The Inner Practice of Yoga

I just returned from a 4-day retreat in Austin, Texas, with my teacher, Gary Kraftsow. At this retreat, we explored different schools of thought that emerged from the Vedic period. The Veda-s, collections of hymns and mantra-s incorporating teachings about the great questions of life (for example: who am I? why am I here?), and commentaries on the meanings of these hymns and mantra-s, were written starting around 1500 BC. The schools of thought that we studied, Advaita Vedānta, Viśiṣṭādvaita, and Dvaita, developed much later. All of these recognized that suffering is part of human experience, that suffering is caused by ignorance of the true nature of existence and consciousness, and that we can free ourselves from suffering by realizing our true nature. Our practices at this retreat included chanting of mantra-s from the Veda-s, guided meditations, and journaling. 

You may be wondering what this has to do with yoga. The truth is, it has everything to do with yoga. When I started my teacher training, back in 2004, I was interested in āsana, the movement part of yoga. I loved how much better I felt when I practiced āsana – not just physically but also mentally and emotionally – and wanted to learn how to help others achieve that sense of well-being. But in my yoga studies, I came to realize that āsana is only the tip of the iceberg; a doorway in to a much larger and more important discipline. Although I mainly teach āsana and prānāmāya (focused breathing) in my classes, yoga is really the whole package – a system of methods and practices leading ultimately to liberation.

One of the main concepts of Advaita Vedānta and Viśiṣṭādvaita is that ultimately, the consciousness that exists within us is not separate from the universal consciousness that pervades the universe. I find this concept to be especially comforting in this time of political, economic, and ecological uncertainty. Inspired by the practices that Gary led during this retreat, I’d like to offer you a short practice with a chant and meditation. Chanting can create a vibration in your core, helping to bring the focus inward, and thus facilitating meditation. The chant is “om so ham, ham sa ha.” The meaning is – I am that (universal consciousness – om) – that I am.” It is chanted on 3 tones (comprising 2 whole steps musically – like C-D-E) – the syllable with the horizontal line underneath is the lowest tone, the syllable with no extra mark is the middle tone, and the syllable with the vertical line above is the highest tone.

Light is often used as a symbol of universal consciousness, and I have included a short meditation on light in the practice.

I have also included chair versions of the poses.

Enjoy the practice, and have a wonderful and serene holiday season.