One would think it would be simple to know if you did yoga on any given day, or if you did not do yoga, right? What if you heard someone say "I did yoga all weekend, but I did no asana at all”? Sounds downright guru-like, doesn't it?
It's possible, and anyone can do it. The study of yoga shows there are many different ways to practice: asana is but one branch of a full and varied tree of activities that are all meant to expand and make more supple the numerous aspects of ourselves. For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, there are three main "paths" of yoga:
- Karma Yoga, the yoga of action, is the path of work and/or service
- Jyana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge, is the path of intellect
- Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion, is the path of meditation
When one becomes so fixated on the act of asana, the true yogic path can become lost. In fact, the ultimate purpose of yoga: to gain strength, balance and flexibility of the mind, can be defeated when one becomes solely focused on the body, through asana practice. When this happens, every aspect of life, including asana, suffers. The mind grows clouded and unfocused; our tendencies to find comfort in excessive amounts of quick fixes such as food, alcohol or overspending can take over and throw life even more out of balance. One may begin to resent the practice and the time it takes from other activities. When all of this is in play, asana becomes ineffective, but there is one part that must be honored in this moment: Mindful Awareness.
The mind is speaking to you if you hit this plateau! The challenge is to tune in and honor the voice coming to you from within. There may be something small nagging at you: is the house not comfortably clean? Are you feeling overwhelmed by your workload? Is there something you want to focus on for your family, but don't feel you have time to accomplish? Believe it or not, you can use your yoga practice, even your asana practice, to relieve this tension as well. Here are a few tips on how to carry your yoga practice even further off the mat, to benefit areas of your life that feel out of balance.
Asana can be utilized to further your intentions off the mat. First, be mindful of your thoughts when you practice. If your mind is racing about the project that you are worried you may not complete, perhaps this is the moment to go rectify that. If your practice is ailing, give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do in order to reclaim the joy in your asana. Perhaps that means using your regularly scheduled yoga time block to set right something that is weighing heavily on your mind. Surprise! You are still practicing, it just may be a different branch of yoga that doesn't require a mat.
Here are some ideas on how you might use the different paths of yoga to restore balance to your life and the "poses" (broadly construed) that you can practice expanding as you apply each path.
Karma, The Yogic Path of Work/Service If there is much work to be done at home, in the office or another area of your life, you can apply the ideas of Karma Yoga to help inspire your mindset and gain strength in accomplishing your goals. Here are some poses to try in Karma Yoga:
- Open Heart
- Focused Mind
- Loving Approach to Practice
Bring a feeling of lightness to your work and you will find joy as you accomplish your tasks.
Jyana, the Yogic Path of Intellect When a task seems monumental, sometimes it is best to study the issue a bit before diving into the work ahead. Here are some poses to try in Jyana Yoga:
- Focused Mind
- Thoughtful Spirit
- Deliberate Approach to Practice
Study the details, research the issue, be deliberate in your intention and your path is certain to gain clarity.
Bhakti, the Yogic Path of Meditation When your purpose seems clouded, bring a sense of Bhakti into your practice. Here are some poses to try in Bhakti Yoga:
- Devoted Heart
- Open Mind
- Receptive Approach to Practice
This practice expands your faith, in yourself and your purpose, and brings a sense of calm as you approach your days.
As Kate Potter says "Every obstacle you meet in life can be seen as a block, or an opportunity." Bring this mindset with you to all the challenges you face. Yoga teaches you to push beyond what you know you can do, and explore what might be possible. When we take that intention off the mat, even the largest of problems can be approached with a sense of curiosity, which often makes them seem less difficult.
We look forward to hearing how these new "poses" expand your practice. How do you give yourself permission to take your yoga practice into your day-to-day tasks? Does it help to think of the different paths of yoga?
Be well and keep in touch, Namaste.