The other day someone commented on my posting on what we do all day here in Mysore following the morning practice by saying – “but I thought yoga was 99% practice and 1% theory”. And yes that is true – however the statement doesn’t refer to 99% physical practice, it refers to all the seven other limbs of Ashtanga yoga in addition to asana (the third limb). So yoga is not only the physical asana practice we do for 2hours each morning, it is also part of everything we do and think during the whole day.
For example, the first two limbs of Ashtanga Yoga – Yamas and Nyiamas (which I mentioned in my previous posting) relate to how we behave towards ourselves as well as to out surroundings. Without adhering to these principles we cannot say that we are practising yoga. So yoga really becomes a lifestyle, a way of living of thinking and behaving. The first four limbs (yama, nyiama, asana and pranayama) relate much to the “outside” the world around us, whereas the four last limbs (Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi) relate more to our “inner” world, the withdrawal of senses, focus, mediation and a state of bliss. All the limbs together have the purpose of quieting the mind.
Sharath said during his weekly conference yesterday that “The quieting of the mind can only come through the development of certain qualities. By reading many books we can acquire knowledge but we gain no experience. Through practising the eight limbs of yoga – over many many years – we can gain the experience that allows to quieten the mind. But yoga happens slowly from within, though practice and dedication. Yoga has no certificate, it is a process of change that happens within you when you practice.”
Sharath elaborated on the importance of asanas for the spiritual practice: ” Asana is an important tool as it brings stability to the body. If the body is unstable the mind will be the same. If the body is ‘sick’ or ‘stiff’ it is difficult to concentrate. Asana is meant to cure illnesses, weaknesses and remove stiffness from the body in order for the mind to settle. Primary series – Yoga chikista – cures the body while Intermediate series – Nadi Shodana – purifies the nervous system.” Asana however has to be combined with vinyasa krama – meaning the coordination of movement and breath and keeping an exact number of breaths in and between each posture.
So how does the calm mental state finally arise? Well, unfortunately there’s no quick fix…. Guruji said that to perfect an asana it needed to be practised at least 1000 times…that means three years at least if one sticks to a traditional six day a week practice. And now we’re only talking primary series.
Last week we were also told in yoga philosophy class that Pranayama (the fourth limb) should not be practised unless asana is perfect. Perfect, according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is if we can sit in a position for 3 hours without pain. Pranayama – specific breathing techniques learnt to purify the body and mind. However, if the body is “impure” – which it is before doing asana practice, then pranayama has no effect or it can have the opposite effect. Sharath mentioned yesterday that ” Pranayama can cure many diseases, but done improperly without the guidance of a teacher, it can invite many unwanted diseases.” He also underlined that the breath done during asana practice is NOT Ujjayi breath, it is deep breathing with sound. The breath called Ujjayi is a specific pranayama technique which involved breath retention and is different from the breath we use in asana practice. Sharath said that there had been a misunderstanding when students had asked Guruji if the Ujjayi was the breath used in practice.
Now I have to run to sanskrit and yoga philosphy class which I attend three times a week in addition to the chanting classes we are obliged to take. More thoughts will follow on these specific topics – specifically the topic of yoga and religion – something that has been on my mind these last few days. To be continued…