Monday, July 02, 2007

YOGA | Trying to read the YogaSutra

Since attending the Intermediate Power Yoga Workshop recently, I've picked up The Essential YogaSutra again. YogaSutra stands as one of the essential text for aspiring students of yoga. One would think book-reading will be the easiest part of yoga practice. Alas, I've been reading this book very slowly since December last year. I am an inexperienced student, and a lot in the YogaSutra still eludes me. I will need to re-read the book many times before I can claim to understand it any better. Still, one has to start somewhere.

The version I've finally settled on is the translation by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Michael Roache and his partner Christie McNally. Roache and McNally attempt to make the YogaSutra accessible to the common readers, and they provided some very down to earth commentary on the sanskrit verses. Still, it isn't as smooth going as I have hoped it would be. Then, there are some parts of the text that just make sense immediately.

I.12~13 Stopping it requires constant practice,
and giving up your attachments.
Constant practice means
striving to be there.


In a general sense, "constant practice" here means the willingness to work very hard to reach our perfect destiny, far beyond the mistakes our mind now makes. Quite simply, we will never be able to complete all the hard work needed to reach our destiny if we don't have a very strong motivation for doing so.

This motivation comes to all of us at some point in our lives. Most often it is some kind of personal disaster or tragedy: the person we most love dies or leaves us, we find out we have cancer ― anything that wakes us up to what really matters. People are in pain, and it's up to us to help them. It is our destiny to be the one who helps them.

We begin with a daily inner practice. It will always include three essential elements: being careful never to hurt others; learning to pray or meditate; and relentlessly exploring the question of where things really came from.

This part sums up the motivation that drives my own practice. Yes, I did come to yoga during a turning point in my life. Yes, this passage speaks of what motivates me for a spiritual practice.

While it's great to be able to see progress in your practice, it does take time and you just have to allow the poses to unfold in its own time. In a previous post, Stefanie commented that gardening is similar to yoga, and I agree: Yoga is like gardening ― you can provide the best conditions for growth ― good quality seeds, sufficient sunlight, good soil, enough water and fertilizer ― but after you have done all you can, you just have to step aside and allow nature to take its course.

Similarly, we need to make great efforts with our practice ― provide the optimum conditions for growth ― after that, we step aside, "giving up your attachments" as they say. Attachments here refer to wanting events as how we prefer them, rather than things as they are. It is asked of us to trust, to surrender to the unfolding of karma.

For us mere mortals, it can often seem like the hardest thing to do. How do you work for something without wanting to see results? Surely we need a goal to work for? I often find it frustrating to try so hard and not see the reward. And those are the moments when I find myself losing direction in my practice, when I focus on the rewards rather than the practice itself.

But note: there are work to be done even as you step back to allow nature to take its course; You still need to tend to the garden: weeding, watering, adding the fertilizer, keeping the pests away. Similarly, you still have to practice, to pay attention, and keep the negative influences at bay. Yoga demands this balance of effort with surrender. No wonder I am so lousy at balance poses.

T. S. Eliot reminds us: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

So, let us just try. Let go. For now, I'm trying to keep these thoughts in mind: "We begin with a daily inner practice. It will always include three essential elements: being careful never to hurt others; learning to pray or meditate; and relentlessly exploring the question of where things really came from." That's already quite a lot for a lifetime.


LK said...

I'm interested in your yoga progress. I started a few months ago, and am struggling to keep up the practice. It is bringing up a lot of emotions, which sort of surprised me!

darkorpheus said...

I'm wondering if I am really progressing in my practice. I guess I'm going back to basics right now, trying to figure out stuff.

If your practice is bringing up a lot of emotions, it may mean you are feeling the effects of yoga - which is a good thing.

Yoga Journal has a few articles on dealing With emotions during Yoga by yoga teachers:
Sarah Powers and John Friend.

I agree, it can be a struggle to keep up the practice. It takes time away from other things in my life - especially my social life. "Is it worth it?" I often ask myself.

When I'm agitated or depressed - that's also when I most want to skip class. But that's also when I need yoga the most. Sometimes the best thing I can do for myself is just to show up for class.

Take care, LK. Just keep showing up. But if you think we need a break, it's okay to rest, and come back later.

Stephanie said...

I have always wanted to practice Yoga. I think it would be great to help relieve a little stress in my life. I just never knew where to start.

Thanks for all the Discworld advice. I tell you, Pratchett's website had me more confused than I already was. Truthfully, I'll probably go in series order. I think that would appeal to me more than published...and I'll probably start with the witches. But who knows!

darkorpheus said...

Stephanie - Hey, nice of you to swing by. :)

I know of people who first started yoga for various reasons - to lose weight, to de-stress, to get a more flexible body. But as they practice more, they begin to feel the benefits in other areas of their life.

I guess one way to start yoga is just to find a studio or gym that offers it and sign up. First step is always the hardest.

No problem with the Discworld thing. But you can really just dive in and pick up any Discworld book at random.

After a while, all the Discworld novels will melt into one gigantic epic world in your head.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post. Keep tending the garden! It takes a long time sometimes before things look like anywhere near what you imagine it will, but I think that's where faith comes in. And trust too. Only two of the most difficult things in life, eh?

LK said...

Good words, Dark Orpheus! You are so right -- when it's hardest is sometimes when you need to show up most.

Keep up the yoga posts! They're very inspiring.