Atha: Now | Yoga: Yoga (Union) | Anusasanam: Exposition (comprehensive explanation or display)/Instruction/Discipline/Regiment/Order
We all know, or should know by now, that the only way to truly develop skill and gain mastery in any area, 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.
In Yoga (at least in traditional Ashtanga/Raja Yoga), your practice is composed of many things but is supported by eight primary skill sets that can be found in the guidance of the Eightfold Path.
These skills, when mastered individually and collectively, are what gets you from where you are as a conditioned human-animal (bumbling around in the world propelled by impulses and unconscious drives) to your ultimate goal of becoming a Self-Realized/actualized human being who has full control and understanding of life and of yourself. These eight skills include your:
- Yamas (Your Code Of Conduct): The values, morals, and restraints that you choose to abide by. These include non-violence, truthfulness, self-control, non-stealing, non-greed/non-attachment.
- Niyamas (Your Actions in Support of Your Personal Code of Conduct): Habits and ethical practices that support the values and morals that you choose as your yamas. These include self-purification, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and devotion to a higher path/practice.
- Asanas (Your physical posture, exercises, and care for your body): This is physical postures, poses, 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, internal balance, and maintaining the optimal flow of energy in the body to prepare you for higher limbs of practice.
- Pranayama (Your integration of Body and Mind Through Breath/Life-Force Energy Expansion): Breathing exercises and control of one’s breath/life-force energy, which is the number one essential element for your survival and one of the most powerful tools in your work.
- Pratyahara (Your Mastery/Withdrawal Of Your Senses): Full control and withdrawal of all of your five senses from the external world.
- Dharana (Your Cultivation of a Pure and Well-functioning Mind): Developing self-awareness and general awareness through concentration and a cultivated/focused mind.
- Dhyana (Your Devotion To Connecting With, And Experiencing, Your Highest Expressions): Commitment to creating connection with your Divine aspects/expressions through meditation and developing a clear mind.
- Samadhi (Your Connection With And Full Embodiment of Our Highest Mental Expression): Self-Realization that sets the stage for Union with your Divine aspects/expressions.
The first Yoga Sutra, and lesson, in your practice on this path, ATHA YOGANUSASANAM (as outlined by Guru Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), asks you to understand that the first step on your journey to Self-Realization/actualization is to comprehend that your goal, once you have lived life and gotten to a place where you are ready to walk this inward journey in all earnestness, is achieved through the disciplined practice of the ideas that are expressed in each of the limbs of the Eightfold Path.
This means that you must work to embody and enact these teachings through practice and know them through processing your direct experiences in order to move forward toward your goal as opposed to simply understanding Yoga principles theoretically. The theory is the foundation that you tread upon on your journey, but your moment-to-moment practices and internal understandings are the legs that move you along your path.
Yoga, this sutra reminds all of us, is meant to be lived, not just simply understood. And it is only through the living and being of your practice that you are truly able to become who you need to be in order to achieve your goal of enlightenment.
When you set out to practice Yoga, like all other skills, it is also important to realize that the more of yourself that you invest into it, the more devotion and energy that you exert, the more you 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, I invite you to focus on what you need to do in order to be better at the things that you are working toward in your practice.
What are some areas that need improving for you at the moment?
Remember to have faith in your knowing, that if you continue to make even the smallest movement forward each day, and spend the necessary time to practice self-observation and reflection, you 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 is why even a small step toward your goal makes a difference each day. This is obvious when you practice your asanas and pranayamas for example, as your flexibility, strength, lung capacity, and balance can be visibly observed improving, but this is also true for all of the other limbs on your 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: