If you’ve been in my class this week or read my previous blog post, you know I’m teaching from Hatha Yoga Pradipika chapter 1, verse 16 for six weeks, spending a week exploring, refining, defining, and reflecting on each quality in this verse from one of the classic yoga texts devoted to Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is the Yoga involving practices that incorporate the body–asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, and kriya. The Sanskrit word “hatha,” which means “sun-moon,” is commonly mispronounced, and correctly sounds like “hot ha”, with distinct “t” and “h” sounds, unlike the “th” sound in the word “three.”
Yoga succeeds by these six: enthusiasm, openness, courage, knowledge of the truth, determination, and solitude.
It may seem like teaching enthusiasm about the practice of Hatha Yoga to a room full of people who have come to practice Hatha Yoga is preaching to the choir, but when one considers the natural progression of the practice, it becomes clear that this is a relevant teaching. Consider this: I’ve been rolling out a yoga mat most days since 1999, performing many of the same asanas (poses or postures) over and over again. Yet, as long as I remain mindful, Warrior 1 never gets boring. “This is it,” my teacher Ti Harmony often says. He doesn’t mean for this statement to discourage his students. I think he intends it, like the ringing of the bell in Buddhism, to remind us to stay–or become–fully present, to acknowledge what we’re working with: the physical stuff, mind stuff, and emotional stuff we brought into the Yoga room today. From day to day, week to week, year to year, the same basic shape feels many different ways in my body. A variety of factors affect my perception of the sensations that are present, and the thoughts and emotions I experience: my current level of physical fitness, any injuries, tightness caused by activity (e.g., sitting, cycling, or running), the events of the day, how much sleep I got the night before, my mental-emotional state, and my responses or reactions to all these factors.
Enthusiasm does not mean we choose the most challenging variation of every posture in class and double dip every chaturanga. Enthusiasm is balanced by discrimination (Swami Muktibodhananda) or knowledge of the truth (Akers)–the honesty (satya) with ourselves about our energy level, where our “edge” lies, and about our own unique anatomical structure. Enthusiasm is not about struggle, striving, competition, or achievement.
One of my intentions as a Yoga teacher is to help students create and maintain a sustainable practice that they will be able to do for many years to come. However, we are all aging, so our bodies will naturally lose the ability to do certain poses they used to be able to do. Enthusiasm involves accepting this reality, content (santosha) with what we are able to do today. An attitude of enthusiasm requires us to make a conscious choice to embrace what’s happening right now with a tone of curiosity and receptivity, and to learn from whatever happens–or doesn’t happen.
Krishna admonishes Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (trans.: Eknath Easwaran):
On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.
This morning, I arrived to teach a class to a group of folks who seemed like their energy was low and they were tired from the long, hot summer week. Nonetheless, they practiced with enthusiasm. They showed up, did the movement in a way that was appropriate for the body they arrived with today, and did it with an equanimous attitude, as far as I could tell. You can practice with enthusiasm when you’re tired, injured, depressed, anxious, angry, energetic, elated, or old. The most important element of enthusiasm is to show up–not just physically, but with your full awareness and attention. If you can do that, you have succeeded.
In class this week, I supplemented my reading from the HYP with a quote from Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s book, No Time To Lose:
We can put our whole heart into whatever we do; but if we freeze our attitude into for or against, we’re setting ourselves up for stress. Instead, we could just go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead. This kind of open-ended inquisitiveness captures the spirit of enthusiasm, or heroic perseverance.
This thought provides a lovely segue into our topic for the coming week: perseverance/determination.