I had moved to Taipei a few years ago so I can practice Ashtanga Yoga. To be able to attend class and practice every day was such a joy to me. There was once that I missed class because I was sick. The next day, the teacher asked me why I was absent and I told him I had a fever. He simply said that I still should have come and I thought he was just joking. A few months later, I pulled my hamstring and it was in such pain that I couldn’t even do the standing forward fold in sun salutation. But having had that previous experience I decided to inform the teacher first. And surprisingly, he still told me, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Not happy hearing that response and thinking that he had no empathy at all, I decided to switch it up and asked when would be okay not come to practice. When I heard his reply of “when you can’t eat and can’t sleep”, naturally I was going off about it in my mind. Still, the next day I forced myself and went to class. At first, he just went about his business as usual, adjusting other students. When I was done with sun salutation A and B, he told me to go to the back and do the finishing poses then the corpse pose. Initially, I was still confused. Later I realized he just wanted me to maintain the spirit of the practice; whether or not I can really practice is no longer the point.
In the yoga sutra, Patanjali states, “the fluctuation of the mind ceases through the continuing practice and non-attachment.”
When I first started practicing yoga, I was trying to hold the yoga poses in this small container of a body. At that time, I still viewed yoga as an exercise. I used to love the really challenging and difficult poses. Even though they brought me a lot of sense of achievement, but the benefit of the pose remained only in the physiological level. After I had practiced for a few years, I attended to John Scott’s workshop. Although it was a workshop on the primary series, but I requested to practice poses from intermediate series. He said it was fine as long as I can practice and count the breath in Sanskrit at the same time. I quickly agreed and confidently started doing my own practice on the mat, but soon after I forgot counting and John noticed it. He loudly scolded at me and asked me to start from the very beginning. When I finished the practice that day, my head was pounding. Next day, with a smile he watched me back practicing the primary series and counting the breath. He came over and told me quietly by my ear: “Guruji once said, ‘asana practice without the breath is simply an exercise or gymnastics.’”
In today’s information age, we have an easy access to lots of knowledge on yoga in the book stores, on the web or even magazines, but do we really know how to digest this vast knowledge. We may have acquired much information on yoga, but how many of us actually are spending the time to practice on the mat or perhaps that we do put in the effort to practice, yet we forget the most important part – the breath. Spend some time go to a nearby studio and take some classes. Find a teacher that is appropriate for you. At first, it may be like when you feel ill from eating too much, but after sometime, you learn to balance and adjust to what your body’s actual needs. This is like your asana and pranayama practice. Once they both become balanced and steady, you’ll discover that yoga not only works on the physiological level, it penetrates deep into the mind and spiritual level too.
Four o’clock in the morning is my daily practice time. Standing on the mat, at times I want to slack off or just go back home and sleep, but I would hear my own breath as if it is transmitting the sounds of my teachers, urging me to continue. Having them along, it allows my mind to be at peace.