I started reading about yoga when I was seventeen and practiced what I thought I could understand from books. Naturally, it was the philosophy and history that attracted me most. I loved reading stories about the great practitioners of ancient India. There were stories of yogis meditating in caves for hundreds of years, who could fly, who could live happily in the most difficult situations because they had dropped their masks and no longer associated themselves with their troubles. The greatest yogi I have met once said; ‘if you have no mind for the things of this world then the things of this world will find no place to settle in your mind.”
I find that asana practice is a good way to begin understanding how to apply this in life. If I can begin to see how my physical habits come through in my asana, then, with a little more awareness, I can begin to see my mental habits and what kind of mind they are creating for me. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras tell us that asana should be sthiram and sukham - stable and comfortable. Stability in the body and comfort in the mind. But this is not for our time on the mat. This is how we should be feeling for of the remainder of the day after practice. If I am not able to bring the benefits of practice into my daily life, then my practice is of no use.
Of course this is the goal. The only way to achieve this is to be incredibly observant - ‘where is my mind’? ‘Am I refusing to take a rest in this posture because I am stubborn and vain or because I choose not to be dominated by laziness?’ ‘Is this helping my fight with laziness off the mat?’ ‘Am I accepting the difficulty and discomfort in this posture because I want to punish myself or because I understand acceptance?’ ‘How is my level of acceptance off the mat?’ ‘Am I really able to die to the world in Savasana?’ ‘Am I really letting go of everything and resting in the present? Or am I just thinking about what I am going to do next, how terribly busy I am going to be today, why is there nothing good to eat around here, does this shirt make me look fat?
If my mind is not in the present moment then I make myself a slave to the things of this world and this is the exact opposite of spiritual. A truly spiritual person would never have a thought for their own benefit. He would wake up in the morning and his first thought would be about what he could do to help other people. I like to think that this is what we are trying to do with our yoga practice.
I don’t expect that I’ll ever be able to sit in meditation for a hundred years or walk through walls, but I hope that through being attentive I’ll become aware of what kind of mind I am creating for myself. Through recognizing my mental habits I’ll be able to let go of those qualities that benefit nobody and feed those that can be considered spiritual.