When I first started practicing yoga I would practice as time permitted. I didn’t always have the bandwidth to practice, and in the beginning yoga was just one of the many tools I had at my disposal for physical engagement.
When I started to practice daily I saw subtle shifts in my habits and behaviors that indicated that my system was coming into balance. These shifts started small and included improved digestion, more restful sleep, and clear, single pointed focus.
My practice wasn’t really intense, but it was consistent. I learned how to find the connection between my breath and my body, and I learn how to dissolve the duality that creates the illusion of separation.
If you’re looking to cultivate a deeper practice I would recommend taking the following steps to foster a relationship with your practice. It will help you to find a practice that is perfect for your embodied expression.
Define Regular Practice
It’s important to identify what “regular” practice means to you. One of my first teachers said that she couldn’t practice everyday, it was too much for her body. Everyone is going to be a little different when it comes to frequency, intensity, and duration of practice. It’s important to set clear parameters around what a healthy practice looks like for your body and activity level.
You may sit with the question “What is your definition of regular practice?”, and see what images and phrases arrive. You can map your thoughts abstractly in your journal, or write a concise description of regular practice. Regardless of how you define it, make sure you have a solid mental picture of what the time commitment would be, where you will practice, and how long you will practice for each time.
Deepen Your Studies
One of the best ways to understand a topic is to go back into the history of the topic and yoga is no different. In my opinion The Upanishads are by far the best place to start. I make this recommendation because all of the proceeding texts and Sutras follow the Upanishads. If you have taken the time to familiarize yourself with the Upanishads you will be prepared for more historical and cultural accounts of yoga. The Upanishads are the foundation that all of the yoga philosophy has been built upon.
The next recommendation I would have would be The Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is an excerpt from an Epic, The Mahabharata. In The Gita, Arjuna and Krishna are deliberating on the internal struggles of the Ego and the Atman. The entire story is a metaphor for the internal struggle each one of us endures as we awaken into Realization. The beauty in this classic is that it can teach us so many things about the practice of yoga, dharma, and karma.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are considered the authority on yoga, in particular the eight limbed path of Ashtanga Yoga. I would recommend reading, rereading, and reading them again. In fact, I treat the Sutras like a Christian might treat the Bible; between the Upanishads, The Gita, and The Sutras I am always abiding in and taking in God. Studying these texts, living through the Sutras and the Upanishads, I have been able to consistently reorient myself back to Right Knowledge, even in times of deep illusion and uncertainty.
One of my favorite teachers in the Austin area teaches a Sunday Ritual class at one of the iconic hotels in Downtown Austin. I love the idea of creating a sacred ritual around your practice. It’s both inviting and deeply personal.
Create Space for Connection
Your practice is your practice. I once had someone compare their practice to my practice, or my practice to theirs respectively. It was the most unpleasant experience I have ever had. It actually felt like the other person was trying to take something away from me that couldn’t be taken. I know that was not the individual’s intent, but nevertheless it disturbed me.
To me, practice is unique and individual to the practitioner. Each individual is having an experience that is one sided. Our practice is our opportunity to come home to ourselves and really connect in a deeply meaningful way. When we connect with ourselves in practice, when we quiet the chitta vritti and unite with the Prana that enlivens our existence, we can truly come home to our experience in complete authenticity.
Whether you practice at the YMCA or a local studio get to know the people you’re practicing with. Develop a community that supports your practice and your highest embodiment of Self. Remember to apply the same boundaries that you would to coworkers or neighbors, but allow yourself to connect with the other people that share your space.
Practice More Than Just Asana
Asana, or the physical practice of yoga, is an amazing opportunity to connect to Self and get a good workout, but we don’t come to our mate for the physical benefits alone. If you’re at a place where you want to advance your practice then you have arrived at a place where practicing mantra, pranayama, and other yogic exercises might add some value to your practice. By cultivating an awareness of the history and reading the ancient literature you will begin to develop a deeper understanding of the practice and the philosophy. Ultimately, over time you will begin to integrate yoga more thoroughly into your daily life.
Developing a relationship with your practice is a rewarding endeavor. Placing value on the time you spend connecting and deepening your relationship to Self is invaluable to your mental and physical wellbeing. Make time to check in and listen to your heart’s call.