It is difficult to maintain a regular yoga practice, but even more challenging is taking that practice off the mat and into our daily lives. How do we do it? How can we live our yoga?According to Patanjali, a 5th century yogic sage credited with penning the Yoga Sutras, one way we can take our yoga off the mat is through the path to enlightenment. The word sutra literally means thread, and Patanjali’s guidebook to enlightenment is divided into four portions: the portion on contemplation, the portion on practice, the portion on accomplishments and the portion on absoluteness. One of my favorite aphorisms, Sutra 1.33, is known as the Four Locks and Keys. It is translated by Nischala Joy Devi in her book, The Secret Power of Yoga, as:
“To preserve openness of the heart and calmness of the mind, nurture these attitudes:
Kindness to those who are happy;
Compassion for those who are less fortunate;
Honor for those who embody noble qualities;
Equanimity to those whose actions oppose your values.”
This is great and simple advice, but like many things in life is often easier said than done. Human nature will often turn the kindness to the happy into envy; the compassion for the less fortunate into scorn; the honor for the noble into contempt; the equanimity to the wicked into anger or self-righteousness. Why is it that what seems so simple in theory can be so hard in reality?
Yoga is defined by Patanjali as the freedom from the distractions of the mind. This does not mean that we should all walk around with our heads in the clouds, but rather that we should live our lives uninfluenced by outside distractions. In a world full of smart-phones, Wii and social media, it seems that outside distractions are the norm.
Yoga helps us bring all of those things back into perspective. By contemplating the human condition, and finding happiness, compassion, honor and equanimity towards those we encounter, we become kinder, gentler and more human. Through our work on the mat, our practice, we often find clarity into those things which challenge us off the mat. Through our accomplishments and our growth, our regular yoga practice can help us prioritize our lives, and perhaps find that inner peace that we all strive for. That is the absoluteness, the samadhi, the enlightenment that humans have sought to ascertain since the dawn of time.
The next time you roll out your yoga mat may not be the moment you find enlightenment, but isn’t it nice to know that you just might be on the right path?