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Some Participation Required

“Just Do It”

Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

This is one of my favorite yoga quotes mostly because it pertains to literally every aspect of life. (Before you read on, please remember this is being written by a perpetual student and teacher.) As important as it is to study, to ponder, to cogitate, to process, to synthesize, it is 99 times more important that you, to quote Nike, “just do it.”

Even people who don’t know much about yoga know that it involves integrating body, mind, and spirit. But few have really considered what that means. Even fewer have recognized that it is a practice meant to impact your whole life, not just the tiny portion of your life that you spend on a yoga mat.

When you really, truly care about something, you don’t just think about it (mind). You don’t just believe in it (spirit). You pour yourself into it (body). It is participation that is the magic ingredient.

Participation is the magic ingredient

Why is this so? As I often do, I turned to a dictionary and found a clue:

Participate: to take part; to have a part or share in something – Merriam Webster

It follows that until we participate, we really don’t have a share. We are only spectating.

Yoga wisdom explains the gifts of participation

This idea is of utmost importance in yoga philosophy. Patanjali (author of one of yoga’s seminal texts, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), in his description of what a practice of yoga entails (YS 2.1), uses the Sanskrit word kriya, which means action. He goes on to list three components of a yoga practice – and they all require doing.

First is tapas. While often defined as self-discipline, any discussion of tapas would be incomplete without mention of heat and effort. Tapas is the hard work of yoga. The willingness to hang in there through discomfort. The strength to persist. My dad would label it “the elbow grease” needed when facing a challenge.

Second is svadhyaya, which means self-study. It means taking ownership of your learning process. It is study that goes beyond what the teacher (whether in real-life or a book or podcast) teaches to follow your own yearning to know more. It is the action of digging into a subject on your own. You simply cannot practice svadhyaya without the energy and action of tapas.

The third component of yoga is isvara pranidhana. In this instance, this Sanskrit phrase is best translated as surrender. It is a recognition that we can only take action. The results of our action are beyond our purview. We must, then, surrender to being part of and governed by Life.

Isvara prandihana is the leavening element in our effort. It keeps us engrossed in the moment-by-moment experience of doing. It prevents us from getting overly fixated on outcomes that are simply beyond our control.

In sum, to reach the heightened states of consciousness that yoga offers, we must take an active part. We must participate.

More important than participating on the mat, participate in your life!

I mentioned in opening that the participation that yoga requires is a habit that serves us in all aspects of our lives – relationships, hobbies, careers, community service, faith and religion, and so on. When we throw ourselves into something, we receive many gifts:

  • we learn more about who we are.
  • we connect deeply with those on our team and those benefitting from our work.
  • we rise to challenges, thus bolstering our confidence.
  • we are energized far beyond the energy we’ve invested.

In short, participation is a surefire way to live life to the fullest.

When something captures your interest, chase it. Start doing it. Sure, seek a teacher, read some books, watch some YouTube videos, or listen to podcasts. But remember that the most important step is to start participating.

Ready? Set? Go for it!

To learn more about yoga philosophy and how it guides us to live our best lives, check out the philosophy page on my website or take a look at the recorded class, Demystifying the Yoga Sutras.