Last week, one of my students approached me after class, distraught because he hadn’t been able to do yoga for two days. As a busy father with a full-time job, his days were booked from dawn until dusk and he was absolutely exhausted. Knowing that I, too am a busy parent, he asked a question I often hear from students, “How many days per week do you practice yoga?”
“Every day,” I said.
“How do you find the time?”
An interesting question.
Of course, he was referring to the number of days I step onto my yoga mat to practice asana (physical postures). But if we consult The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the authoritative text on yoga and written between the second and third century B.C., sutra I.13 reminds us of the goal of yoga, and defines correct practice as steadiness of mind—doing whatever it is we’re doing with a focused mind, and fully in the moment.
This means that ultimately we can practice yoga on or off our yoga mat, everywhere, every day.
Asana is one of eight limbs or practices on the path of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras. While asana practice is important, it is only one part of the overall practice. It begins the process of training our mind to focus, serves to keep our body healthy to relieve our mind from being consumed with health issues, and balances our energy so that we're more effective individuals in society.
It helps keep our mind free of thoughts that consume us and cause us stress. It's important to plan enough time for asana practice, but if that window of opportunity dwindles, something is always better than nothing. At a minimum, try to do ten minutes of sun salutations or sit for a ten minute meditation.
But if that's not even possible, remember that steadiness of mind is the practice and that "stressful thoughts caused by not practicing asana" is NOT the practice. If we don't make it onto the yoga mat for any reason, take a deep breath, practice non-attachment, and let it go. This in itself is correct practice.
Sthitau yatno bhyasah (steadiness is correct practice). What does it mean to be a yogi? Yogis are people who function in today’s world with more awareness of their actions in daily life. Are you aware of your thoughts coming from a positive, compassionate place? Are you aware of your words being true and kind? Are you aware of your actions and the intentions behind those actions being selfless, keeping the welfare of others in mind? Are you conscious of the food you eat and of the way you treat the environment?
If we go a couple of days without practicing asana we can start to feel down physically... and because the mind and the body are connected, this physical pain can soon turn into mental distress.
But, when we make a commitment to yoga practice we know that if we fall off the proverbial bike we’ll soon be back on it. It is through these trials that we must put what we practice in asana class to the test—steadying our mind, and directing the activity of our mind from a disturbed state into a calm, serene one.
Even if we're not in triangle pose, we can be in right-minded pose, and be aware of our actions in the world as a father, mother, son, daughter, sibling, friend, or colleague. As one of my favorite yoga teachers Rusty Wells often says, “Roll up the yoga mat, but never roll up the yoga.”