And Now, Yoga
By Geoffrey Nimmer, March, 2010
The very first line in the first book of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is “Atha-Yoganusasanum”, which translates as “Now the discipline of Yoga is explained.” The first word of the Sutra, “Atha” means “now.” Another way of interpreting this verse is that Yoga IS now. In other words, Yoga is the practice of being in the present moment.
For most of us our practice began with Asana, the physical practice. This is a great place to start because it gives us something concrete on which to focus.
There are many paths of Yoga. Personally, I have started down the path of Ashtanga Yoga. This method gives us specific tools to practice focusing the mind. The tools are: postures, a breathing system, and drishti, or gazing point. The three together are called Tristhana. As I am practicing, I notice I can become distracted. I might think about work I have to do, or phone calls I need to make. I like to look to see who else is practicing and what pose they are doing. When this happens, I can remind myself (hopefully without judgment) to come back to Trishtana.
I have had glimpses of how this practice helps me come into the present moment. After all, if I’m doing a pose, and I’m breathing properly, and I’m looking in the right place, isn’t that enough to think about? But it doesn’t come naturally, so I keep practicing.
I was enthralled with watching the Olympics. No matter what the event, I could watch the competition all night long. There is no better example of being in the present moment than those athletes. I marvel at how much focus it must take to perform like they do. What kind of concentration does it take to spin around on skates so fast that you get a nose bleed, or slide down an icy hill at 90 miles per hour, head first? I can’t imagine that someone who goes skiing off a jump and travels through the air more than 100 meters, with skis on, is thinking about anything other than what he or she is doing in that very moment.
I recently took a break from my Yoga practice to go surfing. It is a new activity for me. I’m not great at it, but I have a great time doing it. I have to really focus in order to actually do it. The tools of Trishtana help. I have to be breathing, or I would sink. My body has to be in the right place on the board to catch a wave. When I stand up, my feet have to land in the exact right position in order to be balanced on the board. And I better look where I’m going, or I’m just going down. Surfing, doesn’t come naturally to me, but I keep practicing.
I’m not saying that surfing will replace my Yoga practice. It is more that my practice can be applied to other parts of my life. When I’m feeling distracted, or challenged in some way, I can breathe, look at the task at hand, and focus. I use the tools I have been practicing to come into the present moment. And then, Yoga.