March 2007 – Putting More Yoga Into Your Yoga


Practicing more than just asana

Yoga is not about asana, really.  Yoga is about finding that true nature within ourselves and everyone, that place of inner peace, of being comfortable with who we are, where we are, and knowing we are following our dharma no matter how awkward we may feel!  Asana is not that, however asana can lead us toward that place by releasing tension and toxins from the body and by keeping the body healthy and free of disease.  This is the primary purpose of asana; if we are ill we must put our energy into healing ourselves, our physical body, before we have the energy to put into a spiritual practice.  Asana is not a spiritual practice, but while on the mat practicing asana you can begin the journey of the inner work of yoga; more mindfulness and awareness.

Ashtanga yoga takes your attention!  Especially when you are new, the physicality of this practice grabs you and keeps your attention—and especially for those who are tight.  Pattabhi Jois says tight people practice more yoga while doing yoga than flexible people!  However after we learn the flow of Ashtanga yoga, the physical practice no longer takes all our attention—at this point—this is the point we have the option to go deeper, to move beyond the physical plane!  Instead many of us get caught in the monkey mind; starting to worry about our day, how we look, what we are going to eat when we are done, whatever drama is currently in our lives.  To progress this is where you make the conscious-concentrated effort to bring your attention to the present moment.   The easiest way to do this work is to put your attention on the inner elements of Ashtanga yoga:  Breathing and Bandhas.

After you find your physical alignment in a pose, make the conscious effort to combine the breathing and bandhas into the asana for at least three breaths.  If the monkey mind catches you before you get those three breaths in with total awareness, then stay there-in that pose and try again!
This continued effort throughout your asana practice will make you better at staying present when off the mat, this will keep you out of the games of the monkey mind and thus lead to inner and outer happiness!

Synchronicity–Ride the breath
When you keep your focus in your practice—practice more yoga in your yoga—you begin to feel a synchronicity that arises—it arises when we keep steady even breathing and move our body according to our breath (the breath rules!).  This movement/synchronicity is a moving meditation.
Tristhana, three places of attention, is an integral part of the Ashtanga yoga system; these elements keep more yoga into our yoga.  The three places of attention are posture, breathing system, and looking place.  Posture includes asana and bandhas, breathing system is the moving and breathing synchronization of vinyasa, and looking place is our Drishti that keeps us focused and helps keep us out of the monkey mind by not looking around and stimulating the senses.
Pay attention this practice to feel the moving meditation, putting mind yoga into your body yoga.

Repetition is what forces the magic to rise
The repetition of the Ashtanga Method is what allows us to go deeper-to move beyond the physical realm in our asana practice, to practice a moving meditation.  Many yogis do not understand this repetitious nature and speak critically of it.  If you find yourself bored with the idea of doing the same routine of asana then you are being shallow with your practice, perhaps seeking entertainment (constantly seeking external stimulation or entertainment is a way of avoiding being with ourselves!)?  Go deeper, go beyond the physical realm, seek depth through your breath and awareness.
Nancy says we sometimes need to do “Sloppy Yoga”, the mind can get so wrapped up in all the physical alignments and our aches and pains that we are feeding the monkey while doing yoga (too much worrying over the little aches actually holds us back in our practice)!  The repetitious nature allows you to not be in your head while practicing, your muscles have their own memory—known as muscle memory—when we do a movement repeatedly our muscles remember the movement (as if they have a mind of their own!), this allows us the freedom to not have to think about the posture—or the next posture, and practice a moving meditation.  As you practice be in your body, trust it, allow your body to flow through the practice while you place your attention on steady even breathing while amidst the challenging Ashtanga flow.

How to put more yoga into anything you are doing
How we put more yoga into anything we are doing is to be aware of where our head/mind is; remember the mind has more projections than there are dust particles in a sunbeam!  Thoughts will run us around in circles if we let them, as yogis we need to stop struggling against our thoughts and realize that honesty and humor are more inspiring and helpful than forcing our body or mind to achieve some goal.  The point is not to get rid of these thoughts, but rather to see their true nature., in reality our thoughts are like dream images—illusions—not real, not solid.  They are, as meditators say, “just thinking” and you don’t have to believe everything you think!

Row row row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
Life is but a dream.

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