I’ve been asking myself “Why?” a lot recently.
Why do I practice yoga? In fact, why do we practice yoga at all? What is the purpose of a yoga practice? What constitutes a yoga practice? It cannot be posture practice in and of itself. It cannot be limited to pranayama (breathing awareness and exercises) or meditation. It certainly is not any sort of scholarly knowledge of the field of yoga or the history of yoga.
Why do I put my foot behind my head several times every week? Why learn headstand, shoulderstand, or even padmasana? There is nothing that really compels me to do these seemingly strange contortions of the body, except my own ambition and my own interest (and now after 20 years of practice, a certain level of investment in the series). I’ve come to realize that, if I were really into playing the piano or painting or finance, I would apply the same level of interest and concentration to that as I do to mastering postures and techniques. (At heart, I am a frustrated concert pianist.)
What it really boils down to is: mastery. Yoga is a path of mastery of our minds, our emotions, our actions. Mastery is a long-term process. It is not something that can arise from haphazard strategy, mindless repetition, or inconsistent practice. It requires discovering your purpose, absorbing information from a variety of sources, and, most importantly, practice.
Ashtangis know it by heart. “Practice, practice, and all is coming.” If you do the series, you will see the results. But the results will differ based upon the person.
Over the years, I have heard the following question repeatedly: “Which postures can I do to work on (name of the physical, mental or emotional issue)?”
I may give a simple posture or two for the student to practice, but I always remind the student that it is consistency, practice, and intelligence that are the ingredients to resolving the issue. If any of these elements is ignored, then the practices do not bear any fruit.
And ultimately, it is about the awareness you generate through attentive practice that bears the sweetest fruit.