The second verse of Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutra’ is perhaps the most important one:
‘Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind.’
Many practitioners think that practicing asanas (yogic posture) or pranayama (yogic breathing) is practicing yoga. But this is incorrect. We practice these things to be able to bring stillness to our minds. It is only when the mind is still and not clouded by judgment: towards us or others, that we can progress to the next stage: dhyana (meditation). It is through dhyana that we can reach samadhi: the stage of universal consciousness.
Just like philosophy, there are many different schools of yoga these days. But all of them have one thing in common, they see samadhi as the ultimate destination. The paths may be different, but the destination is always the same.
If you have found yourself unable to free your mind, then you are not alone. This is very common and can happen to even veteran practitioners. Here are a few ways you can train your physical body and your mind to let go and practice ‘ahimsa’: non-violence.
What Is ‘Ahimsa’?
‘Ahimsa’ is the absence of violence or harmful intent. It is love and compassion towards oneself and towards others. When we pass judgment, no matter what the context, we are inadvertently causing harm. The thought is not constructive.
We often find ourselves getting envious of someone who can perfectly hold a particular asana that we cannot. This often leads to self-loathing. We are judging ourselves.
Again, we often look down upon those who cannot perform an asana that we might be good at. This is a destructive thought as well. Judging others is a sign of hubris and even ignorance.
In Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’, he states that the practitioner must follow certain ‘yamas’ (self-restraints) and ‘niyamas’ (fixed rules) and the practice of ‘ahimsa’ is crucial.
Identifying Your Triggers:
The first step is to understand what makes you unhappy or causes your mental fluctuations. When you sit down to meditate, if you are unable to focus, don’t suppress all the varying thoughts that come to mind. Observe them and then let them go.
Sometimes when we get a song stuck in our head, the best way to get rid of is by listening to it. It works the same way with our thoughts. The more we try to avoid them, the more they end up occupying space in our heads. By embracing them, we are finally able to let them go.
Practice Asanas That Require Concentration
Physical posture can be a great way to get your mind to focus. Here is a list of some asanas that require a whole lot of concentration:
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
- Bakasana (Crane Pose)
- Vrikshasana (Tree Pose)
- Natarajasana (Lord Nataraj Pose)
- Savasana (Corpse Pose)
These poses are not very advanced and can be practiced by most. However, when practicing Savasana, it is important to fight urges to fall asleep.
You should keep increasing the duration of holding your pose if you start getting too comfortable, this will challenge your mind to concentrate on one task for a long period of time. You will notice that if you are distracted by other thoughts, you will be unable to hold your pose.
Practice Pranayama to Control Your Breathing
In yogic philosophy ‘prana’ is the vital life force that runs through our physical body and ‘yama’ is control. Practicing pranayama is a great way to observe one’s thoughts.
If you are practice a basic pranayama such as ‘Anulom Vilom’, deepen your practice by adopting a mudra (hand gesture) such as the ‘Gyan Mudra’ (gesture of wisdom and concentration) or the ‘Prana Mudra’ (gesture of life and prana) with your other hand.
Make sure you sit in a comfortable posture. Discomfort can often lead to distractions.
This will help you focus better and make your pranayama practice more effective.
End Your Practice with Gratitude
People often end their practice with a simple ‘namaste’, but this does not really mean anything. The word is a mere greeting used to say hello or goodbye to one another.
After you have completed your asanas and your pranayama, before you end your practice, remember to give your thanks.
Thank your teacher for sharing their wisdom with you and guiding you. Thank your universe and surroundings for its beauty and most importantly, thank your body and your mind.
By expressing gratitude, we ensure negative emotions such as pride, jealousy and frustration do not affect us.
Adopt Subtle Lifestyle Changes
The practice of yoga alone cannot make us a better version of ourselves. In order to progress, we need to adopt the yogic lifestyle in our everyday lives.
There is a strong emphasis on an ayurvedic (primarily vegetarian) diet. But does this mean you have to give up meat and dairy one fine day?
The principles of the Yoga Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are mere suggestions. They explain how alcohol, drugs and food with no nutritional value affects our body and our mind. The more toxins we put in our body, the more they reflect on our thinking.
But having said that, our gurus (teachers) tell us that we must not change our diet radically one fine day. You can start small by including more fresh fruits and vegetables in your meals. Another easy way to adopt an ayurvedic diet is by being mindful of the portions you consume and when you consume them.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains that one can divide their stomach into three parts. Fill one with water and another with nutrition. The third should be left empty. So try not to overeat or undereat. Your body needs nutrition, so does your mind.
An Ayurvedic diet is based on the prinicples of ahimsa and causes no harm to others.
Things To Think About
Yoga is a lifelong practice, and one cannot reach samadhi overnight. It takes time to find your groove so remember the most important thing: Be patient, everything else will follow!