Practice is work
Our practice of yoga is work. Work because it requires the discipline to roll out our mat and dedication to our practice. Work because it requires us to develop our ability to pay focussed attention during our practice time. For most of us, discipline, dedication, and focus do require effort – at least for the first few years or longer of our practice.
Practice is play
Our practice of yoga is also play. Play because yoga invites us to explore our unknowns, to engage with the mystery inside and out in our worlds. Because play opens our minds and our hearts to learning and compassion. And because play – in and of itself – brings us to a place of pure joy.
So how do we turn our attention to play?
We can do this by taking a look at persona, paths, and exploration.
When we practice yoga on our mats – for whatever reason and in whatever form – we engage in a practice that loosens us from patterns. All sorts of patterns. From the very practical and immediate patterns, like stress or a habitual imbalance in our physical bodies, to the less tangible but sticky patterns of habitual emotion and thought. The yogis of old, postulate that our ego-self has a tendency to hold on to these patterns to define itself, to define us as a person.
Now the term person comes from the latin persona which in turn means mask or ‘false face’. Traditionally this was the mask that the actors in ancient Rome put on when acting on stage. So the notion of persona or person is intimately intertwined with play. Today the mask of persona is what each of us puts on as we go about doing our thing on the stage of life. A mask constructed by our ego selves from the patterns we have become entangled in.
As we loosen ourselves from pattern through our practices of yoga we loosen ourselves from the grip that the ego-self has over persona. Our persona becomes a little more porous allowing the light of our spirit to shine through. Or in other words, persona becomes something that we shine through rather than hide behind when we go out into the world. And going out into the world brings us on to paths…
Walking a path or playing a game?
Paths and the metaphor of walking a path are big in yoga. Every yogi and their dog are on a path. And paths have played a large role in the yoga traditions down through the ages. Traditions love paths! Simply because paths are a powerful tool in offering both structure and sanctuary which, in essence, is what traditions are there for.
Sooner or later many of us discover the whole path metaphor falls short. Simply because as our practice of yoga deepens we realize there is nowhere to go. Or we keep going around in circles. No matter what path we walk we always come back to where we are. And although the backdrop to, or the lighting on, the stage of our life may change a little our essence is unchanged. As we grow our realization that we can not hide behind the metaphor of path we come face-to-face with a much more empowering metaphor: which game do we want to play on the stage of life? Which persona do we want to adopt here and now? An invitation we face in each and every moment.
Explore! Explore! Explore!
Yoga empowers us and this starts with our practice on our mats. And this really starts to kick in when we bring the attitude of play into our practice. Not play as competition but play for the sake of play – pure play. Play that is open-ended with no attachment to the outcome. Play where time stands still and that captivates us in this present moment. Play that shifts us from the illusion of knowing towards the joy of exploring. And as we open to ‘practice as play’ the opportunities for exploration are unlimited.
Enjoy your practice as play!
For a more detailed exploration on this subject, EkhartYoga members can watch my talk “Practice is play“.
For a playfully irregular dose yoga philosophy, you can follow me on Twitter: @DDodd108