Tuesday, April 10, 2012

All can take practice; what's love got to do with it? (Answer: Everything)

I just watched the video above, in which Kino talks about who can practice yoga in her usual no-nonsense yet unpretentious manner; indeed, I often have this feeling that she gets all the s@&t she gets online (and offline as well) precisely because she is not pretentious enough, because she doesn't assume this holier-than-thou persona and manner of speaking that some people who call themselves yoga masters do...

But enough of this. I'm sure you don't read this blog just to listen to my (non)-analyses about why some yogis talk shit about other yogis... So back to the video. One reason I really like the video is because Kino alludes to one of my favorite Guruji quotes: The one where he proclaims, "Old man, stiff man, weak man, sick man, all can take practice. Only lazy man cannot practice."


So all can take practice (except lazy people). But what is it that keeps all coming back to our mats every morning, except Saturdays (or whatever day your rest day happens to be) and moon days? The practice, as we know, is not easy; it challenges us on so many levels (physical, psychological, mental and emotional). Why do something like this six days a week, if nobody is forcing us to do so? 

I think the answer--at least my personal answer--lies in one word: Faith. Faith that the practice will bring us to a better place and make us better people than we believe ourselves capable of being; faith that the practice will reach us wherever we are, and heal us on the various levels that need healing.

And I also believe that along with faith comes a certain love of the practice. Not the kind of love that makes you jump for joy every single moment, but the kind of love that grows from a certain confidence and faith in the object of one's love, the kind of love that transforms both the lover and the beloved.

By the way, if you are a regular traveler in the Ashtanga blogosphere (I sometimes wish we get frequent flier miles for the number of blogs we visit :-)), you will know that a lively conversation is happening in some quarters about whether it is possible to love the practice and still do the practice "right". Questions that have been posed in this conversation include, '"What are they doing that allows them to “love” this?', 'Are they doing it “wrong?”' (See, for instance, this post)

As an aside: Personally, I think a lot of this conversation involves a lot of clever-sounding word/ego games, trading on small distinctions between "devotion", "trust", and "love", and similar words. Distinctions which don't seem to me to make a difference, in the bigger scheme of things... Then again, I'm no yoga scholar, so maybe they do make a difference, in the end... What do I know? In any case, I'll just like to offer a little word of unsolicited advice here to any who would care to listen: Before you make a distinction, it might be a good idea to ask yourself, "Am I doing this out of genuine curiosity and love of the practice and my fellow beings? Or am I doing this just to show that I am 'clever' and capable of making such distinctions?"

I probably do such things myself, so I am in no position to judge. But since I have probably been there and done that, I thought that is all the more reason for me to say something here.

But anyway, to come back to the 'is it possible to love the practice and still do the practice "right"' question, my personal answer is: Absolutely! If you have no love for the practice, but make yourself do it everyday anyway, doesn't that make you a sado-masochist? Of course, again, I'm no yoga scholar; for all I know, there may be some obscure passage in the Yoga Sutras or the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (or wherever) that says that yoga is the practice of sado-masochism. In which case I would be doing the practice wrong. Well, then, so be it. But as far as I'm concerned, love has everything to do with it.     


  1. I've heard of teachers who say that you should choose a practice that is the opposite of what you're naturally inclined towards. Thus, Ashtangis should do something less vigourous that involves very slowly luxuriating in gravity, while people who like luxuriating in gravity should take up Ashtanga. I disagree. You're allowed to love your practice. If not you're just creating grumpy samskaras. Certainly, the love for Ashtanga is not the cheesy heart love on I heart t. shirts. It's passionate and insatiable. I think David Garrigues writes about this-Ashtanga being for the hungry. And is there a difference between love and devotion? This distinction doesn't matter that much to me, but I think the two go together. I love my practice, but I remain devoted to it through the sweat and the tears and the shifted S.I. joints. I'm not a yoga scholar either, but I believe that your yoga practice should never be a punishment and that love does indeed have tons to do with it. X,O,Hearts, Erica.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Erica. I have never bought that "Ashtangis should do something less vigourous that involves very slowly luxuriating in gravity" line either; I love doing my practice too much to buy into it :-)

  2. Hi Nobel,

    I certainly wouldn't do this practice if I didn't love it, but that doesn't mean I don't face its challenges head on each and every day (except Saturdays... no challenge on Saturdays). However, faith is a different story. Faith has nothing to do with it.

    It seems to me that faith would be detrimental to the yoga practitioner who seeks truth. Faith is a reason to stop asking questions. Faith is an easy way out. Why have faith in a method of practice that is wholly, by its very nature, experiential? My practice is an experiment, both in daily application and in the grander scale. I do this practice and, more specifically, follow THIS method because I am curious, not faithful, about its effects.

    Every day, I experience directly the results of my practice but I also know that today's result is not to be repeated. Each day, each practice is unique. Faith in the practice based on past result is just delusion. Faith in practice based on someone else's result is illusion. Neither are helpful to me in my endeavor to experience truth now.

    Just a few thoughts. Thanks for the great post.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Megan. I think we have different understandings of what faith means. You write:

      "Faith is a reason to stop asking questions. Faith is an easy way out. Why have faith in a method of practice that is wholly, by its very nature, experiential? My practice is an experiment, both in daily application and in the grander scale."

      This is not how I understand faith. My understanding of faith is based on the Sanskrit word Shraddha, which is usually translated as "faith." B.K.S. Iyengar defines Shraddha as:

      "trust which comes from revelation, faith, confidence, reverence."

      Understood this way, faith/shraddha is definitely not a reason to stop asking questions. Still less is it an easy way out. Quite the opposite; in fact, shraddha encourages active questioning and experimentation based on a spirit of love and trust in the practice. So, at least for me, I see no contradiction between faith and a method of practice that is by its very nature experimental and experiential.

      If I may say a little more, I would even go as far as to say that experimentation without shraddha is dangerous; shraddha acts as a "container" in which we can experiment while being protected from the excesses of our egos.