Where do we practice yoga? If we think of yoga as merely a physical practice, then the places we might practice it are limited…at home, the gym, or at the yoga studio. Maybe the adventurous bust a couple poses out in Nature, or at a yoga retreat. Is that where we really practice yoga?
If our yoga is based on the Ashtanga (the eight-fold path of yoga), then where we practice yoga is everywhere, in every moment. In fact, the core of this type of yoga practice is not the physical (or Hatha) component of yoga at all. Some, in their denial of the the physical component as crucial (or even relevant) drop the physical ‘petal’ entirely, focusing on the remaining ‘petals’ of the flower (or more typically on a single one, such as meditation).
Yet yoga is about balance and integration, about union and yoking/joining (its definition means all of these things). The eight petals work together, not alone.
Each is like a crucial ingredient in a recipe; none is more important than the other, for the recipe can only be made with all the ingredients.
I once read an article where the author began by saying “without a home practice, you’re not a real yogi.” Okay, this was maybe just a ‘hook’ that caught a reader’s eye, drew them in to the rest of the article so she could make her main point. Further into the article, she did revise her hook to a slightly more balanced set of words: “A consistent home practice is the essential foundation of the true yoga lifestyle.”
At first glance, this seems like a reasonable statement. Yet I feel some words resonating and others not….’Consistent….practice….foundation…..’ those resonate with me. Others leave me more cold, feel more dischordant…”true yoga lifestyle.” Yet others evoke a blind rebellious response and a feeling of separation (…”a real yogi?!)”
Ugh. Is that fundamentalism I am smelling?
I could get behind something like…’a consistent practice is part of the foundation of a yogic lifestyle.’
As I understand a true yoga lifestyle, it does not include telling others what a real yogi is or does, but instead allows others to discover for themselves what a real yogi is or does. More importantly, it focuses one’s effort and concern on what the practitioner alone does, not on what others do or should do.
That is the beauty of yoga; no one can walk another’s path, or prescribe it for them. The sages have given us the yogic tools and an indication of what a yogic lifestyle might look like…and left the rest for us to determine (each of us, individually and for ourselves only) what that means for us.
Only we can walk our own path, and no one can prescribe it for us. No point along the Path is more advanced than another; we are all on the Path, all not there yet.
(How can I tell we are all not there yet? Because we are each here on this planet).
The manifestation of a ‘true’ yogic practice varies not only by individual, but by where they happen to be along the Path at the time. What a true yogic lifestyle looks like for one person at a certain point along the Path may be different for the same person at another point along the Path. It may look like another person’s idea of a real yogi or a true yogic lifestyle…or not.
If we stick with the fundamentals of a yogic lifestyle as outlined in the Yoga Sutra or the Samhita, then one thing would be for sure:
-We would not be writing articles about yoga, but practicing it, dedicating our lives to it
-We would not be living in the modern, commercial, consumer world as we know it, but in an ashram or in isolation as sannyasin
-We would not be having this discussion at all; I not writing it, nor you reading it
If we tried to live according to the standards and values of Krishnamacharya, we would most likely not be telling others how to really rock the yoga life…like only we can do.
I suggest that to live such a life is almost impossible in this modern world. For anyone desiring to live a devoted life in the yogic or Buddhist manner, living in the modern world is (according to their own teachings and traditions) incompatible with the practice. We’d be quietly practicing or meditating away from the modern world.
So we all fall short of what a theoretically perfect yogi is, or does.
Yet we all orient towards that as a goal, all seek with varying degrees of effort or allowing to approach the ‘real yogi’ we imagine, or the ‘true yogic lifestyle’ that is imputed by us.
All are fingers pointing towards the moon.
All of this is why I hesitate to use the term ‘yogi,’ for myself or others. A yogi is someone (male or female) who has achieved a state of yoga. The real Sanskrit name for a practitioner, an aspirant on the Path of yoga, is sadhaka.
Who am I to know (or say)? I am just one sadhaka.
Who is anyone to know, or say?
That’s what I always loved about yoga, and one of the major things that attracted me to it, and kept me there for it as a lifelong practice;
-In all other belief systems, they ask you to take something on faith, to accept the words of others on what a true X does, or what a real life of Y is like. Yoga does not.
Yoga acknowledges that only you can experience the practice of yoga for yourself.
-Others may provide hints or instructions, but ultimately only the sadhaka can know for themselves whether these practices work or not (and what should or should not be done). Only the sadhaka can experience them.
We know the only way we can, by intimate personal experience, not by the precepts and prescriptions of others.
Yes, we practice yoga…with every breath.
Yes, we practice yoga…in every moment, in every place
That is my current understanding (from this place on the Path) of what this sadhaka does, what this sadhaka’s evolving yogic lifestyle looks like.
The sages and saints may agree with me…or not. Real yogis and those living the true yogic lifestyle might admit the authentic truth of those statements…or not.
All I know, all I can speak for is this one sadhaka, this one aspirant and practitioner. If ever that one fine day comes when I can live the life of yogi, all I will be able to speak for is….just…one…yogi.
‘Noboby right, nobody wrong’
Below is the article from Elephant Journal, by Mary Margaret http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/10/solo-yoga-is-essential-8-alone-time-practice-tips/
Without a home practice, you’re not really a yogi.
This may seem like a controversial opinion, but hear me out.
Taking community classes at a studio is wonderful and recommended, as you always pick up new techniques and poses (and, ideally, inspiration) from each teacher. But the sad fact is that a lot of yoga studio drop-in or membership fees are prohibitively expensive for many of us.
In any case, the key is to practice daily, or as often as possible—on your own. A consistent home practice is the essential foundation of the true yoga lifestyle.
I was fortunate to stumble upon yoga early in life and to spend years honing my home practice, sans yoga mat or any other props or accessories, before ever attending a public class.
In a former life, I was a super busy overachieving yogantrepreneur overloaded with commitments, both in Austin and the San Francisco Bay Area. Ten years ago, I was teaching a dozen classes a week and barely finding time to roll out my own mat at home.
Trust me—I know that a consistent personal practice can feel impossible to maintain.
I also know that without it, every other aspect of life gets more difficult and ultimately falls apart.
When I moved to Guatemala four years ago, the space I suddenly had in my personal and professional life was a luxury, and I found myself meditating and practicing yoga in my room for hours each week.
It wasn’t a struggle; it wasn’t just another item to check off the to-do list.I found myself waking up earlier and naturally gravitating to my cushion or mat. It came naturally.
If this magical mystery is yet to happen in your life, you may need to give it a push. Here are some tips for getting started, over and over again.
1. Start small.
Even just five minutes of sitting in stillness first thing in the morning can make a huge difference in the quality of your day.
You do not need to be skinny and flexible to do yoga. So many people think they have to be all pretzel-bendy in order to do yoga. That’s like saying you need to be strong to lift weights or you need to be fast to run.
No. You start where you are. In time, with regular practice, you will gain flexibility, strength, balance and focus. If you delve deeper, you might even have a spiritual awakening.
2. Find your happy place.
Find the place in your house that works for you. Create space for sitting meditation and for practicing yoga. Decorate an altar if so inspired, with plants, flowers, relics and/or inspiring images of your teachers and the people and places you love.
3. Pick a time and stick to it.
Be disciplined. Set a goal. Five minutes, ten, twenty. Work your way up gradually. To do this, sit in meditation every day. Practice some yoga every day. Soon you’ll find it’s not a burden but an automatic and enjoyable habit.
4. Use guidance.
In lieu of a guru, it is important to work with an experienced teacher in order to have a safe and flourishing home practice. If you don’t have quality yoga teachers available nearby, there are billions of good books, videos and online instructional resources that can help get you started.
5. Study the words of the wise.
Yoga is a vast science that involves a whole lot more than stretching, breathing and meditating. Read all about it. Read the dharma teachings, theTao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita. Read what feeds you.
6. Deepen your practice.
For most of us, the most efficient way to do this is to go on retreat. Take a weekend (or better yet a week, or better yet ten days) to be silent, to practice more frequently and for longer periods than normal, to be alone, to listen to the quiet, to find your balance in the present. If you can’t take a weekend, take a day. If you can’t take a day, take an hour. But try to find some space in your life for retreat.
7. If at first you don’t succeed…
Try, try again! At first, you won’t succeed. It takes time and devotion to built a solid, unwavering practice. When you notice that you’re off track and have gotten away from a steady routine of meditation and yoga in your day-to-day life, start anew.
8. Seriously, start small.
It’s better to practice five to ten minutes of yoga, once or thrice in your busy day rather than wait for the magical time when you will have one free hour to set aside for meditation and relaxation.
That hour will never come. Instead, do yoga in short spurts woven throughout the day, if that’s what works for you, for now.
Don’t delay! Start where you are. Enjoy.
(end of article)
Post Scriptum: If you have never checked it out, take a look at more of Elephant Journal. You can read one or two articles a day for free, and unlimited for a small monthly donation. Lots of good content on a variety of subjects.