“The practice of yoga is the commitment to become established in the state of freedom.” – from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
What strikes you about this statement, the thirteenth sutra, as significant?
Is it the word order? Is it the explicit offering of a goal? Is it the strong suggestion of a cause-and-effect relationship?
Three words in the sentence echo in my mind: “practice,” “commitment,” “freedom.”
These three words epitomize my understanding of yoga and why I find the practice of yoga so compelling.
Yoga is, indeed, a practice, which, in my mind, suggests being willing on a regular basis to try different poses, to experiment with different ways of seeing the pose and oneself in the pose, and to be willing to lose one’s balance and fall out of a pose and stand up and try again.
Practice means being willing to take risks and make mistakes. It means not only being able to learn from one’s mistakes, but also being able to learn in a way that allows you to keep practicing.
The first time you kick into a handstand, you might be able to lift your feet over your head without effort. That’s great. But most of us need to practice many times before we can find the balance, strength, and confidence to kick up into the pose.
So, for weeks or months or years, we might practice handstand by placing our hands at the base of a wall and slowly lifting one leg, then the other, not even trying to kick one leg up against the wall.
Or we might learn first how to deal with our fear of being upside down, or with our weak shoulder muscles, or with our lack of trust in our bodies to support us.
Practice, in this light, is essential to one’s growth on the mat, just as commitment is what brings us back to our mat again and again.
Our commitment helps us return to explore our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, our sense of inadequacy, and our assumptions about life. It gives us a chance to learn how to deal with our limitations in a new way.
Our commitment, according to Patanjali, is our practice. And it’s this commitment to practice that lets us find a sense of freedom.
Freedom isn’t simply an abstract word in this context. It’s a concrete state of being, a state in which we can enjoy the freedom of being ourselves… if we care for our bodies and commit ourselves to the practice of yoga.
Patanjali refers to a ‘state of freedom’ rather than simply to ‘freedom.’ Why might he do this? How does practice lead to this state of freedom?
Is he suggesting that a state of freedom is more permanent?
Or is he saying that you can arrive in such a state only by committing yourself to your practice?
Practice Journal: How would you interpret the three words—“practice,” “commitment,” and “freedom”—and link them together to help you better understand your own yoga practice?
Note: “The practice of yoga is the commitment to become established in the state of freedom.” from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated and introduced by Alistair Shearer (Bell Tower, New York, NY).