The Secret of Yoga – Abhyasa

Using change as your ally, build a strong daily practice.

Om Namah Sivaya, Welcome

Why is it we often don’t see the many benefits of yoga asana practice, including health, peace of mind, and stability? The Raja Yoga Sutras tell us the secret. The benefits of yoga are attained through Abhyasa: regular practice over a long period of time. What is regular, you might ask, and how long?

The answer is an easy – every day.

But why can’t my once or twice a week yoga practice give me all the benefits I am looking for?

Yoga is about finding balance in mind and body. In yoga philosophy it is commonly accepted that the nature of the apparent world around us is change; this works for and against us. It means that if we practice once or twice a week we spend more time moving out of balance than we do towards balance. Of course even yoga for ten minutes a week is good! Its a great place to start. But if we want to use the principle of change to our advantage and gain its benefits we must exercise towards positive change every day. If we are constantly engaged in this positive effort of our yoga practice ever day, then the principle of change is shifting towards balance. And when we trip and fall we come back into balance faster because there is not so much time between the next practice.

Through extended yoga asana and pranayama practice we become more acutely aware of the changes in the mind and body. This does not happen immediately, but when you begin to notice the subtle nature of the mind and body, you are able to see it shift in and out of balance more apparently. Then its also easier to correct because we can catch ourself before we swing to an extreme. This is the desired result of yoga, being able to remain in a balanced state even through the nature of change attempts to pull us in all directions; be it exceptionally excited or the opposite in frustration or anger.

But I don’t have time to practice yoga every day!

This is simply not true. You have decided that to practice yoga looks a certain way. In the Ashram I got very used to taking two hour classes every day, it was wonderful. But then we would get very busy with a special event and I would think, oh I don’t have time for yoga today. This was because my mind got fixated on the two hour class and I would skip a day of practice. But after a few days of this kind of thinking I was lucky enough to remember that I can do my whole asana practice in a half hour, I had done it before during a course that focused primarily on Pranayama called Sadhana Intensive. Then suddenly it was easy to practice on those days where I was busy because the thought in my mind that I didn’t have enough time was shattered.

But time is not the only “thought” that challenges us. We find so many excuses not to practice. Some of this can be fixed through more efficient time management but we also have to make daily asana and pranayama practice a priority. Until practicing is as important as eating then we will always be able to excuse it from our day. Remember with food, maybe you skip breakfast and eat lunch late but rarely will you skip eating for a whole day!

Hatha yoga is about using the body and breathe to control and calm the mind. It is part of a larger science called Raja Yoga which uses many techniques to improve our ability to concentrate and gain mental strength. But in the beginning when you are not yet too strong, you must be vigilant and constantly watch the mind to override all the little excuses to skip your daily yoga practice.

The more consistent your yoga practice the easier it will become and the more time you will find exists to practice. For many of you there are five days a week where you spend most of your day at work. For these days it is often the most difficult to find time and energy to practice. But I can assure you that on these days if you do practice, the day will be easier with more energy.

My teacher Swami Sitaramananda always used to say, “find time to practice and the rest of the day will take care of itself.” Meaning we don’t have to control all the time in the day, if the mind is calm and centered everything will fall into place on its own. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live like this letting everything take care of itself without us having to expend so much extra energy controlling.

So my suggestion to build a daily practice is first make the decision to devote 20 minutes to your practice on the most extra busy days and take a full 60-90 minute class on the other days. Every morning wake up and say I am going to practice asana today. If you can do it before you go to work even better, but really whenever it fits in your day is great.

What should you do in your practice? Make sure it well rounded with a little pranayama, a few sun salutation, asanas and relaxation. When we are super busy we often skip the most important part of the five points which is proper relaxation. At the end of the article I have given a few suggested short routines. I also have a 20 minute class recording and several full class recordings (insert several links here) for you to use. I find that when I lack personal motivation to practice either taking a class with other students or listening to a recorded class relinquishes some of the burden I feel to force myself to practice. Part of taking a class is surrendering to the teacher and we need that surrender sometimes to help us overcome our own mental obstacles.

But there will always be days that between your personal schedule and mental disinterest you will watch the day slip away without practicing. On these days it is most imperative to practice, so immediately when you notice this happening stop right where you are a do a few sun salutations and a short relaxation in 5-10 minutes. It isn’t much but at least you practiced something. You have confirmed in your mind you will not skip a day!

Often if I find myself in this situation and after completing a few sun salutations my mind is totally changed and I decide I want to practice. Even after three years of almost daily practice there is still the urge to be lazy or get caught up in other things. But that is yoga, constantly being aware and bring yourself back to the practice. With a little determination your Abhyasa will become strong and all the benefits you hope to gain from yoga will begin to manifest. Now get off the internet and go practice 🙂 Om Shanti

*Reminder these are just quick practices for busy days and do not fully replace a whole yoga class. The 12 Asana Sequence is designed to work the entire body and these 20 minutes outlines skip many Asanas. If you practice these a few times a week, I have given different options so you get all the asanas in parts. Also, if the pace is too quick for you, just slow it down and make the practice a touch longer or shorten something, but don’t skip out on the Savasana.

You can find details on how to practice the  Asanas Here and Pranayama Here.

*In this outlines a “short relaxation” is 3 – 6 deep breaths, of course you can take longer if you wish.

Option 1: The Essentials

00:00 – 00:30 Initial Relaxation

00:30 – 02:00 1 Round Kapala Bhati 60 pumping with one retention as long as comfortable

02:00 – 07:00 5 Rounds Alunoma Viloma 4-16-8 count with short Savasana

07:00 – 10:30 4 Rounds each side Sun Salutation with short Savasana

10:30 – 11:30 Headstand or Dolphin with Short Savasana

11:30 – 12:30 Shoulderstand —> Plough —> Savasana

12:30 – 13:00 Fish with counter stretch

13:00 – 14:00 Seated forward bend —> Incline plane

14:00 – 15:00 Half Spinal Twist (about 30 seconds each side)

15:00 – 20:00 Final Relaxation (Don’t skip, set a timer on your phone to get the full five minutes)

Option 2: A little more Pranayama

00:00 – 01:00 Initial Relaxation

01:00 – 03:00 2 Rounds Kapala Bhati 60/80 pumpings and Retentions as long as comfortable

03:00 – 10:00 8 Rounds Anuloma Viloma 4-16-8 count

10:00 – 10:30 Savasana

10:30 – 14:00 4 Rounds each side Sun Salutation with short Savasana

14:00 – 15:00 Shoulderstand —> Fish

15:00 – 15:30 Seated Forward Bend —> Incline Plane

15:30 – 16:00 Cobra

16:00 – 20:00 Final Relaxation

Option 3: More back bends and balancing

00:00 – 00:30 Initial Relaxation

00:30 – 02:00 1 Round Kapala Bhati 60 pumpings with one retention as long as comfortable

02:00 – 07:00 5 Rounds Alunoma Viloma with short Savasana

07:00 – 10:30 4 Rounds each side Sun Salutation with short Savasana

10:30 – 12:00 Shoulderstand —> Plough —> Fish –> Short Savasana

12:00 – 12:30 Seated Forward Bend —> Incline Plane

12:30 – 14:00 Cobra —> Locust —> Bow (with short prone relaxation between each)

14:00 – 14:30 Crow

14:30 – 15:30 Triangle on each side

15:30 – 20:00 Final Relaxation

2 Comments

  1. Very useful and a powerful reminder. Thank you for sharing!

    • Om Brother, thanks for reading and checking in, we appreciate your support and presence out there in the world, Om Shanti

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