My teacher, Dave, is a wonderful storyteller. One of the stories that I remember him telling is about the asana practice. I don’t remember it exactly, but will give you the gist, and embellish as I see fit to enhance the story.
He said that yoga is a journey, and that journey starts at the bank of a wide river. The path that you need to be on is on the other side of the river. Fortunately for you, there is a rowboat on the shore nearby. You get in the boat and start rowing to the other side. The river is wide, and it takes you some time to get to the other bank. Eventually, however, you arrive on the other bank. Now it is time to get out of the boat and continue upon your journey. The river represents the obstacles that are presented in your yoga practice. The rowboat is the asana practice that you do daily. It is just a vehicle to take you where you need to be. When you arrive at the far shore, you need to get out of the boat and continue your journey. Once on dry land, you no longer need the boat. What good is sitting in the boat on the other shore, or even worse, continuing to row with the bow of the boat pressed against the shore. When your physical practice reaches the other shore. When your body is in a place of balance. When you can sit for long periods of time without your body distracting you. When you are healthy and strong and flexible, it is time to leave the asana practice behind and continue on the journey. To often, many yogis keep sitting in the boat, ignoring the path before them. That path is the one that leads to Paranayama (breathe extension- retention), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), and Dhyana (meditation). These are the higher limbs of the eight limbs of yoga (ashtanga yoga). Being stuck doing the same asana day after day with no awareness of where it is leading causes many yogis to be frustrated, lose focus, or discontinue their practice.
The reason that I decided to write about this now is that in the last few days, I have encountered people who have expressed some of these feelings about their practice. They felt bored or disheartened. They do not see the path before them. I tried to point the way, and explain my view on how to take the practice away from the physical, and make it about the breathing, and the bandhas, and the drsti. The repetition of the asana practice is useful only as long as it brings your body to the place of quiet. B.K.S. Iyengar says that “The practice of asanas purges the body of its impurities, bringing strength, firmness, calm, and clarity of mind.” To often, I feel that asana is being practiced without the proper intent to bring this calm. It is being used only for the enhancement of physicality. I always tell my classes that yoga is like a buffet. You can choose what you put on your plate, and what you don‘t. You can accept or reject any aspect of the practice. The yoga buffet includes asana, breathing, chanting, good works, knowledge, meditation, mindfulness, body awareness, philosophy, and much more.
Asana practice is just one small aspect of a huge practice. If that is all that is on your plate though, you are not being nourished…….
Much gratitude to my teacher Dave for his inspiring stories and teaching.