by guest author Elissa Jordan
When I step onto my mat at home for a personal practice I see it as my practice. It is a practice made up of teachers, books,workshops and what feels good for my body at that time. It’s got elements of Astanga, Acro Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Iyengar, Sivananda and Kundalini. It suits my mood and my tempo. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes slow, sometimes intense, sometimes restorative. It’s mine.
But when I was recently in India a teacher commented to me that yoga is not just a practice- it is a discipline. Yoga, as she sees it, is about withdrawing the senses from the material world and moving towards a higher state. Therefore, we should pick a path – whatever it may be, and stick to it. Taking the sun salute from Astanga but the breathing practices of Kundalini, mixing in some of the supported poses in the Iyengar teachings and calling it a practice is an indulgence of the senses. It is just another way of taking the good while cutting out the bad, which is no discipline at all.
I can see where she’s coming from and I can appreciate that this is what works for her practice. But I don’t agree that this is the path for me.
A lot of this necessity to take a purist approach to one branch of teachings seems to be a resistant reaction to modern Western principles of instant gratification. People, in the West, don’t want to work for things, they want to diet for a day and be skinny for life, save for a month and be rich for life, practice yoga for an hour and be master of the asanas. But yoga, and life, is not about quick wins. In both you are interacting with a practice. In practice there is no right or wrong and there is no finish line. Everyday you start again, a clean slate. And you can do with your life and your practice only what works for you.
Westerners do have a propensity to alter and adapt long standing teachings for the sake of profit or ease, which is again an argument for honouring the original teachings of the Vedas.
To become a self-realised yogi – to ascend the physical sheath – can take untold number of lifetimes. If you believe that we all come back again and again then doing the best you can in this life is all that you can do. Maybe your next life will come equipped with the discipline to dedicate your life to your single focused practice. In this life it is the attitude that you approach your mat and your practice with that counts, not whose teachings you follow.
My discipline is coming back to my mat and exercising compassion with myself and with those around me. I allow myself to miss a day without reprimand. I can miss a week without deeming myself a failure. Because as soon as I step back onto my mat I am, again, practicing and trying to build that discipline. I would love to wake up before the dawn every morning and spend a good couple of hours just me, my mat and my practice. And maybe that’s what my life will become, and maybe it’s not. But the discipline that keeps me coming back to my practice – whether it’s an Astanga class or Vinyasa Flow – approached with the attitude of mindfulness and compassion means I am fulfilling my obligations to myself.
And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ve got it all backwards in my little of this, little of that approach. But this is my practice, this is what works for me. I would be really interested to know how you see things – are you a single style practitioner or do you dabble? And do you think there is a single answer for us all?
When she’s not earning a living as a Digital Marketing Manager with a leading New Zealand charity, Elissa is a belly-dancing, blog-writing, cycle-commuting, vegan-cooking yogi.
She started seriously following a regular yoga practice about three years ago after several start-stop attempts. Never one to give up on something she cares about, yoga and Elissa are now crossing paths on a daily basis.
Elissa is new on the Wellington yoga scene having recently immigrated from Canada by way of London, England. She’s looking forward to the day AcroYoga makes it to New Zealand and has brought with her teaching qualifications from the British School of Yoga, A.M. Yoga and the Sivananda Vedanta Ashram in Neyyar Dam, India.