Staying in Balance

On Practice

Racquel Graham

All of our disciplines ­ yoga, tai chi, prayer, meditation, service, even exercise or developing an art form, are based on the notion of practice. The value, the juicy-ness, is in the doing, it is in the journey, not the destination. In practice there is an acknowledgment that we are imperfect, that we are capable of learning, growing and transforming ourselves and our lives. We don’t have to already know it all to come to the mat or the practice room or the studio. In fact, we are better served to come to practice with a willing body, an open mind and a joyful heart - the Zen notion of beginner's mind.

Practice requires discipline and a regular commitment to ourselves. This is not always easy to maintain in our hectic lives. Practice can take on many aspects. The second book of The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is the Sadhana Pada, the book on practice. In his introduction to this Pada (book) B.K.S. Iyengar says,

By the practice of yogic discipline one is led towards spiritual illumination.

We can see this principle in the works of the great masters ­Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven. These masters practiced their craft with great discipline and expressed the "light within" in their great works. We can see this principle in service to humankind ­ Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Christ to name a few, who lived lives of discipline and devotion. We can see this principle as well in scientific discoveries that have advanced life, cured disease and explored new realms.

The first sutra of the second pada is: Tapah svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani Kriayogah, which Iyengar translates as

Burning zeal in practice, self-study and study of scriptures, and surrender to God are the acts of yoga.

Through practice, reflection and devotion, transformation occurs. Iyengar then comments, "By following these precepts, we may learn to live in unshakeable serenity regardless of circumstances." This sutra invites us to practice reflection of and devotion to something greater than ourselves - with the premise that we can learn to live in a state of serenity. This does not mean that we arrive at the destination of Serenity and we now have serenity, but that day-by-day we practice, and in the process, we create serenity. So practice is more than just stretching or relaxing or playing scales, or mixing colors or doing good deeds or sitting quietly. It is a daily acknowledgment and connection with something greater than ourselves, an affirmation of our divinity. It is a daily ritual and reminder that I am more than my job, my family, my possessions, my achievements. It is a reminder that I am an expression of the “light within,” of the creativity and mystery of the universe. When we practice mindfully, and with curiosity, we acknowledge the connection to that truth daily. This gives us great freedom to not be perfect, but to create ourselves, our lives anew each day.

Establishing a daily Yoga practice

  1. If you have special health concerns (Abnormal blood pressure, an injury, pregnancy, a history of back pain, etc.) consult a physician who has an understanding of yoga (or at least of physical fitness and exercise) and consult an experienced yoga teacher for guidance.
  2. Pick a spot and time of day when interruptions are unlikely and the stomach is not full or bloated. Bladder and bowels ought to be emptied. For many, early morning works best. Setting aside a place where you practice is helpful in establishing a routine and a habit. A few simple props will enhance your practice. A mat (preferably a non-stick one), a belt, a block, a blanket, will all be quite useful.
  3. Wear something easy to move in ­ long johns, tights, leotards, sweats, shorts. Practice in bare feet.
  4. Never rush. Each pose has a beginning, a middle and end. Go into the pose slowly, hold (for perhaps 5 seconds in the beginning), and release slowly. Use your breath. Take time to observe the effects of each posture.
  5. Keep your attention focused. Mental concentration is as much a part of the practice of yoga as is the physical activity.
  6. Be gentle. Never force. Do not go into a position your body is not ready for or overextend yourself. Pain may indicate improper alignment or overreaching. Use props or modifications of poses to work towards proper alignment.
  7. Breathe through the nose. Observe the breath. Generally you will come into a pose while exhaling and release while inhaling. Don’t hold your breath.
  8. A little practice everyday (10-15 minutes) is better than a big practice once a week. In the beginning, practice the basic standing poses interspersed with short resting poses (like pose of a child). At first try 3 poses repeated 3 times for each practice. If you feel like more, then do more. Try to practice a few of the poses given in class each week. Or ask your teacher for sequences to practice.
  9. Always do a relaxation (Savasana) at the end of practice, even if only for 5 minutes.
  10. As awareness, strength and endurance increase, add more poses and increase the time spent in each pose gradually. With a bit more experience you can replicate the sequence given in class.

PROPS to support your practice:

For a limited time, the Center has some props and books for sale to enhance your practice and to raise $$ for the Center's prop fund, so that we can purchase more needed props, especially bolsters.