Friday, September 4, 2009

When do we practice yoga?

When discussing the benefits of daily yoga practice compared to "once-in-a-while" yoga practice with students, I often hear the sentence "I don't think I could do that." Current yoga culture in the west often depicts yoga as a workout, something to increase strength and flexibility and perhaps workout some of the stresses of modern life as well. Casual yoga asana practice certainly has these benefits.

Yoga as defined at the beginning of the Yoga Sutra, however, is something different. Yoga is what happens in those few brief moments between thoughts when the mind goes quiet. Daily yoga asana practice is a tool for learning to create more of those quiet moments and stretching them to last a little bit longer when they do happen. How does reaching to touch the toes and breathing make space for the mind to be quiet? I don't know. I can say that in my experience, if my body will not be quiet, then it is very hard, if not impossible to get my mind to follow. When my body is calm, relaxed, and steady, it is far more likely that my mind will for just a moment step off the hamster wheel and pause.

For me, this shift in focus has only come from daily asana practice. It has changed my perspective on what is "yoga" and what is "yoga practice".

Beryl Bender Birch is well know for asking this question: "If the practice of yoga is really the practice of quieting the mind, then when can we practice yoga?"

The answer, of course, is "All the time!"

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