MODULE TWO : PRACTICE & INTENTION
“I practice yoga” is a phrase we’ve all heard (and probably said!) before. In this module we’re going to dive into what it means. What exactly IS yoga practice? And WHY do we practice it?
“Bringing Yoga to Life” by Donna Farhi chapters 5-7
“The Heart of Yoga” by TKV Desikachar chapters 8-10
As always, let us begin with mantra (including more call and response for SahaNa).
WHAT IS PRACTICE?
Yoga practice is a spiritual path full of ardent effort. There are two sanskrit words often translated as PRACTICE that have helped me understand the depth and nuance of what is meant by practice. SADHANA is the means of realization. Sadhana is the spiritual path. ABHYASA is practical application. Abhyasa is any ardent effort put forth with the intention of freeing the mind from its roaming tendencies in order to create an inward state of calm mental focus.
Yoga practice is a spiritual path full of ardent effort.
This definition is, of course, not enough to help you actually practice yoga… You need the tools of yoga in order to practice. The yoga sutras offer us an 8-limbed path of practice. The first two limbs have to do with how we act in the world—how we act in relationship to others and to ourselves. Next comes the all familiar postures of yoga. Then the breathing exercises, then teachings on the senses, and then finally 3 limbs in relation to meditation. We’re going to spend a lot of time unpacking and experimenting with all of these tools. Before we do though, I want to invite you to spend some time with the question of “why?” Why are you interested in practicing yoga? What is your intention?
GOALS VS INTENTION
Let’s begin our exploration of intention by clarifying the difference between an intention and a goal.
EXERCISE: CRAFTING YOUR INTENTION
This is an interactive exercise designed to help you articulate your intention based on what’s happening in your life. Before pressing play, please print out these two worksheets: Noticing Journal – Crafting Intention I ask you to fill out the 2nd sheet multiple times, so you might as well print out a few additional copies now…
The Yoga Sutra contains many teachings about practice. In this live teaching, I introduce you to 3 important sections: the definition of practice, obstacles to practice, and practice in action.
I’ve created 4 more handouts to support your learning and practice this module.
- A glossary page (use the glossary in your sutra books, listen for the words in my lectures, and always feel free to reach out to me if you get stuck!).
- A personal reflection page full of questions to support your deepening sense of self-knowing.
- An art page reminding you to Cultivate the Pause.
- An art page reminding you of the importance of balancing all three aspects of Kriya Yoga.
You can download them here: Module 2 Packet
PRACTICE & INTENTION
In the first chapter of the yoga sutras practice is simply defined as effort. Practice (along with detachment or non-reaction) is said to still the movement of the mind (remember the definition of yoga in chapter one is a still mind, so it makes sense that the intention of practice is to reach this still state of mind—otherwise known as the state of yoga). I would like to invite you to define your own intention for practice. Yoga is a life practice and it takes effort. In order to stay committed to practice, you have to know why you’re doing it. In this lecture I also dive deeper into bhavana and sankalpa, two concepts that I hope will help you contemplate and define your own reason for practicing yoga.
OBSTACLES TO PRACTICE
Even with the best of intentions in regards to our practice, we will run into obstacles. Our ancient teacher was deeply aware of this reality and offered us ways to move through and beyond the obstacles we face.
In the second chapter of the yoga sutras practice is defined in terms of action and process. Sutra 2.1 introduces us to the very important concept of Kriya Yoga—yoga in action. Understanding Kriya Yoga (tapas, svadhyaya, and ishvarapranidhana) is key to removing the obstacles that keep us stuck (ignorance of our true nature, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear… We’ll cover these in depth in the next module). Take your time to understand Kriya Yoga. These concepts will change your understanding of practice (and more importantly, these practices will change your life!).
SOME PERSONAL REFLECTION ON KRIYA YOGA
Yoga is a practice of becoming. Of uncovering. Of remembering. Of being transformed. And sutra 2.1 gives us tools. Kriya Yoga—yoga in action—calls us to act in the world with discipline, self-awareness, and humility. Every action I take has a consequence. What direction are my actions taking me? Am I moving toward a deeper connection to Purusha/God/Seer/Witness/Stillness/Light? Am I moving toward better health and more ease? If not, than my choices need closer examination. And they need to be transformed.
Actually doing the work of transforming them is hard. In fact, sometimes it sucks. Tapas is about passing through the muck and discomfort, rather than trying to avoid it. When you do something different than you normally do it’s awkward, sometimes painful. You want to give in. But every moment that you don’t give in builds heat in your system. And provides you energy. It’s interesting to stay in the discomfort of doing something new and watching the sensations with intention. Can you feel the moment they ease up? The moment they change into something else?
When I’m intentionally doing the hard work of self awareness and discipline, when I’m actively working to change a habit, to transform something, I need to remember grace. I need to stay in the light of graceful energy, rather than fall into habits of self-judgement. I need support and encouragement. Sometimes this comes in the form of humbly admitting my weakness or struggle to someone I love (most often my husband and best friend). This kind of vulnerability has historically been difficult for me. But I remember a time I was able to transform something difficult only after I admitted the pain to these two trusted people. All they did was hear me. They didn’t judge and they didn’t tell me what to do. But once I knew that they knew—and were holding with love—what I was struggling with, I had the courage to actually change. In this instance they played the role of Ishvara for me. I was able to surrender my pain and move beyond it because they were willing to love me.
KRIYA YOGA PRACTICE
This hour long practice includes asana (posture), pranayama (breathing practices, specifically agni sara), mudra (hand gestures), meditation (in the form of guided visualization), and mantra (verbal and silent chanting). If you’re new to these tools, give yourself a chance to go through the practice a couple times. Go through it once with the intention of learning the tools. And then again, with the intention of going deeper into the experience of the practice.
Before you begin, take a moment to learn the mantra we’ll be chanting (sutra 2.1).
We use a pranayama technique called agni sara in this practice. This is a breathing practice designed to stimulate your inner fire (agni). It’s a pretty advanced technique and can take awhile to fully understand. Go slow and be gentle with yourself as you experiment with it. The basic technique is practiced by:
- Inhaling and allowing your ribcage and abdominal cavity to expand.
- Exhaling and strongly engaging the abdominal muscles. Put some effort into this action. Really draw the abdominal muscles back toward the spine!
- Holding the breath out. You’ve exhaled, but you’re not yet inhaling. You’re pausing! In the pause, “act” like your inhaling and draw the diaphragm muscle up into the ribcage. It will feel like you’re pulling your stomach up into your chest. The abdominal cavity will become “hollow” like.
In the practice video I place my hands over my belly to try and help you “see” the muscular action.
Don’t practice this after eating! And remember, be gentle with it.