by Morgan Webert
I’ve just returned to the Northern Beaches after six months away and am glowing with joy to be back! It’s always interesting to leave somewhere and come back again, to see and hear about all that has changed and notice all that’s remained the same. As I’m catching up with people I keep hearing them say “so much has happened” in a tone that implies they’re surprised at how much has changed in six months. And in these moments I’m reminded how easily we overlook the change in our life as it is happening because it so often occurs subtly and slowly. But the fact that life changes is, after all, about the only thing in life that won’t ever change.
I recently began a nine month yoga anatomy course with renowned author Leslie Kaminoff, and in one class we discussed how much the breath can teach us about our attitude toward change, particularly when we frame it with our yoga practice. When it comes to breath we are generally either in a state of ease and flow, restriction and resistance or conscious intention and effort. Likewise, in every moment life is changing, and we can be in either a state of ease, resistance or conscious engagement with these changes. Often the way we breath in a situation correlates to how we think and feel about that situation.
So how do we frame this with regards to yoga practice? Let’s first remember that yoga is a practice, implying continuous repetition. We don’t just do it once and reach samadi enlightenment. We must come back to our practice again and again in order to cultivate the qualities we aspire towards. And once we have these qualities we must continue to practice in order maintain them. A constant dance with the continues changes of life.
Our great guide for Yoga practice is the Sadhana Pada of the Yoga Sutras. Sadhana means practice and Pada means foot or chapter in this case. In this chapter, written 2000 years ago, Patanjali outlined a path of yoga practice (kriyas) accessible for the average person like you or I, the landowner as they used to say. These guidelines remain very applicable today. Patanjali begins the chapter with three requirements for a yoga practice: tapah, svadhyaya and ishvara–pranidhanani (II.1). Tapah means intensity (fire) in practice. Svadhaya means personal, self study and application of the knowledge. Isvara refers to the omniscient self, or god within and pranidhanani means surrender or perfect aligning of attention.
These requirements encompass the yogic attitude toward the inevitable and constant changing of life, and leads us on a path of peace and liberation. These requirements, as Leslie Kaminoff so astutely pointed out, are just like the famous serenity prayer. Ishvara–pranidana, surrender to the god within, grants us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change. Tapah, fire and dedication in practice, grant us the courage to change the things we can. And svadhyaya, self study, gives us the wisdom to know the difference.
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