There is something beautiful that comes with a stable and solid practice of yoga that is how it empowers us. The feeling that we can change, that we have the strength and will to sustain that change. Through these daily encounters, we can observe the patterns we no longer want in our lives and consciously choose the ones we do want for ourselves. And that’s something that we Westerners love today. “Strong is the new pretty”, right?
It exalts us, empowers us, dignifies us. We become owners of our life. We regain control after a long time of being identified with our mental states, with our emotions, without being able to really choose. But in turn, this is one of the biggest obstacles to practice.
Unfortunately, this is just another end of an old and well-known path. Frustration against failure, punishment, guilt for not being able to and being proud of success, for being able to resolve deadlocks, are two sides of the same situation. These are the biggest opportunities that we miss from developing upekshanam, the possibility of being able to practice equanimity. Being able to develop stability, serenity and vulnerability are qualities that can open our mind and heart to observe what arises in front of and inside us.
Today it is easier to be tempted to develop willpower. In that way, we could overcome everything, nothing would affect us. Attempt an asana 17 times as an ode to determination can make us forget that we are not the “doers”. Moving only through willpower is exhausting and unsustainable. There is an energy more internal, more powerful, much bigger than ourselves, which is impossible to access through pure determination. Surrendering and allowing life to flow is the way to truly change.
With each breath we can soften our mind and thus notice our attitude change. It is wonderful to be able to observe how the determination of the mind to impose its will on the body, vanishes.
The asanas are not there to make us stronger or healthier. Practicing in that way we only increase the attachment to our body and abhinivesha, the fear of death. And yoga, practiced correctly, is a preparation for death. The death of our ego, yoga citta vritti nirodha.
The Baghavad Gita says that unless all our actions are performed as an offer to the Divine, all actions lead to bondage. “Only fools believe they are the Doer” BG III.27
The yoga postures are only there to give us a basically healthy body, as a vehicle for the mind to have enough clarity to experience the Divine knowledge.
Every morning we have a new opportunity to choose what we practice, which seeds we choose to water. We can let ourselves be pulled by the breath and let it transform each asana, each vinyasa in a prayer bead of our Divine japa mala.
It is quite easy to think that this is something that we know already, intellectually; but this kind of understanding comes only through true experimentation and surrender to this practice.
The third series is commonly called Strength & Grace (sthira bhaga). When I began to practice it, I clearly understood the strength part. It was the first thing this series demanded from me. And when I could develop the strength to sustain it, I felt a willpower emerge I could only describe as unbeatable.
Fortunately, my teacher constantly led me to my breathing, with much more emphasis than before. I thought that my next step was to develop grace then. Learn to regulate that strength to be able to sustain such a demanding practice. Begin to subtilize, to truly move from the breath.
And it was in that exploration of the limits of the breath that the whole perception of my concept of Strength & Grace changed completely. I could see how that rise in my strength increased the temptation of identification with my body and its achievements. The empowerment and vitality of this series is enormous. In the middle of that observation, I realized that the second part of Strength & Grace was not simply referring to a grace or subtlety of movement, but to a Divine grace. That empowerment unfolded and gave away to a warm humility. To experience that what moves me is not my willpower but an incredibly beautiful, harmonious, subtle and powerful Divine grace.
In every breath we take there is Awareness, on and off the mat.
Photo by Marian Salgado, when we were together in the beautiful yet chaotic Devaraja market of Mysore in February 2017.