What is the ultimate aim of Yoga? What is your ultimate aim in practicing yoga? There are many answers to this question! Many practitioners will say that they seek tranquility and composure along with health and physical agility. When I first began practicing I was intoxicated by the stamina I built and the physical challenge. The sense of peace that came with Savasana was an unexpected bonus experience.
One of the most salient sutras in Patanjali’s discourse launches the second chapter, the chapter on practice. Tapas Svadhyaya Ishvarapranidhanani Kriya Yoga. Kriya literally means doing, work, or action (from the root √kr (to do). In the beginning we learn by doing, repetition, instruction. Svadhyaya directs us to study the Self (Sva = own √i means to go, literally going into the self). With consistent study I began to reflect and refine my practice on all levels, physically I became stronger, more confident and sensitive to the effect of my actions on all levels. My yoga practice was beginning to help me adjust my eating habits, sleep patterns, what I wanted to study and how I wanted to spend my time. Finally, Ishvara embodies mastery, or “lord” and pranidhanani means devotion or dedication. What is life worth if not to dedicate oneself to mastery, devotion, and practice?
Every yoga practice is a synthesis of body/mind/breath, for can we really separate one from the other? Pranayama is the conscious bridge between the body and the mind as it directly addresses the nervous system and the subtle essence called Prana. Pranayama further illumines the overarching application of Sutra 2.II as the inhalation is one of Tapas, and the exhalation Ishvarapranidhanani. The inhalation is the creative principal, it invigorates and energies; while with a conscious exhalation one surrenders all ego to an internal governor, the monarch of all existence, spirit. The reflective nature of Svadhyaya becomes the conscious bridge between the creative ego and sublimating that same ego to a higher power. B.K.S. Iyengar says, in Light on Life, that Prana is special because it carries awareness. It is the vehicle of consciousness.
So how do I cultivate this Prana? And how do did I begin my Pranayama practice? Well, slowly. Guruji says, in Light on Pranayama, The practice of pranayama should not be mechanical. One cannot practice pranayama by force of will; hence, there should be no regimentation. Complete receptivity of the mind and intellect are essential. I am strong willed, I know that about myself. As a dancer I never let a day go by without doing my plies. As a new student of yoga, I insisted on a daily practice where, unless I challenged my limits, I felt that I had cheated myself. My ego was hard to harness and tame! Over time I realized that there was another, deep and rich resource within me that I could tape into with less physical effort and willfulness. Savasana beckoned.
Savasana directed me to tune into a higher consciousness, the eternal Tao. Although the Tao is formless and empty, it never fails to provide. Tao Te Ching. The Isha Upanishad (Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite) says: All this, whatever moves in this Universe, is indwelled by Isha; therefor, through renunciation, do thou enjoy and do not covet anyone’s wealth. (Swami Satyananda Saraswati). When I adjusted my willfullness to willingness, I felt that I became a recipient of growth rather then trying to manipulate my studies.
Such a journey begins with a first step. Whether through asana practice, through meditation, ecstatic dancing or being absorbed in nature, it is the mind that begins to taste a delight in the simplicity of being present. It is not easy, it rarely comes naturally. But unless the mind is relaxed, silent and receptive, one cannot really begin a pranayama practice. So the first step is with Savasana. Through Savasana of the eyes, the tongue, the ears, and all the organs of perception along with the muscles a deep receptivity emerges. It is as if one has removed all the strings of identity that inhibit the emergence of the inner light. The first step, then, is to begin. and what better time then with tomorrow morning?
Set up your pranayama props the night before. The morning is considered the most auspicious as the body is fresh and the mind innocent. Lie down and watch, wait and listen. Wait, witness and listen within. The journey will be full of surprises, but persevere. It took me several years before I began a sincere practice, and yet I remember, to this day, when I knew that I had taped into Prana. I never turned back.
So what it my ultimate aim in Yoga? The great Mahatma says it well: Sense perceptions can be and often are false and deceptive, however real they seem to us. Where there is a realization outside the senses, it is infallible. It is proved not by extraneous evidence but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within.
For more information, or to sign up for my intensive, please click here. The intensive begins on Tuesday, March 6 from 7:15am – 8:30am, and meets Tuesdays and Thursdays for three weeks.