We all know, or should know by now, that the only way to truly develop a skill and gain mastery in it, regardless of any natural predisposition or innate talent that we may possess, is to practice that skill. This observation remains true with everything from walking to juggling, to cooking and Yoga/meditation.
(SUTRA (Thread) or Lesson 1-ATHA YOGANUSASANAM)
Atha: Now | Yoga: Yoga (Union) | Anusasanam: Exposition (comprehensive explanation or display)/Instruction/Discipline/Regiment/Order
In Yoga, our practice is composed of eight primary skill sets that can be found in the guidance of the Eight Fold Path. These skills, when mastered individually and collectively, are what gets us from where we are as human animals (bumbling around in the world propelled by impulses and unconscious drives) to our ultimate goal of becoming self-realized/actualized human beings who have full control and understanding of life and of ourselves. These eight skills include our:
- Yamas (Our Code Of Conduct): The values, morals, and restraints that we choose to abide by. These include non-violence, truthfulness, self-control, non-stealing, non-greed/non-attachment.
- Niyamas (Our Actions in Support of our Personal Code of Conduct): Habits and ethical practices that support the values and morals that we choose as our yamas. These include self-purification, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and devotion to a higher path/practice.
- Asanas (Our physical exercises and care for our body): Physical postures and stretching of the body for longevity, optimal health, relaxation, flexibility, strength, and balance (among other benefits). This limb is focused on overall self-care and preservation.
- Pranayama (Our integration of Body and Mind Through Breath): Breathing exercises and control of one’s breath, the number one essential element for our survival and one of the most powerful tools in our work.
- Pratyahara (Our Mastery Of Our Senses): Full control of all of our five senses.
- Dharana (Our Cultivation of a Pure and Well-functioning Mind): Developing self-awareness and general awareness through concentration and a cultivated mind.
- Dhyana (Our Devotion To Connecting With, And Experiencing, Our Highest Expressions): Commitment to creating connection with our Divine aspects/expressions.
- Samadhi (Our Connection With And Full Embodiment of Our Highest Expression): Union with our Divine aspects/expressions.
The first Yoga Sutra, and lesson in our practice on this path, ATHA YOGANUSASANAM (as outlined by Gugu Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), asks us to understand that the first step on our journey to self-realization/actualization is to comprehend that our goal is achieved through disciplined practice of the ideas that are expressed in each of the limbs of the Eightfold Path.
This means that we must work to embody and enact these teachings in order to move forward toward our goal as opposed to simply understanding these teachings theoretically. Theory is the foundation that we tread upon on our journey, but our moment to moment (now) practices are the legs that move us along our path. Yoga, this sutra reminds us, is meant to be lived, not just simply understood. And it is only through the living and being of our practice that we are truly able to become who we need to be in order to achieve our goals.
When we set out to practice Yoga, like all other skills, it is also important to realize that the more of ourselves that we invest into it, the more devotion and energy that we exert, the more we will gain in return.
Take, for example, the development of another type of skill such as cooking, which was mentioned earlier in this post. If you want to become a masterful cook, you will not only have to spend time becoming familiar with cooking tools and ingredients, but you will also have to devote thousands of hours to exploring and developing the necessary techniques, handling and safety procedures, and taste pallet required to transform these ingredients into something delicious (and/or nutritious). You will have to spend your days, nights, and afternoons in the kitchen crafting different meals, in your home or library reading countless books, devote hundreds of hours to reviewing video instructions from numerous sources, and you will have to experiment with what you learn in order to even gain basic mastery of your desired skillset.
Your Yoga practice is no different.
And, fortunately, you will have your entire life to put in the work that is necessary to achieve your goal.
So, this week, let us focus on what we need to do in order to be better at this thing that we are working toward in our practice.
What are some areas that need improving for you at the moment?
In my practice, I can think of a few things, but I have faith, and knowing, that if I continue to make even the smallest movement forward each day, and spend the necessary time to practice self-observation and reflection, I can (and will) get better in all of these areas.
It is pretty much a fact at this point that if you do something for long enough, and with consistent enough effort, you will get better at it, which I why even a small step toward your goal makes a difference each day. This is obvious when we practice our asanas and pranayamas for example, as our flexibility, strength, and balance can be visibly observed improving, but this is also true for all of the other eight limbs on our path as well.
Today, I invite you to reflect upon what areas you can start focusing on in your Yoga practice to make even a small improvement in some way.
What are some things that you need to do in order to build the necessary internal or external skills required to move you forward toward your goal of self-realization/actualization?
If you are pressed for time, know that even a few minutes of effort will get you closer to where you want and need to be.
You can use the short meditation included below as your starting point for reflection on this topic:
10 Minute Guided Meditation
And as you move forward with this week’s prompt, please remember that even 5 minutes a day is moving you forward in the direction that you desire to go/grow.
* Please be sure to document your insights and/or take-aways from this post in your journal or sketchbook as a part of our meditation and practice for this week, and to be sure to check in on this site, or on my Linked-In or Twitter pages, for periodic updates throughout the week.
Lastly, be sure to join me for this week’s reflection on Saturday!
Thank you for reading and take care for now! I hope that you will create a beautiful rest of your day and a spectacular week ahead.