The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define grounded practice as the result of three components. Practicing should be:
- satkara – correct (proper)
- nairantarya – constant (systematic)
- and dirgha kala – continued for a long time.
Perception of a ‘long time’ changes throughout the years of yoga practice. A year or two seems like a long time in the beginning. After five years, the perception changes, and the student perceives themselves as advanced Yogi. For some next years, we think we have already mastered a lot, and we practice correctly. At this moment, many yoga practitioners begin to teach.
However, according to the Ashtanga tradition, getting the practice well-established/ well-grounded takes at least twelve years.
Such practice implies a proper and constant effort that faces all ups and downs, all life stages, and all emotional conditions student experiences. It includes confronting obstacles, such as diseases or injuries – everything that happens in one’s life and on one’s yoga mat.
The ancient rule states you can teach only when you have already helped yourself and healed yourself and others through your practice and under the Teacher’s supervision. Therefore, teaching is possible only once you pass these two initial tests. Unfortunately, Yoga practitioners rarely consider this rule.
Here is the primary purpose of Ashtanga, which is healing. And the concept of disease is broad here as it applies to both body and mind/mental condition.
Once we start to explore, understand, deepen, and realize how little we have learned so far and how fledgling we still are in our Yoga practice, we know we are still at the beginning of our path toward this great science of body and mind.
Yogi’s attitude changes. One switch from a first level of insight, a very superficial one, to a higher and deeper level, a greater insightfulness, humility, and respect for the method. This is when the actual practice starts.
That is the first aspect of this subject. Time and work make the ATTITUDE of a Life-long, Insightful, and Exploring Yoga Practitioner.
The second aspect is READINESS. Not a physical but the inner, psychical, and spiritual one.
Sometimes, a mental pattern prevails, such as ‘When I get better and get stronger, I’ll start my Yoga practice.’ That is one of the biggest illusions – regular practice is the best way to strengthen oneself. By starting (not waiting), one steadily builds the fundaments – with no rush, at one’s own pace, bearing in mind that it takes time, consistent effort, and one’s acceptance of every single stage. Furthermore, one can quickly recognize and immediately work on the abilities and weaknesses.
Time works in favor of the practitioner (the sooner, the better) and to the disadvantage of those who do not practice. One cannot speed up transformation – everything happens in the right place and time (determined by many factors). The longer we continue and repeat patterns and processes occurring for many years, the harder it is to change them.
Readiness and courage bring acceptance to confront the Mirror. The long-standing practice allows us to face it as we start to control our mental states and learn to remain neutral about what happens. Repetitiveness and regularity create the observer’s position and, as a result, vanishes a difference between asanas. When a specific asana arouses pain, emotions, or discomfort, we no longer perceive it as disturbing our inner peace. The distinction between pleasurable asanas and those we prefer to avoid disappears. It is a kind of inner satisfaction (santosha) from doing the practice itself.
The third aspect is GOAL/INTENTION, which is fundamental to persistence.
As mentioned earlier, the ultimate goal of Yoga practice is to support health and growth of the level of consciousness, not achieving the next asana. To do asana is partially a superficial ability we gain. One must remember that completing asana is something extra, a side-effect of a healthy body. Therefore, we should focus less on asanas and attach to them less.
Restoring a healthy body and mind reflects the essence of the Yoga practice. What is crucial here is not the one-time or occasional doing of asana but the readiness and ability to do it any time for a long time. We achieve this effect when a particular posture integrates with our inner self and when it manifests outside.
Everyday life events are like tests that check the attitude (mental, bodily, and behavioral pattern) represented by a particular asana – we either continue a proper reaction, or the conditioning patterns determine us.
Interestingly, even when a specific life situation disappears, the reaction (if it wasn’t revealed) can still be visible in the Yoga practice. This way, we can check if a given mental pattern is still affecting us (if it still requires to be worked on), or we can work on the next one.
If one’s goal in the Yoga practice is to complete more asanas and yoga series, the practice boils down to either superficial showing-off (on request or simply on Shala) or injury. It is how an occasional practice of an asana ends up. It goes against the foundations of Yoga, which are the growth of consciousness and health in their broadest sense.
The fourth aspect is FREQUENCY.
We practice Yoga six days a week. Free days are:
- One regular day a week
- Three days a month for women (Lady’s days)
- The New Moon
- The Full Moon
Sometimes there can be two-three days more in a month for extra regeneration.
There are two ways to maintain a good quality of practice.
First, if we want to practice three to four days a week, it is better to practice three to four consecutive days rather than every two or three days. The first day (sometimes also the second) is to emerge from stagnation. We can compare it to wiping the dust slightly, an essential cleanse. Practice does not filter in deeply, and the breath is not full, as muscle tension blocks it. These days, we clean the detritus of the present – patterns and stress. The mind still dominates. A deeper work starts after the third or fourth day when the body and mind reveal the tiredness. A common saying in Yoga is, ‘You should sweat off your mind.’ We intend to achieve it during the first two days; we try to reduce mental activity through practice by turning the mind off so that there is space. The following days we keep an effort to maintain this state of mindfulness when cognitive activity decreases, and the mind slightly quietens. That is when we can focus on our patterns.
If we do not practice Yoga for consecutive days but rather every two-three days, we endlessly start anew. Such practice is very superficial and does not bring the right results. That is why one can compare Yoga practice to brushing one’s teeth, although this time, we mean ‘the teeth of our mind.’ It gives us a chance to clean our perception deeper.
Secondly, long-term, regular (even if) shorter sessions bring better results than occasional, one-off, more extensive, or longer workouts.
Following the above arguments – regularity is the key. However, the next crucial thing is to practice long-term for the intended results to appear. The new patterns we want to introduce to our life need a minimum of six weeks of proper effort to implement. Still, after this time, one has to remain insightful and mindful of whether the past pattern does return. Therefore, practicing on a long-term basis is a test; it verifies if we practice correctly. This way, we can get the point of reference and, alternatively, look for help to supervise our practice.
Ashtanga Yoga is a tool. However, every tool can be used in multiple ways – either to heal and feed or to destroy and harm.
A person who practices correctly and mindfully and follows the guidelines of the tradition and Teachers will return quickly to health through Yoga practice. In addition, such a person will also set oneself free from one’s mental patterns.
Another person, however, who seemingly practices the same way will strengthen their patterns so that they begin to destroy and harm their health or destroy the mind (psyche) by intensifying reactions.
That is the rule of making an adequate effort – not too much or too little. Mindful and regular.
Accuracy and correctness bring the following results in everyday practice:
- We do not waste energy; quite the contrary – we gain more of it.
- We do not harm our bodies (physically and energetically), but we recover.
- We do not strengthen mental patterns (grappling with oneself, inability to let go, or quite the contrary – giving up too quickly or supporting one’s fears, etc.); even more, the old patterns (also traumas) disappear when we replace them with the new, proper ones.
These three elements must be integrated and lead to the essence of the Ashtanga Yoga practice, which is challenging today.
A thought often arises after some time: ‘ Maybe I do not need to practice every day.’ It is a voice of our laziness and comfort, or our mind begin to get bored. (It should be an alarming sign that we need the Teacher’s supervision because we may be practicing wrongly). It is not easy to argue with that voice, as the most profound changes appear easily, with the lightness of a butterfly, not with the heaviness of an elephant’s step. We do not notice these changes, so they are not values that could motivate us. We see them only after long-term practice when we can confront our past limitations or react completely differently in challenging situations than we used to.
Therefore, the basic rule in spiritual practices is not to argue with the mind. The mind is not our friend but not our ruler, either.
The fifth aspect is FUNDAMENTAL ORGANIC AND MENTAL STRUCTURES.
Most of all, it is significant because during Yoga practice, both mechanical processes and the biochemistry of the entire body change. It requires time and regularity to stimulate and direct work toward the new patterns.
Initially, we stabilize the body as well as possible at that moment; we make the body into the frame. We seek the most natural position of the skeleton, the placement of the body weight, and posture as a whole within our current abilities. These are supposed to direct the body without excessively separating individual parts.
Next, we learn to rotate the muscles and bones which build a particular asana and to simultaneously combine them into a single move so that the fascia becomes a single energized anatomical train.
Repetitiveness and mindfulness during such practice enable the creation of such fascia connections and strengthen working on body weight and the center of gravity. It happens when the body starts actively working as a single train, not an isolated structure.
Additionally, the body creates and clears channels that distribute fresh blood and lymph so that all the tissues are nourished and reliably oxygenated.
That is usually when most Ashtanga Yoga practitioners stop – their asana resembles the asana from the picture, so they think they have completed the work. But, in fact, here is where the whole transformation begins.
Then, bandhas activate more. Nevertheless, if we want bandhas to generate energy resources, manage them, and properly distribute the energy they store through the body, correct practice and focus on this issue are vital. Mindfulness and more conscious work with the breath creates a fuel that bandhas can redirect to the proper fascia train.
The body begins to spread neurological impulses intensively. It boosts the fascia along its entire length and clears blockages. The fascia trains are Meridians and Nadi. Only then the internal organs are fully stimulated to carry out their fundamental functions. Every single organ is responsible for specific qualities – also emotional ones. It is, in fact, a very thorough work. Every asana has Nadi assigned to it – both the one which is supposed to be stimulated and the one which is toning. The whole path of the Yoga practice boils down to exploring which Nadi should be activated and how.
Only then do new, healthy, original mental patterns replace the old ones: our body and mind change. Memories of past experiences are relieved both in the fascia and the subconscious. That is the time the healing process and therapeutic work through Yoga starts.
The sixth thing is a MASTERY.
The masterful performance of an asana is reflected in the peace and stability we experience as we embody its dignifying state. This guideline we find in sutra II.46 “sthira-sukham âsanam.” This level will occur when Tristana (breath, bandhas, drishti) is present.
Keeping a stable mind focused on one point (drishti) is difficult, just like maintaining one posture (asana – breath and bandhas) or activity (vinyasa – regular, steady rhythm). When these three elements are polished and co-occur during practice, it brings us Strength, Lightness, and Gracefulness free from distractions and conditioning. We attain Completeness, Integrity, and a State of Meditation in asana. We can compare this Unity to a diamond’s quality leading to Mastery.
In practice, however, the path to reach this place looks different; one cannot just concentrate on practicing and recognizing patterns simultaneously unless they have knowledge and experience in identifying elements of the patterns. We have to manage three areas: observation, performance, and knowledge – abilities and expertise, to recognize the pattern and be able to practice and observe at the same time.
Here, we bring up the issue of one of Yamas – Satya – which means seeking truth. To cast off the false ‘I’ requires courage and honesty with yourself and facing your feelings and mental patterns, which we usually are not fully aware of.
Most frequently, the mind theoretically knows and tries to remain mindful, but the body does ‘what it wants’ as if the connection between body and mind is lost when a pattern appears.
The Mastery is to remain effortless to maintain this connection and, most of all, to maintain it to the end. Therefore, the path is about tempering your body and mind so that the Homogenous Original Potential appears.
As an old Yoga saying says: Mastery is your obligation.