Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Olympic Effort

With the opening of the London Olympics this past weekend it seems fitting to insert a blog relating to the Olympics.

The way yoga practioners veiw the Olympics ranges from believing they should be abolished to those are people trying to get yoga in as an Olympic sport.

Clearly yoga means different things to different people.

For me yoga is an inner practice, not measured by outside standards or judgments.  Right from the first class I attended the message was "this is not a competition"- that message has stuck with me. In my instructor training at Kriaplu Centre, the message was again- allowing, accepting, trusting  and learning to "just be".  Life is full of  places where we feel we must be the best, or live up to expectations. It is refreshing, and powerful to have something that is done for its own sake that helps us connect to our true nature.

This does not mean  yoga is an opportunity to go to sleep. Following specific alignment instructions help a person stay injury free in a posture. Those instructions can also help get you into a pose you could not access on your own. Focusing our attention on specific instructions or attempting different and challenging poses are ways of waking up our awareness and  learning to be present to life's difficulties.

Of course there are people whose practice is awe inspiring and we want to emulate, but the journey is to recognise that and refocus our awareness back to what is true for us. Most of us who practice yoga struggle with wanting to be the best, do it right, or to please the teacher.... in my opinion turning yoga into a competition only feeds that side of our nature.

That being said the path to becoming an Olympic level athlete shares some essential elements of the yoga path. In particular I am referring to what Patanjali call the 3 supports: Tapas, Svadyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana. 

1) Tapas: is sometimes translated as burning zeal, and physical discipline.  Not only are both the Olympic athlete and the traditional yogi deeply committed to the practice of their sport but all the related physical practices – rest, diet, etc. This kind of discipline requires what the yogis sometimes call burning zeal -an almost obsessive passion- without it the Olympic dream would not be reached. For most yogi’s the tapas is usually for health or oneness with our true nature, with so many people practicing yoga  I believe it is but ultimately it is an individual question- what inspires and motivates us to get to a class  or to do our own practice!?

 2) Svadhyaya: It is usually translated as self study. It refers to the inner work, study of your own patterns and nature as well as the study of the masters/teachers who have gone before you. For the modern Yogini this may involve studying sutras (ancient writings on the path of yoga) or simply studying with a teacher. It also involves a willingness to look at our inner experience with curiosity and kindness.

3) Isvara-pranidhana Faith, Surrender, Grace. This can also be translated as presence. Despite the hard work,  practice and the inner preparation, when it comes down the competition, an Olympic athlete must be fully present to the task at hand- which ultimately involves a letting go. As an observer it appears that it is also a case of grace that allows one person to finish a fraction of a second ahead of another and become “the best”in the world.
For the yogi it is through attention to the breath, and body that we come into presence (even  if it is only for a moment). In this place we may connect to our true nature, and a feeling of oneness with all that is. The result is that we gradually learn to live our lives as if each moment was as precious as winning an Olympic gold medal!


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