At the beginning of the month Sharath had taken a two-week break from teaching at the Yoga Shala here in Mysore. Students were given the option to practice with Saraswathi or on their own at home. During this time Guruji came down to lead a couple of led-primary classes, and to chant the invocation, which was a real treat for all of us practicing in the Shala.
Around this same time, one of our students from Canada had written to us asking: “what do you do when your teacher is away?” and “how do you practice when left on your own?”
It seems that this is a question was on the minds of many people, as it was asked during our last conference with Guruji and Sharath the week before. The answer was simple: You continue to practice as your teacher has taught you.
Yoga is a personal practice that when practiced correctly has positive effects on the whole of humanity. Finding a teacher to guide and instruct is an essential component of the Path, as is being surrounded by a sangha (community) to help motivate and encourage each of us along the way.
However, there will be many times in our lives when we will find ourselves far from any teacher, and without a community of practitioners around us. In fact, it may be the case that most of our lives we will practice alone, without the direct presence of a teacher. This being the case, it is important to figure out some ways to keep our minds focused on our practices and to stay motivated so we can continue to grow.
One thing that will help is to take a close look at the how and why we practice. If we are truly practicing in a correct way, and for the right reasons, we cannot help but experience the positive effects of the practice in our daily lives. The more self-awareness we can develop, the more we will observe the benefits of the practice, and we will find ourselves encouraged to continue making a strong effort in our daily practice.
It can also be helpful to find time once or twice a year to devote a period of time to just practicing and studying yoga. This can be done by going on a specific “yoga retreat,” or by just taking some time off from the demands of your job and the obligations of daily life to focus on your practice and reconnecting with yourself and if possible, your teacher. These periods of intense study and concentrated practice can help to revive your practice, create inspiration, and rekindling your passion for the practice of yoga.
Sometimes students ask: “What should I practice and how can I progress while you are not here?”
Sharath and Guruji have said: “practice what you’ve been taught, as you’ve been taught.” When you practice the postures your teacher has given you with earnest devotion you will certainly “progress.”
In the modern world we tend to associate this notion of “progress” with the idea that “more is better” and we get caught up in the idea that if we are doing more it means we are getting better and “progressing.”
Contrarily, progress along the path of Yoga doesn’t amount to “more.” We don’t progress by doing “more postures” or “more difficult postures” or “more practices” or “longer practices.” Progress on the path of Yoga is determined by the internal condition of our mind and attitude.
When we can be completely satisfied with exactly what we have and who we are at any given moment then we are starting to walk along the path of santosha (contentment) the second niyama, and that is the sign of real progress. We will be happy to practice less with more awareness, instead of more with less satisfaction.
As Sharath reminded us in conference, doing advanced asana doesn’t mean you are a more “advanced practitioner.” It doesn’t guarantee more “self-knowledge” or “enlightenment.” A student practicing primary series can be learning more, and growing more by focusing on the internal form and starting to “still the fluctuations of the mind,” then a student who may be practicing an advanced series but who is still fixated on the external form without developing any kind of control over the mind.
The “inner asana” is what we must strive to perfect. When we can humbly surrender to a practice, and commit ourselves to following one method and one teacher, this “inner asana” the “seat of God within” gets perfected. Gratitude grows when we can accept what we have been given instead of always acting from that deeply ingrained pattern (samskara) of asking and wanting and taking more and more. As Sri O.P Tiwari has reminded us time and time again, we should strive to be a “person of the needs, and not the wants.”