take over a situation (sometimes). I mean- it's far from perfect- but in times of crisis I'm more able to stay connected to myself and others in a way that wasn't possible before all this practice. Isn't that way better than more open hamstrings?!
So my whole point is...as we end the summer and move towards fall- stay with it! Put the work in. Trust me, it's so worth it. I'm grateful for the opportunity to share with you.