Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are amazing in their specificity while at the same time offering up quite a lot of latitude.
This is the art of the aphorism, after all — communicating a lot of meaning in few words.
Yet, the Yoga Sutras do lack instruction.
What the Yoga Sutras won’t tell you
The Yoga Sutras will not tell you how to get into Triangle pose or where your feet should be in Warrior 1.
Patanjali doesn’t tell you what breath practice will heal anxiety.
In fact, the Yoga Sutras won’t even tell you how specifically to reach enlightenment.
You’re told that you can reach enlightenment and there are certain qualities you must adopt to get there.
There are certain powers and signs to look for to know you’re on the right path.
And you’ll even get some reassurance that you’re heading in the right direction.
But you won’t be told exactly what to do.
Instead, you get options. In a world of “Just tell me what to do,” the Yoga Sutras have little time for quick-fix solutions.
And yet there is only one way
Even though you get a lot of options, the path to enlightenment is specific and focused.
Patanjali hints at the fact that there is only one way to enlightenment. The catch is each person has to discover that path for his or herself. Each path is unique.
Sutra 1.32: “If one can select an appropriate means to steady the mind and practice this, whatever the provocations, the interruptions cannot take root.”
Sutra 1.39: “Any inquiry of interest can calm the mind.”
Sutra 1.44: “This process is possible with any type of object, at any level of perception, whether superficial and general or in-depth and specific.”
Translations provided by T.K.V. Desikachar
Pick the right practice for you. It can be anything. It can be specific and mainstream or subtle and fringe.
Think of it this way. If you’ve ever played golf, or any sport really that involves a bit of technique, you can go to 20 different golf coaches to get your swing analyzed and they all will probably tell you something slightly different.
Place the ball closer to your front foot. Don’t try so hard. Loosen the grip. Place the ball closer to your back foot. Try harder. Tighten the grip.
By the time you’ve cycled through your twentieth lesson, your golf swing will be so messed up you’ll want to quit altogether.
To get really good at anything, you have to commit. Commit to one coach and one way to swing the club. Commit to one path to enlightenment and go all in. Commit to your belief, your practice, your object and don’t waver.
So, yeah, Patanjali gives you options, but it’s not like you can float from one option to the next for the rest of your life in search of enlightenment.
Your journey is meant to help you find that one thing, one way, one path.
Once you find it, you better stick to it!
And that’s hard.
Way back when I started this blog, I experimented with a year-long challenge.
I was (and am) really interested in work/life balance and have always struggled with the balance piece. To better implement balance in my life, I chose 52 different activities to practice for one week at a time in an effort to find the ones that most helped me find and maintain a semblance of balance and wellness in my life.
I’ve consolidated that year of experimentation and blog posts into one list of ideas for ways you can practice wellness and balance in your own life. This list could also be called 52 Ways to Practice Yoga. It was during this year that I really learned how to apply yoga off the mat.
The key is that I tried on all these practices, but only stuck with the ones that helped. I don’t drink a ton of green smoothies anymore, I rarely read my horoscope,m and I don’t bake. Those are all pleasant experiences and I do enjoy them, but they’re not part of my practice.
I mediate. I read. I write. That is my way.
Find your one way
If you’re one of those people who thinks yoga (asana) is hard, or that you can’t do it because you’re not flexible, look at this list and find another way to practice.
As long as you stay focused and committed, as long as you’re patient, you show up with eagerness and you keep an open mind, it can be argued that you are practicing yoga.
Bring balance into your life with your own set of wellness practices that work for you and you’ll be a yogi-in-training in no time. No Downward Dogs required. The more you practice, the more confident you become. The more confident you become, the more content you feel. The more content you feel, the less you suffer. And the less you suffer, the closer you get to enlightenment.
What are your favorite practices for staying balanced? Any practices you’d like to add to the list? Head on over to The Yoga Life Facebook group and share your practices with us!