Doing what my body wants
By Paul Dallaghan
A line often mentioned to me by students about their practice is that “I did as my body felt like today”. I believe it is good to listen to the body. To be able to do so indicates a highly developed inner sense. And if being done properly then one must have achieved certain levels in yoga. At a basic level I would say when the body is fatigued, when there is a fever, then this is a time to understand this and adjust or not practice. What I have seen is students ignoring all signs that tell them practice today should not be done and, more commonly, students using any condition to change or back out of practice.
Yoga is a powerful practice. It is beyond us, higher than us. This is precisely the reason why it has been given to us and why we do it. Our true nature is covered up by many layers. Our thought process and ability to comprehend things is thus clouded. From ancient times, the practice of yoga has been going on, being taught by those who experienced it first hand. It is a higher path, passed on to us to help clean us up and pull us out of this mess of confusion. At its base are high scientific principles. It is built on truth. We all have this within us and need this system to help unearth it.
It therefore is self-defeating to say “I did what my body wants today”. Such an approach keeps one in the same rut, going around in circles without any hope of growth. There may be superficial results such as feeling better in the body. But this is what exercise is for. It is also ego driven to think that “I” can solve this and go against what those wiser than us have passed on to us. Most importantly though is this approach is usually emotionally driven. Thus it is based on whim. It is fair if one approaches their practice like a scientist, following a course for a period of time, seeing its effect and seeing what needs to be changed or done next. But when we go with inner whims each day we unfortunately achieve nothing.
In the Yoga Sutras, the authorative text on yoga, Patanjali points out the obstacles that come in the way of our practice (I.30). They are physical ailment, lethargy, unreasonable doubt, carelessness, laziness, undisciplined senses, imaginations, inability to reach higher experiences, and non-retention of the achieved experiences. The whimsical practice of how I feel falls right in there. To conquer them Patanjali advises the student to practice sincerely and with a focused mind. Not just in the moment but over time. A one-pointed practice done from the heart. A practice the teacher has given you. He acknowledges these obstacles will arise and we must practice to overcome them. Even when injured apply this intelligence. Perhaps a period of rest is necessary. Then modification in practice while following the approach given. Over a period of time this grows and the physical ailment is conquered. The other obstacles aren’t given the space to sprout up and affect us even more.
It is the nature of the mind to rebel and lead us astray. This is normal. We should acknowledge it. And then we should remember it when these mental moments come. If I am weak or fevery then to limit or stop my practice is justifiable. When not then it is of most benefit to follow the teacher’s instructions and just practice. Typically the mind wants much variation and is continually distracted. The state of yoga is a calm, undistracted mental state, ultimately beyond mind. More importantly though, as it is unchartered territory for the student, and the effects are very subtle, there is typically a complete lack of understanding of the real inner process. Only towards the end of a “clearing” is it then understood. Changing or stopping in the middle is like pulling the cake out of the oven, not ready and inedible. Put it back and let it finish the process. This is also why a competent and experienced teacher is needed. And not just that, but that they have spent time with a teacher who themselves is connected to the vast teachings and rich lineage of this higher art and science.
So the practice of yoga focuses and calms the mind. In essence it builds tremendous mental strength. This can only be achieved when one follows the prescribed practice, daily. If we pull back and look out over, say, a twenty-year period we will find much variation in practice. Yet we will see that it has come from progression. A certain practice was followed, a stage achieved, the next step moved on to, and so on. But we get stuck in the immediate and suffer from this impatience and weakness of mind.
Simply, the truest and greatest benefit comes from following the teacher-given practice each day. After a while a barrier is crossed and strength of mind is gained. Through experience one learns the results. When done on one’s whim, constantly changing it around because “I feel this or that” will leave the student at ground zero going round in circles. So fight the urge to play around. Stick to your practice and watch the mind develop, the heart open. Even when doing the same system for so many months in a row the experience within is constantly changing. To benefit from yoga trust in the practices and advice of those higher than us who achieved its end.