I study in a tradition of yoga that places great emphasis on the importance of individualization of practice. We look for appropriate practices that function in an intended way for a given student. No two
people are alike, so the ways that they as individuals respond to a practice is individual as well. The emphasis is on function over form. I have a student who can attain a picture-perfect image of ustrasana.
However, when she focuses on suppleness and extension in her upper back, rather than relying only on her flexible lower back, her form changes. She no longer looks like the cover of a magazine, but she is
far more efficiently attending to the needs of her own system. She looks like what the cover of a magazine should be.
This theme of function over form comes to me daily. We so often have the tendency to think a certain pose, job, conversation, even a certain spiritual practice is going to finally be the source of the peace,
contentment, joy, or fill-in-the-blank we’ve been searching for. We do this even though we know that the only source for any of that comes from within.
The Yoga Sutras teach us we can reduce our own suffering by clearing and refining our own system so that our inner light can shine. We can do this because we are affected by the things to which we connect. So, my best bet is to consciously connect to objects that influence me in a chosen direction. And when a given object outlives its usefulness in this way, I need to be ready to let it go. My smudged little mind is doing its job of connecting so capably that sometimes it becomes attached. Every time I think I have relinquished my attachment to a given form, I come to discover I have simply replaced it with another form.
Yesterday was my birthday. It was a terrible day. I ran late getting my son to preschool, managed to get my morning coffee only after lunch, and more seriously, I felt a surge of grief occasioned by the upcoming first anniversary of a dear friend’s death. Not a great day, but so what? That happens. Why the silly outrage that it happened on my birthday of all days?! It gave me cause to notice not only my attachment to happiness, but also my strong attachment to finding happiness when and where I expect.
The Yoga Sutras tell us that an incredibly effective tool for us is to consider our inner light, which is free from all suffering. So, it is clearly no bad thing to focus on and cultivate joy. But attaching to joy as a source of our own sense of "ok-ness" somehow converts that joy into just another object that can take our "ok-ness" with it when life swirls it away.
Yoga teaches us that which is changeable is never a source of our own sense of self and center. And yet, using these changeable forms with intention can help us discern and connect to our unchanging self, a process which increases our peace and freedom from suffering. So, as I practice, hopefully I can come to recognize that the object which once looked like deep, real joy is just a deeper shade of pleasure. In those moments, I hope to be able to relinquish each object as it outlives its usefulness as a tool. Function over form. So simple and so difficult. And so, I just keep on practicing.
Jen is a teacher and student of yoga in the style of Krishnamacharya, as taught by his son, TKV Desikachar and his students. She is excited to offer in a by-donation workshop: an overview of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Friday, September 14th, 7pm to 8:30pm at Elemental Yoga. She will offer a more in-depth, 16 week course on the Yoga Sutras beginning Thursday, September 20th, 8:15am-9:15am. Please contact Jen at 318.210.7203 or firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or for more information.