The question I’m most commonly asked is, “how have I developed my personal practice?” and the answer is neither simple, nor has my practice (asana or larger scale) finished unfolding. What is this “Larger” Practice?
Hatha Yoga, largely focused upon the usage of asanas (physical practice) and pranayama (breath practice) to “work the body like we knead dough when making bread, so that it becomes transformed from an amorphous lump of unconscious flesh and bones into something that is vital and full of life” in the brilliant words of Richard Freeman. Hatha Yoga has some similarity to Tantra Yoga as they both see all things as sacred. The ability to hold special attention and focus in any experience, thus making it sacred, seems similar to the practice of “mindfulness” being taught more and more today. Lately I’ve found myself using ritualistic tantra practices to shift consciousness, definitely more to explore here.
Ashtanga Yoga holds an important place in this discussion, since most only think of the primary series of asanas (physical practice), but rather is taught as a science of mental and physical control, which asana (physical) and pranayama (breath) are most certainly large pieces of the whole of the larger practice. This is exactly why when an Ido Portal or a Wim Hof pops up, we need to listen. Also in “8 Limbed practice” of Ashtanga Yoga we have the Dos and Don’ts of living, the namas and niyamas, Yoga’s 10 Commandments basically. We’ll get more into those another time. We have pratyahara, dharana and dhyana bassically all stages in the practice of meditation. The final practice of Samadhi/the experience of non-duality/unity/oneness with God is, in my view not unlike the stages of meditation, at first less a practice and more of an experience resulting out of the previous practices. In time even this state of consciousness becomes a practice..
Karma Yoga, is usually taught as living a life of doing good work, though this can easily become a relatively broad idea. Ram Dass teaches Karma as “The Yoga Of Daily Life”. Karma Yoga, at least by the above definition is, ultimately intention, practiced when one makes all actions done in service of something greater than one’s self. “Making it Sacred” as Ram Dass says. Dedicating the fruits of our labor to Creator/Universe.
Generally we are thinking of Bhakti Yoga if the practice is in praise of God. I argue reverence of the Universe, Love of One’s Partner/Spouse, or guide for a Child, are all the practice of Devotion. A student sets aside the building of their own Ego at the moment their practice is done in Devotion. All goals become as equally mundane as all daily routine at that moment. When one embraces a devotional practice/a practice of Love, they accept their own mortality. The beauty in recognizing our mortality, is in recognizing there is something even greater than that which we, and our “unlimited” capacity to imagine, can possibly conceive.
Jnana Yoga, or sometimes Gnana Yoga, is the practice of knowledge, those who gravitate to the teachings of Spiritual texts seem to find a home here. While it is general taught that one only investigate this school more fully after integrating the other Yoga practices, I actually started my own journey here and left it for a long time. Now as a return bit by bit, I understand why it’s probably best to save until one has begun an intensive look into a preliminary practice. One reason being those who don’t experience, can easily become “arm chair yogis”, a term I am reappropriating from author Lon Milo Duquette’s “arm chair magicians”, it all means one who reads and doesn’t practice. Jnana Yoga seems to be a wonderful addition to an existing practice but seems hard to exist as a practice on its own.
I can see elements of my practice in all of them (and others) at times when the intention shifts. The larger practice to me, whatever Yoga we try to define it with, is that of living artfully. Living with intention. The idea of a spiritual practice doesn't necessarily tie it to religion, it can just be a recognition of the existence of something greater than one's self. Be it God or the Universe, a creative impetus. A Divine Consciousness or a Cosmic Coincidence. Mindfulness is a great place to start, I’ve noticed flow states as a musician and a mover that were the beginnings of a larger practice of mindfulness. Really that’s what most Yoga practices also serve as: asanas, mantras, pranayamas, yamas, jnana… Practices that serve as a space to be fully present, to be immersed and united with the experience of presence.
I hope this breakdown is helpful, especially as we break down “yoga” and “practice” in future posts.
Freeman, Richard. The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind. Boston: Shambhala, 2010. 1-5. Print.
Dass, Ram. Remember, Be Here Now. San Cristobal, NM: Foundation, 1975. Print.
Weiss, Leah, LCSW, Ph.D, and Steve Hickman, Psy.D. "Mindfulness Definition." Greater Good. University of California, Berkley, n.d. Web. 09 Jan. 2016.