Last week one of my students approached me after class very distraught because he hadn’t been able to take asana practice (physical postures) for two days. As a busy father with a full-time job, his days had been full of activity from dawn until dusk and he was absolutely exhausted. Knowing that I, too, am a busy parent, he posed a question I often hear from students, “How many days per week do you practice yoga?” to which I replied, “Every day.” “How do you find the time?” he asked. This is no doubt an interesting question. Of course, he was referring to the number of days I step onto my yoga mat to practice asana (poses). But this sutra reminds us of the goal of yoga, and defines correct practice as steadiness of mind—that is doing whatever it is we’re doing with a steady, calm and focused mind. This means that ultimately we can practice yoga on or off our yoga mat, everywhere, every day.
Asana is one of eight limbs or practices on the path of yoga as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. While asana practice is important, it is only one part of the overall practice. It begins the process of training our mind to focus, serves to keep our body healthy to relieve our mind from being consumed with health issues, and balances our energy so that we’re more effective individuals in society. It helps keep our mind free of thoughts that consume us and cause us stress. It is important to plan for your asana practice so you have enough time, but if that window of opportunity dwindles, something is always better than nothing. Even if you don’t have time for a full practice, try and do at least sun salutations and sit for a ten minute meditation. But, if even that doesn’t happen, remember that steadiness of mind is the practice, and that allowing stressful thoughts caused by not practicing asana to overcome our happiness is NOT the practice. When we cannot make it onto our yoga mat for any reason, we can learn to take a deep breath, practice non-attachment, and let it go. This in itself is correct practice.
Sthitau yatno bhyasah (steadiness is correct practice). What does it mean to be a yogi? Yogis are people who function in today’s world with more awareness of their actions in daily life. Are you aware of your thoughts coming from a positive, compassionate place? Are you aware of your words being true and kind? Are you aware of your actions and the intentions behind those actions being selfless, keeping the welfare of others in mind? Are you conscious of the food you eat and of the way you treat the environment?
If we go a couple of days without practicing asana we often start to feel down physically……and because the mind and the body are connected, this physical pain can soon turn into mental distress. But, when we make a commitment to yoga practice we know that if we fall off the proverbial bike we’ll soon be back on it. It is through these trials that we must put what we practice in asana class to the test—steadying our mind, and directing the activity of our mind from a disturbed state into a calm, serene one. Even if you’re not in triangle pose you can be in right-minded pose, and be aware of your positive actions in the world as a father, mother, son, daughter, sibling, friend, or colleague. As one of my favorite yoga teachers Rusty Wells often says, “Roll up the yoga mat, but never roll up the yoga.”