In a world that encourages us to go harder, faster and stronger, the most challenging thing of all can be to simply slow down.
As yoga practitioners, we are often looking for new approaches in order to deepen our practice. But rather than always looking for more ‘advanced’ yoga postures and practices, working on refining some of the simpler yoga practices can be the answer. Through refinement and repetition, these practices begin to form a solid part of our daily practice.
It can be a better approach to commit to a more simple daily yoga routine, rather than a detailed or complicated regime that you may be less likely to continue with in the long-term.
Bhavana (cultivation) is the word that the Buddha used to describe a dedicated practice. It implies a sense of truly knowing what you practice, as opposed to having just an intellectual understanding of the practice, or believing what we are told, but rather to investigate the practice, to know it and to understand it fully through self-practice.
I consider it a deeper commitment to work on the “refinement” of yoga practices as opposed to a “diversity” of practices. For those of us who truly wish to understand the deeper meanings of yoga and its philosophies, continuity and refinement of the practice is the key.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.1 says: “Now, this is Yoga as I have perceived it in the natural world” (translation by Sharon Gannon, Jivamukti Yoga). This sutra (which is the first of all the sutras and the teaching that comes before all others) suggests that Patanjali is teaching from a place of deep personal understanding, having observed the outlined insights personally through persistence, repetition and refinement.
A true understanding of deeper insights in yoga will always come from deep personal experience, rather than a mental or cognitive understanding that can be learned in books.
Bringing a sense of simplicity to a yoga practice does not mean that the practices will be too easy. The terms ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ have very different meanings when you contemplate it – a simple practice is not necessarily easy. Some very simple practices can be deeply profound when we practice them regularly and continually refine them.
Rather than seeking out stronger and more complicated asana practices, try refining some simple asana sequences or focusing on pranayama and meditation techniques. The physical asana practice only makes up a small part of the eight limbs of yoga, and all other practices are equally valuable in developing a committed yoga practice.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras mention the physical asana practice in chapters 2.46 and 2.47, and suggest that asana should be practiced with ease and be steadily earth-bound (the quality of sthira), whilst simultaneously balanced with a vividness or joyful clarity of attention (sukha).
One author translates these two sutras as such: “The physical postures should be steady and comfortable. They are mastered when all effort is relaxed and the mind is absorbed in the Infinite” (Yoga Sutra 2.46 and 2.47 – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated by Alistair Shearer).
Sometimes the more challenging aspect of practicing yoga is when we are asked to slow things down and simplify, rather than speed things up or complicate things, especially when we lead such busy lives and like to get things done quickly and efficiently through multi-tasking.
The practice of yoga asks us not to multi-task, but instead to be in the present moment, finding a sense of equanimity and relaxed concentration throughout all of the postures.
Yin Yoga is becoming an increasingly popular method as a way to balance the intensity and vigour of stronger yang-style practices.
Meditation and pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) can also balance a busy practice – and keep in mind that balance is the key. It is also true that we are often drawn to a particular style of yoga based on our personality and ingrained habits. We can sometimes benefit more so from exploring those styles of yoga that challenge us or go against our usual preference. For example, if we have a tendency to always strive to make improvement in our lives or busy ourselves with complicated tasks, we could benefit from slowing down and cultivating a practice that develops patience and self-acceptance. Equally, if we have a tendency to give up easily or see ourselves as a victim of outside influences, we could benefit from cultivating those practices that encourage us to develop motivation towards a cause, or to create change and improve our circumstances.
The benefit in yoga comes from finding a harmonious balance of practices to support the changing seasons in life, rather than always working towards what we view as ‘improvement’ or ‘advancement’ on the yogic path of practice. Then our practice life becomes a place to really come home to ourselves and find peace.
Sarah Owen was one of the first teachers to bring Yin Yoga to Australia and is regarded as a leading authority in this growing & transformative field.
Sarah is leading a 50 hour Yin Yoga Teacher Training in Sydney in September 2017.