By Virginia Compton.
Someone recently asked me why I don’t play music when we practise together, and also if I could cut back the philosophy content and chat a little less perhaps?
I explained politely that if this is what they wanted from their practice that’s no problem, but that is not how I view Yoga and so it is not how I teach. Should anyone (including you reading this, yes you!) want a different approach then you need to go to someone other than me. I share what I practice myself. In my view the focus on the breath is essential to the whole practice, so if for example there is music being played surely you cannot properly focus on the breath or the body experience, because the music serves as a distraction. Of course, as humans we rather like distractions because they help us to feel more comfortable and to take our attention nicely away from the present moment reality, discomfort and challenges.
We are all completely unique and individual, therefore your practice should be adapted for your individual needs. Some will be suited to more challenging physical movement and others will need a more grounding approach. When you come to a group class you come to learn for yourself, for your own needs, and I ask that everyone there is accommodating and accepting of the needs of the whole group and patient as we pick apart what everyone needs, as well as aiming to create an understanding for everyone of why we are doing what we are doing, instead of playing a mindless game of follow teacher with no meaning or explanation whatsoever. (This also highlights the usefulness of a private session. This is also why I no longer offer weekly classes. Now I just offer longer workshop sessions, private sessions and retreats). What I guess I am saying here is that the physical practice of yoga, from my perspective, also embraces the philosophical aspects and goes way beyond a physical exercise practise. Let me explain more.
A physical asana (posture) practice should embrace ahimsa (non-harming) to oneself, physically as well as psychologically. There should be the principle of satya (truthfulness), being honest with oneself about what one needs from the practice, what it’s about for you today. Meet your needs in a non-judgmental way and therefore also bring into the practice a sense of aparigraha (non-grasping). All of this is guided by a knowledge of Ayurveda, your unique body-mind constitution. Being informed about your Ayurvedic ‘type’ informs your practice and helps you to actively work in your yoga asana to prevent disease in the body and mind. This comes back to the ‘we are all unique’ approach. This is a complete holistic lifestyle system.
Practice yoga in an intelligent way that is suitable for your own body-mind as it is today. Honour yourself, body, mind, emotions, spirit, through your yoga practice. Please don’t ever use your practice to judge or criticise yourself. Using the physical to get into the psychological, fully focusing on the breath within the asana (posture) practice. This body breath focus brings about a feeling of santosha (contentment). There then comes an acceptance of self, of the body mind as it is, however it is, right here, now, in this very moment. Then we can bring about an attitude of isvara pranidhana (devotion). This can be towards oneself, towards the practice, the lineage of teachers, the ancient texts and teachings passed down over thousands of years, the rishis and sages. Feel this whole ancestry as you breathe and move, feel and embrace that enormous timeless connection. in whatever way this most makes sense to you.
Always practice pranayama after your asana. The breath is the vehicle that helps to calm the mind. Create the conditions for the body-mind to find an experience of peace. Allow the body-mind to enjoy a sense of equanimity, to feel sattvic and balanced. Follow the steps that Patanjali gave us so long ago, bring them into your daily practice and embody them in your daily life. Breathe, focus on the breath, and then just sit and breathe. Bring the entire focus to a single point of concentration and contemplation (this is pratyahara, dharana and dhyana). Now sit and allow the whole self to just be.
Now, notice whatever is arising. Sit with it, sit with it and patiently observe. Keep observing. Do not strive to change anything you notice, just know that whatever it is will pass. Whether difficult or pleasant, it will all pass. And so, we begin to learn that absolutely everything, even the mind-state, is constantly changing. And so, we stop trying to change or to control. We just keep patiently observing. No fuss, no noise, no drama, we are just watching the show. We practice aparigraha (non-grasping) here as we watch everything ebb and flow. We have an attitude of gentle kindness and curiosity, without striving.
We find then, within this practice of yoga, an acceptance, a sense of sukka (a sweet spot), a place of deepfelt gratitude and svadhyaya (continual and endless learning). This is a journey into the self, using the vehicle of the body breath and mind. And so it goes on, we practise, we observe and we let everything be. Settling into everything, as it arises, just as it is. Please do not ever undervalue or underestimate this yoga. It is such a precious, beautiful gift, to oneself and to mankind. Nowhere to be, nothing to do, just breathe. In this moment I am that. This is yoga.