Developing Devoted Practice, Abhyasa
by Nischala Joy Devi.
March 1, 2014
In last week’s blog, I talked about Abhyasa (Devoted Practice) and Vairagya (Remembering the Self)–the vital duo that team to elevate our consciousness and bring us union with the True Self. This week, let’s talk more about Abhyasa.
What is the purpose of that Devoted Practice/Abhyasa? In Sutra 1.13 of the Yoga Sutras of Raja Yoga, we find the answer:
Sutra 1.13 Devoted Practice, Abhyasa, cultivates the unfolding of consciousness.
As we develop a deep friendship with our inner Self, the fluctuations of thoughts and feelings recede and the comfort of the truth unfolds. Our senses and the material world constantly pull us outward, away from our inner consciousness. With deepening devotion we are encouraged to rediscover that Divine Spark within. It then becomes our first choice of identification in any given situation.
Sutra 1.14 Abhyasa is nurtured by a sustained, steady rhythm and a dedicated heart.
Here we are given three ways to nourish and deepen a methodical spiritual practice. What exactly is a devoted practice? What does it mean to nurture our practice by a sustained, steady rhythm? And for how long? A month? A year? Ten years? It is not possible to have a formula to determine something as acutely personal to each individual.
Even if we do not realize it, what we are seeking is the sense of wholeness. This sense is so familiar that we often forget that it is always with us. The time we spend each day in communion with ourselves is such an integral part of our lives that, when it is absent, we feel unbalanced and out of sorts. Rhythm of practice, on the other hand, can be one of the most stabilizing effects of our life.
The rhythm of the devoted practice is sustained and steady when you no longer have to ask, “Should I sit for meditation today?” Now there is no need to make excuses, to look for a reason to take a day off.
In order to sustain a dedicated heart, choose a practice that encompasses the richness of spirit in everyday life, one that nourishes you on all levels. If you are devotional by nature, tend toward chanting or other practices that complement heart-centered feelings. If you are more intellectual by nature you might be attracted to the study of Holy Scriptures. The predominantly physical person might enjoy the more active asanas (poses). But, for the most harmonious effect, try to create a well-rounded balance in your choice of practices.
Simple repetition is not enough for true Abhyasa. Our practice may be as steady as a drumbeat, yet to fully embrace the spirit of the activity, a deepening must take place. A metronome beats a steady rhythm, but it is the heart of the musician that imbues the music with spirit and life. This kind of transformation takes place when our practices, traditions, and teachers are wholeheartedly honored.
In time most daily rituals—cooking, driving, eating, giving someone a kiss goodbye, even meditating or engaging in spiritual practice—can become rote or routine. Keeping the enthusiasm alive is the key. After months or years of doing the same poses, breathing techniques, and chants, the heart may lose its hold on the practice. Don’t discard your practices; instead, rededicate your heart to them. Lavished with love, they can be transformed into a practice that resonates for you. The striving then stops as the heart takes over. The ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary!
♥ The Heart & Spirit of the Yoga Sutras Audio book (The Secret Power of Yoga) by Nischala Joy Devi