“So we’re creating a new generation that’s doing yoga poses, but in a fitness manner. It’s diluting yoga. It’s a lot easier to sell, because when you’re required to observe your mind and look at your stuff, it’s harder!” - Maty Ezraty, co-founder and former owner of Yoga Works.
As I grow in the asana practice and as a teacher, I find myself returning to my “yoga roots” and exploring a more holistic approach to my time both on and off my mat. Finding new ways to integrate this complex science within my personal life and my teachings proves to be challenging at times; we live in a society that favors the dynamic over the subtle, the tangible over the abstract. Not many are interested in standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) for several moments with Pada Bandha actively rooting down to the earth and all the lovely sensations of that connection flowing from the root to the stem(s) of your subtle body. This subtle but necessary work does not make for a pretty Instagram photo. It does cultivate an experience that can only be had through a consistent, conscientious asana practice. It is this practice that will lead you to be comfortable enough physically to go beyond just that, the physical, and search the more subtle aspects of a living sadhana.
So let’s take it back a little bit...okay well a long bit to be honest. My grandmother was a hothead, lived fully and was not fond of tomfoolery of any sort - her four ex-husbands and my grandfather could attest to that! In the early 70’s, she had to have a heart bypass - listening to the sound of the tick tock in her chest was one of my favorite things to help me sleep but I digress. Surprisingly, it was her primary doctor who suggested that she give meditation a try in order to channel her anger into a more positive space and sent her to Siddha Yoga in Los Angeles to begin her path. Well, it became a family affair and for three years starting at five-years-old, I found myself going to the center once a week for group meditation with my grandparents and other alternative seekers of lightness of being. Before you ask, no I did not make any noise while sitting there and, yes, I loved going. To this day, the scent of Nag Champa brings back memories of sitting in the meditation room, the candles, the incense, and above all the sound of the people sitting and...breathing. The diversity and conviviality of the community there informs my life in many ways to this day. It was there that my love of chai and my understanding of yoga began. Um, chai. Again, I digress.
“In today’s world, yoga is practiced a little bit more for physical reasons. Making your practice whole is about exploring the bigger picture: your attitudes, the way the mind works, what your intentions are. It means looking at yoga from a holistic perspective, less from a strictly physical point of view.” - Maty Ezraty
Once information started to float of scandals from the leader of the center, my grandparents left without hesitation. While my grandmother had definitely calmed down, her tolerance for tomfoolery did not, in particular when it comes to so-called spiritual guides. We never went back and I all but closed that chapter to my life. It was in my early twenties that I was reintroduced to yoga at my then neighborhood gym. As a dancer seeking a group class to stretch out the kinks, the manager recommended that I try a yoga class - he said it was like dancing. The first thing in my mind was no way we were going to meditate in a space that smelled like a funky mix of dirty socks and sweat but I gave it a go. Been giving it a go ever since so there was something to it!
As I explored this physical form of yoga, I became increasingly focused on the external aspects of asana and performance. It was easy for me and I wanted everyone to see how “good” I was at it. Hanumanasana? No worries! Eka Pada Sirsasana? Let’s go! It was so external that I am surprised I did not injure myself. My passage through what I consider to be our natural inclination towards the external was brief but I remember it well because I see it in other practitioners. Both old and new ones, students and teachers alike. The need to push themselves without attention to the subtle energy that the physical practice builds. People will fight themselves into postures, breath shallow, shoulders up near their temples but will stay there and have no explanation as to why. There is nothing “wrong” in my opinion. Many of us must take this route to truly understand how we navigate our lives psychologically and emotionally. It is through the careful observation of our thoughts while we practice that we can achieve the transition from the gross to the subtle body. Do we go with force and determination to “get” whatever we seek? Do we attach to a goal? Do we give up? Are we as attentive to our transitions as we are to our postures? Do we take our time to build a solid foundation before exploring our physical possibilities?
This is where the integration of sadhana into my asana practice began, with the awareness of my mind-state, softening the hard bits and going with the breath. Finding the balance between doing and being has evolved over my many years of practice, yogic studies, and time spent sitting with my shadows, there is a strong correlation to my early yoga experience and my present sentiments around yoga. Realizing that I was not finding a comfortable space in simply going through the motions with gusto but through bringing my consciousness into the practice. A revolutionary idea in its simplicity. Easier said than done however.
“Everything can be sadhana. The way you eat, the way you sit, the way you stand, the way you breathe, the way you conduct your body, mind and your energies and emotions – this is sadhana. Sadhana does not mean any specific kind of activity, sadhana means you are using everything as a tool for your well being.” - Sadhguru, Isha Yoga Center
Take time to stand in Tadasana and welcome the breath as you would a dear old friend, warmly. Sit and feel your sit bones root down, inhale and harness your root chakra, Muladhara to the earth, breathing the energy of that liaison up through the energetic body to the sky and exhaling and sending it back down to the earth in a natural exchange. How I approach sadhana in my practice may not correspond to what works for you. There is no one way, there is no right way. Find your path to the essentials and let your yourself “root down to grow” as I say. It can be hard...no it will most likely be very hard if done correctly. Truly worth it. This presence of mind in asana will also benefit you by helping you find a sustainable practice that will carry you throughout many years. Whether that practice be dynamic or subtle or ebbs and flows with the waves of your life, it will be there and it will be mindful.
Now isn’t that a lovely idea?
“Therefore, the ultimate object of hatha yoga is to experience yoga.” - Hatha Yoga Pradipika
In my classes and workshops, I invite the practitioner to go deeper into their practice via observation. Taking a moment to sit and find sukha, their well-being during all phases of the practice. Ofttimes we mistake the practice as a means to an end. That somehow if we go far enough in asana, we will find some sort of joy (bubble burst that end of the class joy you feel is just endorphins doing what they do, it is no different than doing a HIIT class). The asana is not the vehicle that carries us to joy, it is work we do while in the asana that builds a presence of mind, body and spirit. Observe where you are, how you feel, why, and how to breath and be easy with it, no judgements, no expectations, just possibilities. Living your asana as a sadhana.
May you be present in your practice both on and off the mat. Antonée Lua
life, peace, and prosperity through movement.