The Evolution of My Yoga Practice

NamasteTo Practice is to Evolve

When I started on this path four years ago, I thought of Yoga much like going to the gym or casually playing a sport. It was a great workout that helped me burn calories and improve my overall health while also increasing my confidence as I became more comfortable in my own skin. But as I’ve learned more about Yoga and come to know that the physical postures are only one part of a more comprehensive way of living, I developed a practice with the goal of fully integrating what are known as the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

I’m still not an expert, and I learn more each day. As my understanding and engagement with Yoga progresses, it’s easier to open up and share my practice with the world without fear of judgment or correction. I believe the deep truths of Yoga are free to all honest seekers and practitioners, whether they be recognized teachers, or life-long students. No one has a monopoly on these truths. My knowledge of Yoga isn’t complete (it never will be), and I invite those who have come to a different understanding to share their experiences with me in a spirit consistent with the first two yogic limbs of Yama and Niyama.

Beginning with Bikram

I practiced the 26 postures (Asana) and 2 breathing exercises (Pranayama) of Bikram Yoga for three years before I started to see this iconic system as a true gateway into the integration of the other yogic principles. As I incorporated self-study into my Sadhana, or personal spiritual practice, I realized that for years I was merely going through the motions of the 26×2, oblivious to the transformation that was taking place internally.

After delving into the teachings of other yogis, both Indian and American, I began a home practice outside of the studio that included elements of Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow. As my world was opened to dozens more postures and sequences, I developed an appreciation for the contrasting elements of serene stillness found in the Bikram series and the flowing grace that’s emblematic of the Mysore styles.

Duality, not Dichotomy

I’ve found that stillness opens the door for concentration and meditation through focused observation of the body. The focus starts from within, is projected forward, and is magnified by the cosmic mirror as it’s reflected back and absorbed once more by the body. The focused eye-gaze is known in Yoga by the Sanskrit word drishti.

During periods of flow, when the eyes are continually redirected and the head is repositioned, it can be difficult to focus in the same manner. Instead, these periods of movement can be used to hone mental acuity and awareness. The focus again starts within, but rather than being projected outward, it should be channeled inward, by directing it further through the recess of one’s mind.

Even as a self-identified atheist and secular person, I’ve found the inevitable result of combining stillness with flow to be the complete alignment of the body, mind, and spirit. When it’s experienced, there’s no contradiction: only a clarity of understanding that gives rise to a quiet peace and radiant joy. To me, that’s the beauty of Yoga.

Beginning Your Yoga Practice: Where to Start

first-bikram-classMy journey with Yoga began in 2014, with a Bikram Yoga class in Tempe, Arizona. That one class was so eye-opening that I’ve maintained a regular practice since that day. What I would eventually come to recognize as a Sadhana, or personal spiritual practice, started with a focus only on my physical body, and eventually expanded to include observation and understanding of the mind and my spiritual self as well.

Today, my Sadhana also includes another component: self-study. Although my asana practice still most strongly resembles the classic 26×2 series popularized by Bikram Choudhury, I’ve come to appreciate the writings and teachings of many other acclaimed yogis, especially B.K.S. Iyengar. His 1966 work Light on Yoga has had an enormous impact on my perspective of Yoga, and what it means to live a yogic life.

But there’s much more to Light on Yoga than yogic philosophy. In fact, the majority of the book is written in the form of a practical guide to the practice of yoga asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). If you’re considering taking up a yoga practice of your own, I recommend it as one of the most comprehensive, credible, and accessible works to begin with, along with the guidance of a good teacher. thereu2019s-no-substitute-for-self-study

“Like a streak of lightning the yogi sees light that shines beyond the earth and the heavens. He sees the light that shines in his own heart. He becomes a light unto himself and others.” -B.K.S. Iyengar

As you begin taking the steps necessary to establish a regular practice of yoga asana, remember to act with kindness and humility, speak only truth, and free yourself from the petty judgments and short-sighted schemes of those around you.

Over time, the world will cease to feel threatened by your calm, confident, exceptionalism. As you fully embrace the light inside yourself, so too will the world.

 

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