How Do You Practice Yoga with the Heart?

I am really excited to be back in Mysore for a number of reasons. But the first and last is to PRACTICE.

There aren't enough words to describe the experience other than to clarify it isn’t another journey in exercise, but a path in using the postures to watch the mind and move with the breath (known as the pranic force). This year practice is 2 hours and 5 postures. After the sun salutations for 45 minutes (1 round) each posture is held from 8 to 10 minutes. Before and after each position comes standing (the traditional tadasana, the mountain pose).

Sound boring? 

Actually, it is one of the toughest practices leaving aside intense backbending for over an hour and traditional Ashtanga-yoga I have yet to do. In former times when Ashtanga students showed up at Yogachaya's school they frequently expressed how difficult his approach was. Notwithstanding the fact that there are no vinyasas, Yogacharya teaches from a different place. He is not interested in how flexible you are or how strong you seem to be. In fact, he wants to teach you what you don't want to learn. And that's tough both for the teacher and the student. Deep down we have a layer of resistance and it is dam easier to stick with what you know. Accumulating proficiency in the asanas may 'seem' like you are pulling it together, but often it is 'performance' rather than a true inward connection.

But who can be the judge? No one. This is the ultimate test for the practitioner to realize for themselves. It is curious that systems like Sivananda yoga never put a lot of emphasis on yogasanas. On the spiritual path it is too easy to get attached to the body. Instead of breaking our bondage to the body we end up reinforcing it through the asana practice.

Forget you are a body 

Being in Mysore is a great way to experience the oxymoron of practice. That is, how not to be a body when you seem to have one. During my first week in Mysore, I randomly picked up a book with a quote from BKS Iyengar  on the inside. It spoke about how when we start yoga we have to forget being a body. This can be interpreted in many ways, but it is the bedrock to practice.

The way I see it is like this: Even if you are struggling with your body deep inside the seed is planted that ultimately the body is not your true identity.

To practice with this in mind another level of focus is demanded. As an example, I casually flipped my eyes at the clock in class and my teacher said, "That is none of your business." He was right on. Holding postures beyond the traditional series of 5 to 8 breaths as outlined in the Yoga Mala is challenging. As I repeat these postures daily I have the chance to look very closely at the fluctuations.

Get bored early so you can get serious sooner 

The point of practice is not to entertain the mind but to bring it face-to-face with the various levels of resistance. These are the tamasic notions (often felt like laziness or heaviness) and rajastic feelings (ego driven practice). The entire process is to reach a sattvic practice.

What is a sattvic practice? 

It is a pure practice that ideally is not motivated for fame, money or even respect. That’s a tough one.  But this is why we keep the theory near to our heart. 

“Don't think you will 'get' a posture and then apply the theory of yoga. By then it will be more difficult to train the mind and understand what this is all about." 
 
I told my students this on many occasions. It is a typical Western approach to want to 'get' it and decide later. But what is there to 'get'? The mind grasps constantly and the ego agrees. In practice the aim is to train the heart along with the head so we can get beyond exercise. We cannot throw the body out, but discover ways to practice with our limitations and problems; not getting caught by the emotional ups and downs. I always think of the body and the mind as the two ends that make the mala both whole and wearable. 

How do you practice with the heart? 

First, have one main teacher to study with and who does not want you to succeed physically only. Find a teacher who wants to witness your transformation and not out of a need to please him or her, but to become 'free'. 

Second, be honest. Start with superficial goals not lofty ones. The teachings always encourage the practitioner to begin (aka the yoga sutras proclaim that the young, old, very sick can practice). The belief is no physical state is hopeless.

Third, put the work into it. It is hard, but a joy. 

In the end, it is you, the mat and the breath. There is nothing to win, lose, show, tell, cry or laugh about. And even when you do....that's okay too!
 


To learn more about yoga, check out our video course The Complete Guide To Yoga With Tara Stiles.
About the Author
Heather Morton is part of a select group of people certified in AtmaVikasa Yoga. She is the first Canadian woman to be certified both in the 1st and 2nd series of the AtmaVikasa system. Having made 14 extended trips to India, she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only yoga school for 6-week programs. Heather created a loyal client base and taught the programs independently for 15 successful years. She holds a Theatre Performance degree as well as a teaching degree in Dramatic Arts and a Masters of Education. Her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic thesis on Yoga as a curriculum subject within the Indian educational system. She has produced Cds, Dvds and podcasts for practice. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional resource to the foundation of yoga backbending. Heather has been featured in affluent mediums like the Toronto Life Magazine and The Globe and Mail as well as several on-line resources. Catch her posts, videos and updates at theyogaway.com. Born and raised in Toronto she currently resides in Europe with her husband near the Swiss/German border.
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