Practice is the Guru
Practice is meant to unveil our inner knowledge by lifting the veil of ignorance, brought about by misperception of reality due to ego created limitations, and ignite the bright light of knowledge within. It’s a process that requires devotion and practice. As my Guru describes it “yoga is like turning the light on inside.”
yoganganusthanad asuddhiksaye jananadiptir avivekahyateh II.28
The practice and inquiry into different components of Yoga gradually reduces obstacles such as misapprehension. Then the lamp of perception brightens and the distinction between what perceives and what is perceived becomes increasingly evident. Now, everything can be understood without error.
Sometimes I get lazy, I don’t want to touch my chin to my shin, or keep my gaze to the tip of my nose, or allow the breath to take it’s full cycle, or lift all the way up to jump back. I tell myself it’s enough you made it to the mat, just drag it along and get done with it. Other times I get aggressive and competitive with myself. I want it all to be perfect, I test my limits. I tell myself it must be perfect. Other times I just give in, I let go of the idea of practice, I join my hands in front of my heart and I recite the mantra. I stand as a vessel and I feel no expectation, I’m not aware of the perfection or lack of perfection, I’m in the moment to moment evolving process of my breath taking shape in forms this vessel is making. The exterior falls, and it’s just pure consciousness. Then practice moves beyond lazy, aggressive, me, them…it’s just energy moving with energy. And that is when light comes through.
Yesterday I was re-reading old journals and I realized that no matter how many times I felt the laziness, or the boredom, or the anger, or the excitement, or the aggressiveness…list goes on…growth happened. Apart from the practices I had in my month stay in Mysore,, which are always at another level, all the other practices had gone pretty unnoticed to me. Looking back I was wrong to think that.
The practice of ashtanga yoga can at times feel physically brutal and mentally challenging. So much so, that when we give up in the face of putting the effort, there is a sense of “is this going to work if I don’t go all in with it?”. The answer is:
First of all what is ‘all in?’. And secondly we must not forget the end point of this practice which is to come closer to our light, which is same in all of us and is God (religious free God, higher knowledge, pure consciousness, egoless state of being kind of God- Brahma). Therefore this is a spiritual practice, it is embodied in a physical form only because as humans, we are bound by the physical, and we must move past it to access the spirit. Asana practice is a way to communicate the spirit through the physical. When we come to the mat what matters is the intention, the presence of our heart in the physical showing up. That’s why we begin with a prayer of devotion, we bow down to the light of the Guru, so he can remove the ignorance of the mind, and practice from a place of spirit.
My teacher Eddie Stern posted a beautiful translation of the fist 2 verses of the opening mantra:
I will pray at the Lotus feet of the source of the Guru,
I pray for the great blessing, the radiance, happiness in the purity of my mind/intellect. heart.
Leading me to happiness is the jungle dweller, who removes the fetters of the mind.
The cyclic illusionary world is poison. Poison keeping me in ignorance. Lead me to peace.
By adhering to the commitment of the practice no effort is ever lost. Looking back at notes and personal journals I am reminded how giving this practice is. It truly never gives up on you. No matter, the attitude you give it, it always has something in store for you, if you devote your time to it - mentally, emotionally, spiritually or physically - the walls of ignorance are continuously being broken down so the light of knowledge can come through. If you don’t give up on her, she doesn’t give up on you. Even the times I’ve doubted her, she was always there for me. This intimate relationship to it teaches to relate to oneself and others. It informs what kind of relationships to build. Ultimately you come to understand that Practice is the Guru. It is accepting yet challenging, it’s ever evolving yet always the same, it’s steady. The outside teacher you may have is just a vessel, a mirror, a physical reminder of that, he or she keeps you accountable to showing up for yourself.
Im so grateful for this practice and for all my teachers. Have faith in one thing and let that thing inform all else.