Lessons Learned Away From the Mat
It was almost two months since I rolled out my yoga mat. Dust should have been flying through the air. Since I had stopped teaching and in the process of closing my yoga studio, my asana practice has been replaced with other activities.
I was still getting exercise by hiking with my husband. We were preparing for our upcoming hike to the Gohmuk Glacier in India, where the Ganges River begins high up in the Himalayas. We had been slowly building up our stamina, the number of miles walked and the difficulty level. I could feel it though. My neck and back were aching regularly. I was no longer sitting ram-rod straight. My stubbornness kicked in as I thought to myself, even though I am not doing my asana practice, I am still doing yoga. I still meditated when time allowed. I did pranayama. I followed as many of the yamas and niyamas as possible. Let's face it though. I wasn't kidding anyone.
A few months ago, I fell into despair about how people in the U.S. viewed yoga. It had been itching at me since the beginning of the year. Yoga is not the asana practice, at least not it alone. Everywhere you turn, yoga studios, gyms, videos on YouTube, yoga was only about the physical practice. What happened to the eight limbs of yoga?
The 8 Limbs of Yoga were laid out in the Sutras of Patanjali. They are:
1- The Yamas. These are the moral codes of how to live, how you interact with others. They include ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (sexual restraint), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
2- The Niyamas. Codes of personal conduct. Saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline), svadhyaya (spiritual studies), and Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to God).
3- Asana. Physical practice.
4- Pranayama. Yogic breathing techniques.
5- Pratyahara. Withdrawal of the senses.
6- Dharana. Concentration.
7- Dhyana. Meditation.
8- Samadhi. Merging with the divine/God.
Yet, despite my need to rebel against the Westernization of yoga, I lost out. How many times did I tell my students of the benefits of practicing asanas? How many times did I encourage them to practice at home? Here I was intentionally ignoring my mat. It is in that realization, days after the difficulty of making it through sun salutations because of stiff limbs that I learned an important lesson. I had turned my back on yoga.
By choosing to skip my asana practice, I had broken ahimsa, asteya and aparigraha. I had allowed my body to feel the violence of exercise without being prepared for it. I stole the sense of calm and accomplishment I would have after practice. I became possessive of my point-of-view on yoga.
I failed in my niyamas. I was not disciplined.
My pranayama practice was less than what it would have been had I practiced yoga asanas.
My pratyahara, dharana and dhyana would have all been stronger at the end of a session.
And my devotion to God, that ability to be there with the divine, would have been more easily accessible.
My time away from the mat taught me to look at my personal definition of yoga. It gave me a chance to remember that in a world of madness and lack of reasoning, I too am susceptible to its sway. While there is no real balance, and sometimes you have to give your attention to other activities, it is in a cultivation of discipline and in an empty cup, ready to be filled, where we can find ourselves and rediscover those practices most beneficial to our souls.
Susan Kiskis is the publisher for Freedom Journal and author of memoir, Born Fire Dragon. She has a deeply seeded case of wanderlust.