Here at home, I frequently hear the yoga community speaking about a goal of daily yoga practice. There are yoga challenges set up to encourage us to practice yoga poses every day. We may speak about getting our "yoga practice in", meaning exercise, and something to do and help us with the rest of our day. Yes, physical exercise and yoga postures are important, but isn't there more?
I observed several friends in Nepal practicing yoga, even though they have never been in a single yoga pose, let me explain. While attending a Yoga Nidra class with Beryl Bender Birch, she told us she is frequently asked if she practices yoga every day. Her answer was perfect, "yes, I practice yoga every day, but I do not practice asana every day". Asana (the poses) are just one of the 8 limbs of Patanjali's Yoga. The other 7 limbs are all vital to a yoga practice!
Tapas: heat, zeal, discipline
Svadhyaya: Study of spiritual scriptures and self
Isvara Pranidhana: surrender to God
Asana (yoga postures) Through the practice of the physical postures of yoga, we develop discipline, focus, strength, ease, clarity, and balance our energy. This is a good prep for daily life, or for a meditation practice. It is not the only part of yoga.
- Pranayama (breath control) Literally translated as "life force extention", breath control is intimately connected to our nervous system. Breath work provides a link between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. I consider it to be vital, and begin each personal practice with a little bit of breath work. I hear feedback from students that this is a helpful practice that they bring into their daily lives.
Pratyahara (withdrawl from the senses) Moving our attention away from physical sensation allows us to focus inward. According to Yoga International, "pratyahara exercises require concentration and the ability to focus on the inner sensory and energetic experiences of the body". So you are not asleep, and you are not lost in your phone or your to do list. Your mind has an inward focus.
Dharana (concentration) During asana, our focus changes, during dharana, our attention falls on a single mental object. This may be an image, a sound, or a specific energetic location in the body. This practice can be considered the gateway to meditation.
Dhyana (meditation) Durning meditation, there is an unwavering flow of concentration. Medical science now supports the fact that meditation is a very beneficial practice on it's own. Although my friend in Nepal meditates for 2.5 hours every day, you can start with as little as one or two 5 minute sessions and find a practice that works for you.
Samadhi (bliss) When we experience samadhi, the mind is free from all distractions, and we experience inner consciousness & light. You may wish to think of this as heaven, enlightenment, or just peace.
I may not have practiced asana every single day while I was in Nepal, but I did practice and observe yoga every day. I observed practices and ways of life that will forever change the way I think. I observed people facing extreme hardship with a smile and a shake of the head ("no problem" - just like in Jamaica). If it was something they couldn't fix, they just faced it & moved on. I observed women happily washing their clothes on a rock in a stream. I was welcomed whole heartedly into people's homes, and allowed to interact with their children. I observed the daily prayers of monks. I walked with hundreds of dedicated people doing their daily meditative walks around the Boudhanath Sthupa, spinning prayer wheels and chanting Om Mani Padme Hum. We witnessed people buying brass objects for honoring parents who had died and those people preparing for the festival. The people of Nepal have impacted my practice off the mat in so many ways!
Don't get me wrong, I love asana practice. My teaching style is rooted in physical alignment, strength, stability and self observance, but there is so much more to yoga. If you don't manage to fit in any asana today, think like a Nepali, "no problem". You can always practice a little meditation, or any combination of the 8 limbs. They're all yoga (even Beryl Bender Birch thinks so).