Many yoga students are seduced by the popular images of yoga found in magazines, websites, blogs and videos: Beautiful yogis suspended in breathtaking asanas, their bodies lean and muscular, their countenance filled with spiritual enlightenment.
What these popular images fail to convey, however, is that at one point these yogis struggled as beginners to nail an Ardha Chandrasana or a beautiful Urdhva Dhanurasana. They did not step away from the toils of daily life and onto a mat to find instant bliss nor perfection.
It took hours, days, weeks, months, indeed years, for these yogis to achieve their inspiring poses — their state of focus.
If there is one thing that best captures the spirit of the Yoga Sutras, it’s the idea — the importance — of a daily practice.
You can buy the most expensive eco-friendly yoga mats and the most fashion-forward yoga pants and tops, but if you do not unroll your mat every day, you will not transform your practice — nor your life.
Yoga teachers say: Practice once a week, and you’ll get sore. Practice three times a week, and you’ll get FIT. Practice every day and you will transform your life.
Ashtanga master David Swenson said: “Practicing yoga is a constant evolution.”
Think about it: Your life is a constant evolution. You are not static. You do not wake every day with the same outlook — indeed the same physical state. Some days, you pop out of bed cheerful and chirpy; other days your worries and anxieties weigh you down. You may awaken one day confident you can run 10 miles; other days feeling sore, beaten down. You are a young person one day; an older person another day of your life.
A daily yoga practice gives you insight into your ever-changing body — and after all, we are embodied spiritual beings so what better way to tap those insights.
In the beginning, we may step onto the mat with little strength or flexibility, but over time — over the years of daily practice — yoga reveals what is possible within us. A once impossible pose suddenly becomes possible. In the process, we learn that the yoga mat reflects back on our lives. A long-held, stubborn perspective about someone or something suddenly changes under the lens of patience and kindness. A long-held grudge or anger suddenly melts in our hearts as we practice surrender, letting go.
A daily yoga practice teaches us that what we do on the mat is what we do off the mat. Our bodies — our attitudes as we approach a challenging pose — is a reflection of how we live our lives.
Do we attack the pose no holds-bar; or do we coward with fear and back away? Do we cultivate strength and flexibility trusting that when the time is right — poof we’ll be up in handstand or crow — the same way we will have faced the challenges that meet us away from the mat.
A daily yoga practice empowers us with the spiritual confidence gained from progressing through the asanas – from not being able to touch our toes, to touching our legs with our noses. We come to realize that we achieved that, not through brute strength, but through patience and compassion; through stepping back, honoring the knowledge that we are not ready for something, and through being present in that moment’s breath.
We create that every day on our yoga mats. Every day when you step onto your yoga mat, you are a different version of yourself. You can do the same yoga sequence day in and day out for years, but it will be different each time if you practice every day. That’s because every day, you step onto your mat a different person.
To subscribe to a regimented system of yoga would be to cheat yourself out of your own physical and spiritual journey. But yet, even in a regimented form, yoga breaks the constraints and leads to the truth.
Truth in yoga terms, that is. Satya.
In his seminal book “Yoga Beyond Belief,” yoga master Ganga White writes of the students who ask the age-old question heard by yoga teachers worldwide: How long will it take …..how long will it take before I can stand on my head or do a perfect Tittibhasana…you will in the blank.
White’s response: It will take the rest of your life.
That’s because yoga is not a destination. It’s a journey. We don’t master crow or downward facing dog and put the mat away. We unroll the mat each day and do the asanas over and over tapping into the person we are that moment. That means being present at that moment, not where were last week, last month, last year, but at that moment of the breath.
That mastery — maybe just a glimpse of — the true self comes about with practice –abhyasa — and non-attachment –vairagya. These core tenets of yoga can only be experienced with a daily practice.
The Sutras tell us that to achieve a state of yoga, we must practice abhyasa — that persistent effort. But that is counter to the way many of us live our lives: we want instant gratification; we want to go up in a handstand now!
The Sutras (1.14) teach us that to become well established, yoga needs to be done for a long time, without a break…with a full heart.
The more we practice, the deeper we delve – to our potential, our core. We do that with vairagya — or non-attachment. We let go of our attachment to the goal; what we do on the mat is a result of our practice, not the goal. We let go of fears and desires and stay with the breath — gradually breaking through our obstacles, our preconceived notions of what we are capable of.
We must approach our practice — our mats — with zeal — the tapas the Sutras tell us is necessary to sustain a practice over a lifetime.
Ivey DeJesus is a yoga teacher and daily yoga practitioner. Follow her on Twitter @iveydejesus and on her blog ThePurpleMat.wordpress.com