There are several habits that students of Ashtanga are encouraged to cultivate, which extend beyond the hour or two in which they practice asana each morning. To undertake the practice of Yoga in this or any lineage is not simply to commit to a set of physical exercises or a an amount of time on a cushion, but to reconsider the way we use this precious life we have been given. There are physical practices that we can develop to support ourselves and help us live more fully in harmony with the natural world. These include going to bed early enough to get proper sleep, eating nutritious food, ensuring we make enough time to take rest after our asana practice and taking time to do a weekly oil bath. (For more information on how and why to take an oil bath please click HERE.)
However, some of the habits we can cultivate go beyond the physical body and have more to do with how we train ourselves to relate to our daily practice in the context of our lives. With that in mind…
- Yama and Niyama (yoga’s ethical guides to living) are the cornerstones of practice. They are also incredibly challenging. To truly embrace and embody these guidelines (which include non-harming, truthfulness, and contentment) requires that we be somewhat subversive. Modern society often does not support us in our attempts to be, for example, content. Treating your time on the mat as a place to refine your relationship with these principles and train your mind is a good place to start. However, once you have left the shala and are moving about your day in the “real world” see if you can continue that relationship.
- Consistency is the key to creating a lifelong practice. Intensity, length of practice and the number of fancy asanas performed in one day are far less important than the act of making it to your mat every day and checking in with yourself in an honest and compassionate way. It is far better to do what you can on a daily basis than to have a few “big” practices in a week and simply not practice on other days. Something as short as 5 Surya Namaskar A, 3 Surya Namaskar B, seated breathing and taking rest (about 20 – 25 minutes total) can change your energy in a positive way and support you throughout the day. Aim for consistency and the rest will take care of itself.
- Talking about practice is rarely a good idea. It creates fixed ideas around something that is going to be slightly different every day. It can lead to competition (mostly on an internal level) and can help give the ego process a stronger hold than it already has (yikes!) We are all guilty of it to a certain extent. Over the years this habit can become stronger or weaker. Aim for weaker.
- The path to yoga is ultimately an individual one. Keeping your eyes on your own mat, and your own path, is always advisable. Comparison is the thief of joy.
- Learn from the outset to celebrate impermanence. Equanimity is the key. Your body will change over time. Sometimes you will view these changes as pleasurable or positive. Sometimes you will experience them as negative or painful. They are inherently neither. As our teacher wisely said, “Do not practice to have a ‘good’ practice. Practice to maintain steadiness in yourself,” R. Sharath Jois