Focused, committed, devoted, discipline; or as Sharath calls them, the 4d’s. In order for the practice of yoga to have an effect on the practitioner it requires a lot of uninterrupted focus. Uninterrupted focus takes a lot of energy, keeping your mind and breath focused for extended periods of time, takes effort and discipline. The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is built gradually into it’s full form, it evolves in intensity as the practitioner evolves with it. There is no cutting corners, this practice is aimed at having an impact on your mind and your nervous system, it works from within.
My teacher Sharath endlessly repeats that asana without breathing is just circus. I appreciate this phrase now more then ever. Being able to practice again regularly after a year of trying to recover from injury and practicing keeping all my focus on trying to protect my body, I feel like I have finally woken up out of a very deep sleep. Sharath also says that everybody can do this practice except lazy people. Laziness manifests on the mat as unwillingness to fully commit. It’ is more beneficial to do less and be fully present with a streamline focus then trying to do a full practice with lack of focus on the movement of the breath. It’s hard to exert full mental awareness, especially when our lives are projected outwards and our brains and our senses are constantly being offered a distraction. Mental focus is a muscle, you have exercise it everyday.
The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is a 6 days a week practice, you take one day of rest the other days you commit to a disciple. If you are a beginner you work your way gradually into a six day practice. You learn an asana at a time, you learn to focus your attention on your breath, your eyes on a specific place, and hold your body in stillness, in small increments. You start with one posture and then you build on that each day. One day you will only have focus for one breath, another day you will make it through 5 breaths. You learn overtime that you can always start again. With this method of work you learn that if you put the 4 D’s to it you can achieve anything you want, because if you can learn to control your mind for one breath you can learn to stretch that to five breaths, then to 20, 50, 100….. It is a process and it can be draining to tame the ‘monkey mind’ but that is why it is important to be reminded that this practice is a lifelong process. Gradually the practitioner learns to hold the mind in place and allows it to stay on the breath, in this stillness the body can learn to coordinate it’s movement to the breath. This acts as magic on the nervous system. True practice feels like you have been sedated. Pratyahara is the moving inwards of the senses, at the end of a focused practice the practitioner should experience a deep sense of inner connection. Guruji always says to not speak about your practice, and to stay silent when you are done practicing. This is precious advice. So much magic unfolds within when the effects of practice begin to settle. Savasana is very important for this, it allows for the energy generated during the practice to collect and reunite with the physical body.
Asana practice is not something to give for granted, it can do wonders, it’s very powerful and it must be treated with full respect! The slow and gradual way in which I was taught gave me a profound respect for the process. The process allows the practitioner to slowly integrate the changes.
“Asanas are like medicine in more ways than we realize. They should be prescribed slowly and cautiously, as they have the potential to alter our characters in ways we may not anticipate. Nor are we aware of the challenges that these changes can facilitate on a social and cultural level. Thus, it’s always best to move forward with consideration. As my teacher once said, ‘You wouldn’t open your medicine cabinet and take all the medicine at once!’ “ from an article by Magnolia Zuniga.