I talked to an old friend last week. We studied Ashtanga yoga together in Mysore years ago. “You’ve left the herd,” he observed. And I suddenly felt the impact of being out on my own in a strange land.
My practice has evolved drastically since I first started 25 years ago. The path of practice is not linear–there are leaps and bounds, steady progress, magnificent and inexplicable jumps that appear to be backward. Then we move forward again in a different gear. It’s impossible to guess where the road will take us, and equally unfeasible to judge what we take to be results.
This is easier said than done. It’s so tempting to try to gauge the quality of our practice by the current state of affairs. I remember when I was finishing a set of purification practices years ago in Bhutan, expecting that suddenly all my obstacles would be pacified. Bwahahaha!
My life got so confused and painful I didn’t know which way was up. It was the usual manifestation of chaos-making obstacles: relationship fell apart, job disintegrated, “friends” bad-mouthed me, I had to find a new place to live, then I got sick. I confess, I started seriously doubting the practice.
But something in me knew that this was part of the program. So I eased up, and continued practicing, gently.
The last thing we all need is more pressure.
One of the pitfalls for Westerners following an established spiritual lineage is trying to adhere to strictly to “the rules.” Let me just say this loud and clear:
THERE ARE NO RULES.
Things change, we change, the times change. There is illness, injury, tragedy and loss. During these times we may need to slow down and get very still. There are happy and easy times when we can apply a bit more exertion. Learning to adapt your practice to the times can help you weather even the most dire circumstances. And let’s face it: we may need that skill in the upcoming era.
All the practices of yoga–asana, pranayama, bandhas, or meditation–should be made suitable to the individual, considering that person’s time or season, place, age, profession, strength, and other factors.
~Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, Yoga Rahasya
Adapt your practice to the times.
Practice is a tool to check in with the truth of the current moment so that you recognize your options. It’s hard to know that I need to relax if I am so uptight I can’t even see it. Unless we maintain the thread of practice, others can sometimes see our state of mind more clearly than we ourselves. But with practice, ultimately no one can know our minds more directly than we ourselves can. So it is up to us to develop the habit of looking so that awareness may dawn.
These times, they are a’changin. More than ever we need to be alert and aware of how our actions, speech and thoughts affect the world around us. Rather than contributing to the madness, let your practice inform you so that you can shed your own light on the darkening times.
It doesn’t matter what form your practice takes. The point is to keep returning to openness: open mind, open heart.
Speaking of practice, if you want an opportunity to deepen yours, consider joining us at the gorgeous Chateau Lake Louise in British Columbia in the fall.