तत्र स्थितौ यत्नोऽभ्यासः॥१३॥
tatra sthitau yatnah-abhyasah
Practice (abhyasa) is the steady (sthitau) effort (yatnah) to remain or move towards mental stability.
PRACTICAL LIVING The previous sutra states that the path of Yoga requires both practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya). But how do we implement them in our lives? This sutra begins to describe one of them, abhyasa, in more detail. In order to move towards, reach and maintain a state of Yoga (mental clarity, focus and calmness), we are required to adopt practices, actions or efforts that will help us reach that goal. These efforts need to be challenging, but not too hard – we need to find the correct amount of work at a given time. In Chapter II, Patanjali offers practical ways to apply the concept of abhyasa. For example, ahimsa or kindness is one of the concepts we should be practicing on a daily basis in our thoughts, words and actions. This requires continuous efforts and vigilance, awareness on many levels so that our unkind thoughts, words and actions gradually change to those of compassion, gratitude and peace. The way we practice is different for all of us since we have unique backgrounds, personalities and challenges. Therefore, having a teacher who can offer appropriate practices is very important, as stated in Sutra I.1. “sthitau” or steadiness/firmness is a crucial word in this sutra. It implies that these practices need to be done continuously, without interruption. We need discipline in our efforts. Being kind to my husband one day and going back to anger and resentment the other days is not what Patanjali is referring to. We need to make the effort all the time, training our minds (changing our neurochemistry) to think, speak and act in a new way. Can you begin a new, healthier practice today? Maybe begin to practice kindness towards yourself, a family member, a friend or work colleague 🙂
IN THE YOGA WORLD Often in the Yoga world we hear the message that we should just let things flow. According to Patanjali, however, in order to achieve and maintain a peaceful state of mind and a natural bliss, we need to practice with enthusiasm and vigor. “sthiti” or stability refers to the firmness of the mind achieved when we are able to control or guide the vrttis or movements of the mind. When the mind is stable, it naturally flows towards the object of concentration without obstructions or distractions. To reach this latter state, a lot of discipline is needed. In the midst of writing this sutra, for example, I was very distracted by the natural beauty I find myself surrounded by in Uruguay. My abhyasa was to: first do my personal asana and pranayama practice indoors (where the rheas, wild deer and exotic birds would not catch my attention), and secondly sit alone while my family and friends either napped or rode horses. In other words, abhyasa (practice) asks us to sustain the practices that we have chosen to adopt so that we can cultivate more moments of joy, peace and amazingness. This blog brings me that, and so naps and horseback rides have to be missed every once in a while :). Before 2012 ends, I would like to wish you all a beautiful end of year and an even more joyful new year!
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Pitchulita is one of these very special sparks of light in the world! She has been adding light, laughter and companionship to my life for the past decade. Pitchulita and her wonderful hubbie have, for the past 9 months, been practicing the art of travel and personal growth. Leaving their jobs behind, they have dedicated one year to experience life away from their ritualistic lives in the city. I love Pitchula for her love for life! She uses words like “sexy” and “awesome” interchangeably to describe a variety of situations. Her gusto for life allows her to live the “sexiest” and “most awesome” life she could possible imagine! This woman has become a jewel in my life and I am wonderfully grateful for how much she “rocks”! Te amo minha Pitchula!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and we will look at abhyasa (practice) in even more depth!
I think it’s funny that I’m reading this today about practicing to be more kind. I was in my car today actually driving home from yoga, and while stopped at a traffic light a person was walking across the street. And, I mean, I think I’m a good person most of the time, but I’m pretty sure that EVERYONE has at some point judged one person or another based on looks alone. Anyway, I found myself judging this person based on nothing really. I took a step back though and asked myself, “why am I doing this? This person never did anything to me. This person could be the kindest person, and I’m just being mean.” I’m glad that I’m becoming more aware of this sort of ugliness in my personality so that I can work and practice to change it.
Hope you have a fantastic New Year, Lucia!!! 🙂
What a great moment of awareness Daniel! It’s those moments that make all the difference. If in those moments when we catch ourselves being judgmental we can replace old thoughts with a conscious more constructive one, literally our neuro-pathways begin to change. If we can act on it, it’s even better. For example, in a moment like that we can put the window down and tell them how much you love their shoes (if you actually do).
Ah to sustain the practice is the hardest part for me! I was just talking to a friend tonight about the New Year and our intentions. We are committing to become accountability partners to help us stay on top of our goals and to celebrate each accomplishment. It is the consistency which can be a challenge for me in abyhasa. I am realizing how important it is for me to stay true to my personal practice and daily love for myself in order to continue my journey to inner peace and contentment. Checking in each day will help me sustain abyhasa against all life’s distractions.
To a beautiful journey in 2013!
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There is a funny saying that your toughest critic is yourself. I find this to hold true in so many ways in my life. I am so hard on my self and get upset when I dont master a pose in yoga or understand a concept at work that someone is trying to implement. Now that we are only a couple months away from ending TT, I am starting to stress a little about my teaching techniques. I have practice teaching on a couple of times and every time I am done, I find myself so upset and frustrated that I didnt do a good job teaching. I think that I feel this way because when I am teaching, my mind is so worried and thinking about what the students are thinking that I feel very rajastic at the end. I also have to start making more time to teach and get the practice in. I know I havent been the best since work has been keeping me very busy, but I need to make more of an effort to call up a friend and practice on them for even 15 mins. Yoga has become so important to me and I have seen changes in my mind and body only after a couple of months, and I need to take the discipline one step further now that I am close to being done with a small part of my yoga journey.
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Vairagya is a part of becoming a yoga teacher. We show up, teach the best class we could possibly teach at that moment, and then let go. How do you feel today compared to that first class you taught?
I try to do 1 kind thing a day…it makes me feel like Im doing ‘something’ 🙂
As I mentioned in my comment on sutra I.12, I really struggle with abhyasa. It can become greatly frustrating to me how much I struggle with vigorous and consistent practice of any one thing, whether it be kindness, honesty, or implementing lifestyle changes. However, my personal practice has taught me a lot about the importance of practicing something that may be difficult to implement at first. Sometimes it seems impossible and unrealistic to take 15 minutes or even 5 seconds out of your day to do something that can improve your life, whatever it may be, because you’re feeling too busy, tired, sociable etc. But getting into the habit of being disciplined and doing it ANYWAY is so important. I’m really trying to find that sattvic balance between listening to my body & spirit versus just doing what I have to do (enthusiastically and vigorously!) because I promised myself I would do it.
Because I read a lot of “Happier” today, I can’t help but relate this sutra to Tal Ben-Shahar. He discusses the importance of creating rituals that become habits. This is what I think of when I think of practice, of abhyasa. I am currently ill with some kind of virus. I have a fever, a very painful sore throat, congestion, etc. and I realized about two days into this illness that I had stopped doing my nightly personal yoga practice. I immediately defended myself to myself- I’m sick! But then I realized that maybe while I can’t even touch ujjayi right now and I’m not even talking so forget about chanting, I can modify my practice- the ritual I’ve been missing- to suit this temporary change, so that my practice can remain in my life no matter what.
I try to be kind to everyone I meet – consistently expressing kindness and compassion makes a huge difference to those around you. By consistently practicing kindness to those around me, it has helped met to surround myself with positive people and more sattvic experiences.
Recently, I’ve tried been practicing my santosha which for most of my life has been pretty difficult. To me, I could never find contentment with what I have and who I am. I’ve always wanted to be like others I meet that I think are “cooler” than me or have what others have. However, I’ve taken huge strides in the last few months finding out who I am and really liking this person I’m becoming/am. I’m more and more content with saying “this is me, this is allie and I’m totally cool with this.” But, it’s a daily practice and when I have those moments where I start to find my mind saying I want to be like someone else or wanting what they have, I find myself saying “okay, allie, now come on, you’re doing pretty good for yourself, so let’s not go there.”
I have been aware that the idea of abhyasa needs to be practiced, and is in fact, an effort. This does not just come naturally for me, or most people, I would imagine. By asana daily and a focus on my texts and things like this blog, I am able to remind myself of the importance of kindness (ahimsa) and compassion. There are certainly times at work when I receive a frustrating email or have an upsetting phone conversation when I want to crumble or get angry, but through this practice I am able to remind myself of what is actually important, this always makes me feel calm and content.
I like that this sutra reminds us of the importance of practice (abhyasa). “Abhyasa is the steady effort to move towards mental stability” I feel like this is such a simple and clear tool, yet it’s so hard for us to commit and sustain our abhyasa. But I think that wants you finally get up and practice you see how effective it is. I try to commit to my daily practice asana + meditation practice every morning but sometimes I sleep in so I just do a few quick asanas and jump in the shower. This week I was in a rut for a few days, I didn’t sleep quite enough and it’s my time of the month so I had cramps/backpain/low energy/etc. But then instead of just skipping it out of fatigue and slugging through the morning I though “no I need to take time for this”, I opened the shades in my bedroom so light could get in and did my full yoga practice. Afterwards I felt refreshed, focused, and was much more optimistic about the day. It’s moments like those which allow me to experience the power and benefits of yoga first hand and allow me to move towards focus and a peaceful state of mind.
The past few days I have been alone in my apartment and I’ve started to notice rituals I previously had that I stopped doing since living with my fiance. In the real world, I think this would be called “relationship gut.” I became lazy. I think this sutra will be helpful for me because I clearly need to be a bit tougher on myself. I need to reinstate my rituals so they can become natural again. I am starting to practice them now and aim to sustain them for a happier me.
It is amazing, here is Pantanjali telling us how to keep a yogic mind and that we can essentially change our thinking patterns, he’s saying this many many years ago and here is modern science saying we can change our neurochemistry. What does it all come down to? Changing the way we route thoughts, with consistency, new neurological-patterns will be formed and with time certain parts of the brain will be enhanced and used more frequently, in essence: we are building “thought bridges.” My nephew has autism and he did this “brain mapping” therapy which consisted on trying to “trick” the brain to use different parts that weren’t as used in order to re-route his current neurological-patterns and try to entice certain dormant parts of his brain to activate. I thought how magnificent it was that we can change how we think by simply doing it, over, over and over again. My personal practice (abhyasa) is to try to insert a happy/positive thought at the exact moment any judgment or negative thought surfaces. Have I created new neurological patterns? Not quite, however, I do see a different spring in my step and I think slowly with practice I should be able to change this recurrent habit, this pattern, into one that automatically dispenses positive thoughts of those around me. Ideally, I want to be a compassionate pez dispenser.
This sutra makes me think of my husband getting sick a few months ago. He was very sick with the flu and could not sleep one night. He decided to read the book “Love yourself like your life depends on it”. It sounds like another typical self-help book, but it was transformative for him. It is about a man who is sick and bordering death. It was then, at the darkest hour, that he had an epiphany and this book is born out of it.The book takes you through different ideas that can help you transform your relationship with yourself. It uses positive mantras like “I love myself.” Simple yet very effective. That night, my husband used these mantras throughout the night and he was able to rid himself of the flu and feel better almost immediately. It is so interesting and crazy how changing our thought patterns can change the chemistry in our brains and make us happier and healthier.
But as patanjal describes, it takes practice with enthusiasm and vigor. This is something that I am constantly working on in my life, I always try and have a positive attitude. But sometimes it is so tiring and you want to give up! As stated above, it takes commitment and dedication, and sometimes you have to give up some things for more mental stability. It is like this yoga certification. I have had to give up some social outings, evenings with friends, but through my dedication and practice with yoga, I am cultivating more moments of joy, peace and amazingness for myself. And I am already starting to feel this sense of happiness overcome me at different points of the day. Which makes every sacrifice, every late night, worth it in the end.
Once the practice has become a habit I feel pulled toward my practice without effort. Getting started and sustain the practice in the presence of changes is my challenge. Not necessarily it is the carving of time for practicing but being ok when things aren’t perfect. For example, I like going for a short walk in the morning and then do my yoga practice, I’ve enjoyed doing so for months last spring and summer. Getting in tune with nature and often even playing with dogs running around. But when the cold hit…my routine fell apart: I did not have my “secret place” with nature and birds that so easily pulled me out of my home. I am still struggling about how to deal with this because very likely I’ll have this challenge again in the fall…
Steady effort is a tough task! I always want to be an easy going, spontaneous person, but I do not have the habits ingrained in my patterns yet to let go of steady explicit effort. I used to fight against this, but over the past few years, I have decided to let structure give me guidelines for moving towards not needing the structure. Does that make sense?
I have inherited a sort-of Type A personality, and while I appreciate how this extremely structured way of organizing life can be productive, I do feel that it sort of misses the forest for the trees. And so part of my conscious practicing is to let that control flag fly, all the while stepping back and releasing my grip from needing to be so exact with the goals and intention. The important part is to set up those rituals and to always be working towards the greatest proportion of actions made by choice within my life.
So I’m kind of a hothead. Per was spot on when he “diagnosed” me as a Pitta last weekend. Everyone on my Mom’s side of the family has this explosive kind of personality where they get stressed and lash out. No who irritates us is safe, from relatives to strangers on the bus. This is behavior that I saw modeled and absorbed during my childhood. It took me a long time to realize that this type of behavior is not always appropriate. The way I have slowly overcome this problem is to be in situations which seriously work my nerves—someone cuts me in line or cuts me off while driving, or I am running late and someone is in my way—which gives me an opportunity to practice patience and self-control. This weekend I took an overnight trip with my 8 year old nephew for the first time. There were many situations which came up where I would have lost my cool in the past—standing in long lines, missing our flight, being tired, the cab being late when we were trying to get to the airport, a change in plans—but for the most part I remained calm. I still have work to do in this area but am pleased with my progress so far. David said that practicing yoga gives you a “longer fuse” where little things don’t bother you as much. I think he’s right and feel that I am a better person for it.
Habitual discipline creates the strongest muscle-memory/neuro-pathways. Whether it’s movement like yoga or dance or mental behavior, habitual practice creates the strongest imprint… This can be a double edged sword.
When I was 16, I was at the curious age of trying new things. I had just come out; I was nearly an adult; college was on the horizon, and I was ready to grow-up and come out of my shell. While I can look back on these times fondly, admiring the “spunkiness” of youthful discovery, some negative habitual practices were started. From curiosity and image, I started smoking cigarettes. I pledged I would never “habitually” do it… it was for fun. Just socially… right? Well, I quit for a few months a one point, but until this May, I was a habitual smoker. This habit was just ingrained! A 10 minute break a work was built for having a cigarette, I swear. A casual beer with friends always calls on a social smoke or two. After years of practice, I guess my neuro-pathways were set, and I was a habitual smoker. Womp, womp.
But here we are. I’ve started rewiring those mental cables months ago, and I can say that I haven’t had a cigarette over 4 months. When wanting a cigarette, I do a little pranayama. Now, I’m not pulling out my kapalbhati practice while I’m listening to a friend at bar over drinks… But I’m increase my mindfulness on my breath and thinking of all that HEALTHY air I’m taking in. I’m stronger in many senses of the word through this steady abhyasa.
This explanation of this sutra is accessible through my life experiences with health and wellness. New pathways in life that create positive changes take small steps everyday to maintain the effects. For example, if I want to run a 5k race I can’t expect to run 1 time a week and expect that I will be able to finish the race. It’s nice to be reminded to apply this concept to all aspects of your life.
I often think about how I practice different skills. For example, there have been times when I have told friends that I am working on being more patient with others. I am fairly patient with my students, but I feel by the time I get home I have given all of my patients to them and I do not have much left for my family. I use to feel not very patient at work too but over time and with practice I realized that it might be the tenth time I have answered the same question but only the first time that student has asked it. I think in many ways when you want to work on a skill you are given opportunities to practice. I have to remember that I can’t dump my emotions and long days on the people I love and care for the most. I have to give them the “best me” that I have to offer as much as I can and as often as I can.
As a child I used to love the taste of soda and didn’t drink much water. After growing a little older and learning what soda consisted of, I wanted to cut it completely out of my diet. I started to drink a lot more water (in moderation) and couldn’t really stick to it. I started flavoring the water with cucumbers and lemon and before I knew it, I had completely dropped soda. The hardest part is trying to convince my mother to do the same
Practice makes perfect; we have heard that so many times. But yoga explains it to a different level, that is, the steady effort toward mental stability. When i practice tennis with a close friend of mine, we always aim for consistency and rally between 15 to 25 shots on just forehand or backhand alone. I know the purpose is to reinforce our muscle memory so we could control our shots at all times without much effort. It relates very well to yoga practice. It’s that when we are on to something with a steady mind and steady effort, we often refer as we are in the zone, as if nothing can disturb our foundation. I am very grateful and happy to have had 9 practice sessions at CSOY thus far, and i enjoyed every bit of them. There are challenging asana’s that i am not fully capable of yet; however, i see a way to get there. I have all the tools, the teachers and 7 awesome yogi friends that inspire, motivate, and teach me to improve better. And it’s such an awesome journey, i might not get there next week, but maybe next month, or few months, or next year; slowly yet steady as i go.
“Abhyasa (practice) asks us to sustain the practices that we have chosen to adopt so that we can cultivate more moments of joy, peace and amazingness”
I have found, especially as of late, that the above statement holds true to my physical practice of yoga.
I have become very diligent with my asana practice. At first it wasn’t easy, but I’ve found that when I reward myself with a yoga class after a long day, that I do, in fact, cultivate many more moments of joy and peace as a result. If I have dinner plans with a friend, or am planning on spending time with my boyfriend, I make sure that I do everything in my power to catch a class beforehand. Not only does it physically energize me, but the focus on pranayama largely affects my overall mood after the class.
Sometimes it isn’t easy, like last night. It was 0 degrees outside, I had a long day at work, and I came home with a bunch of groceries. I was going to skip class last night, but I pushed myself to bundle myself up and get out of the house! I was cursing the whole way there, but as soon as I got in the studio, I focused and relaxed- slow and steady and concentrated. The hour and 15 mins flew by. Afterwards, I felt myself walking in the snow and realizing how beautiful it was, rather than how horrible I thought it was initially. My dedication to my practice left me in a great mood with a stretched out body and resulted in a deep, peaceful night of rest. Behold the power of “sthitau”!
I worked with a man in Culver City who could roll a coin on his knuckles. It would go back and forth, under his palm, dance between two fingers; he made it look like the coin was liquid. When, inevitably, he was asked how he did it, he always responded “practice.” Looking back I have to believe this was his form of moving meditation. He would do his work, talk politics with patrons, and then settle into a leaning position and roll his coin. I laugh now, because this could very well be the reason he was suited to working in hospitality. Practice.
It’s really crazy timing that I read this Sutra on this day. As I’m about a month into Yoga Teacher Training, I already feel like I’m falling behind on all my homework, yoga practice, meditation, reflection, journaling, the whole lot. I keep trying to make schedules for reading, going to yoga, and everything, but I always fail. I feel like my life is taking me over and I have no time to do anything. I feel like I’m constantly cleaning and doing laundry?!?! I’m struggling to build practices into my life that will bring happiness, joy and amazingness. I wonder am I being too slow? Am I inefficient? Am I looking at this whole process entirely wrong? All I know is I joined Teacher Training because something needs to change. Hopefully, I can build more practices to bring happiness and help me let go.
This sutra is a reminder that we cannot attain the spiritual gifts of yoga or life without the discipline of our practice. I like the emphasis on the word “steady” because although it is firm, it is gentle. A “steady” commitment to yoga does not mean we labor through hours of practice a day. It means we steady incorporate new practices that we can commit ourselves to fully. Sometimes I get frustrated that I cannot attend yoga classes as often as I would like because I am in grad school and have time commitments for class and internship. However, I am trying to learn ways to incorporate small practices such as pranayama or a few poses a day that I can steadily commit to. In this way, I can still make progress and feel committed to my growth in yoga.
When I think of practice, I often think of physical movement. I appreciate that the explanation of this Sutra includes actions of the mind as well. In my 20’s I always found myself telling little white lies to avoid hurting peoples’ feelings, or to avoid confrontation. I did this so much, it became part of my personality. As this practice grew, I felt myself becoming trapped in what I thought would be harmless time and time again. Now and for the past years, my practice of satya has increased and I am very deliberate about being honest and communicating truth with everyone I interact with. This practice, as mentioned in the previous sutra, has brought more joy into my life. It has been incredibly liberating and I will continue to practice this.
Steady and consistent goes along with awareness. If I don’t pay attention I find myself with thoughts that are automatic. The practice of paying attention, remembering my commitment to self awareness and kind thoughts can be a battle some days. I have made he commitment to read the Sutras daily this year, after having completed my 200 hour training. I feel it will be beneficial and I can take the time to really soak them in instead of just doing it because it is my assignment for the training.
I have found I do well for a while and then the day will step in and I will be swept away, like a canoe on the river. I need to make the conscious choice to guide myself, my path so I can refocus each day on the direction I wish to go.
Maybe that post-it on the fridge/mirror can help…?
“…we need to find the correct amount of work at a given time.” I think this statement is something that many people, including myself, often struggle with in this modern world. We are expected to work longer hours, be involved in more activities, and strive towards greater success. With the societal pressures of always doing more and more, it is not surprising that people are overworked and exhausted by the expectations that are placed upon themselves as well as the expectations they place upon themselves. We need to strive towards a balance of being active and working towards certain goals, but we must not lose sight of ourselves or our unique limits. Every person is different, and therefore no universal solution exists in determining what is the correct amount of work in a specific amount of time. Perhaps through trial and error it can be discovered for each person, but I encourage others not to be fearful of limiting their commitments in order to maintain a steady, healthy mind.
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