How Yoga Works (Hint: Consistent Practice is Key)
In the yoga sutra, we’re given a few key points as to how yoga works.
Patanjali tells us pretty much right away that yoga is self-evident when the mind is quiet. He then reveals that in order to quiet the mind, one engages in consistent practice while relinquishing any hold over how that practice turns out (sutra 1.12).
The key is a steady consistent practice.
Most of us begin yoga as casual observers, heading to our favorite class maybe once a week. But, then yoga does something strange. It gets its hooks in us and we become obsessed. Suddenly we’re buying unlimited memberships at the yoga studios and investing in $100 yoga pants. We read yoga, speak yoga and breathe yoga. No matter what the outer trappings of the practice, it still creates internal transformation. Why?
Because the yoga always does it’s job.
The practice can be of any discipline and the teacher can be of any lineage. As long as the student is dedicated and engaged in the practice, the yoga will do it’s job. The practice has a way of clearing the wheat from the chaff and allowing for the inner condition of yoga to arise.
Yoga is our birthright.
It is who we are. It is a natural, inborn, ingrained state, and we’ve simply forgotten it through our social condition and programming. The practices of yoga (thankfully) slowly undo that programming to reveal more happiness and freedom. We become more at ease with ourselves, more self confident. We become generally more fun to be around. People enjoy our company. So much so, in fact, that our friends and loved ones will start telling us to go to yoga if we slip into a funk. They’ve witnessed the power of our practice and how it affects our attitude in such a way that those we interact with notice.
Those are some of the benefits and they’re revealed no matter what we hope for in the practice. Remember the sutra? It says that one of the things that slows our mind is a relinquishing of any desire for the fruits of the practice. Because that desire locks us in to expectations… which, if we don’t get what we want, bums us out. So what if our yoga practice results in less stress and less tension instead of rock hard abs? Isn’t anything we derive from a focused practice awesomely okay? In the words of the great sages, The Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
When we practice on a regular basis, yoga lays the groundwork for our internal condition to shift.
It’s the regularity that the yoga sutra also stresses. In the sutras that follow, Patanjali defines practice (abhyasa) as something that’s engaged in consistently over a long period of time. Consistency is key. The Beatles did it. They performed together as a band for 8 hours a day for 4 straight years in a crappy pub. Sounds like a lot of work…but look at what that work yielded. In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule of excellence. Basically we need to dedicate 10,000 hours to anything to earn mastery. Yoga included.
Like, right now. Every day is an opportunity for your practice. And every practice counts. When we choose to show up on our mat, whether it’s for 10 minutes or 3 hours, all of that counts. The consistency over a long duration is what gives the yoga time to create the internal change that supports the sustained feeling of connectedness and happiness that is yoga. It’s good stuff, but it doesn’t happen magically.
Only with dedication and surrender do we attain liberation.
This isn’t a new age concept. You can have it, too. The state of yoga isn’t the providence of those who sit on Himalayan mountain tops in dhotis meditating for 108 years. Anyone can realize it. You’ve just got to keep getting on your mat. Let it do it’s job. Give it time and witness the results. Because they’re awesome, and there’s a new perspective waiting for you inside your own human condition.
Go, yogi, go.