"Wait, you mean there's more to yoga than...yoga?" Ah, that was the wide-eyed yoga newbie me of many years ago. I am ashamed to admit it now but I don't even think I knew the word asana at that time. So discovering that there was more to yoga than asana totally intrigued me.
That intrigue propelled me into a world of exploration -- books, workshops, classes -- you name it and I gobbled it up. With relish. The truth is, I still have a lot to learn. For the first time since I've practiced yoga, I'm formally studying the Sutras. I'd read them before and even participated in discussions about them, but I had never -- until recently -- gone through the Sutras with a fine tooth comb. I love going in-depth, debating translations, and deciphering the deeper meaning of Patanjali's words.
The asana part of yoga lured me initially and remains a joy for me to this day. Still, as I continue to deepen my studies, I evolve my personal practice. Perhaps it's my stage in life (and I'm not necessarily talking about age here) but I find myself more drawn to the subtle practices in yoga a lot more these past few years. Meditation and pranayama, especially, have expanded into lengthy practices for me. According to ancient Indian times, I'm right where I should be.
Unlike society today, where age is a fluid thing (teens are having babies, people are going back to school in their 30s and 40s, women are having children later in life, etc.), India of old had more delineated stages of life. The student stage, which roughly ran through age 25, was one of learning and growing. A lot of asana with some pranayama and a sprinkling of meditation was the practice for those in this first stage of life. The next age group were the householders or those with family and work responsibilities. Because of time constraints and physical changes the householder's practice was more focused on pranayama with asana and some meditation thrown in. The transition stage and the final stage of life were focused more on the inner world than the outer so meditation took up the bulk of one's practice, followed by pranayama and a dash of asana.
By the numbers rather than the lifestyle, I would qualify as a householder. I guess it's fitting that I am focusing on the more subtle practice of pranayama. When I initially started practicing yoga, working in the framework of my body excited me. My body became my laboratory for all kinds of inner experiments that came about through asana. My body -- and my awareness of my body -- changed quite a bit.
Now I find myself longing to work on a deeper level -- one that affects the personality and the emotions. The work is more subtle, and more powerful. Pranayama has become something that I use throughout my day, not just something that I practice apres asana (don't know why I'm in a French mood today, but please humor me). The changes that my pranayama practice have wrought go beyond what I ever could have imagined when I first stepped on the yoga path.
What amazes me even more was how I neglected such an important bodily function, taking its power for granted because it was an automatic response. The breath is more than just life sustaining -- it's life changing. I'm so engrossed by the subject that I'm now in the process of writing an ebook focused solely on the breath and harnessing its power. You don't have to be a yogi to breathe. After all, I was practicing yoga for a few years (and feeling pretty darned self-righteous about what a dedicated/knowledgeable yogi I was) when I realized that I was often holding my breath quite often during my practice. As I look back on it, I was mostly likely creating stress and strain more than I was eliminating it.
My breath is my friend, my barometer, my constant, my savior, my teacher. I know that I can always come back to it and I often do.
As a wise teacher once said, "As the breath, so goes the mind."