My audition tape for Yo Gabba Gabba starts something like this:
My name is Ron, and this is my cool trick.
I have spent a lot of time over the years learning cool tricks. Sometimes I even teach others how to do these tricks.
I can do Galavasana from handstand.
I can do Padma Mayurasana.
I can even do Ashtavakrasana/ Eka Pada Kundinyasana B/Chin Balance/Chaturanga Dandasana in business clothes.
Those are cool tricks, but, frankly, so what?
“With salutations to Adinath (Shiva), Swami Svatmarama presents Hatha Yoga for the purpose of obtaining Raja Yoga.” (Liberal translation of Hatha Yoga Pradipika I.1)
So begins the The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the oldest surviving texts on Hatha Yoga. Right away, Svatmarama instructs that all of the techniques which follow: asanas (postures), shatkarmans (6 cleansing actions), pranayama (breath restraint), mudras (attitudes), bandhas (locks), and nada (meditation on the internal sound) are nothing more than PREPARATION for Raja (Patanjali) yoga. By learning to control the body and breath, we prepare ourselves for what happens when the fluctuations of the mind cease. Notice I did not say “control/stop the fluctuations of the mind.” That would require a second mind to control our mind, and another to control that one, etc.; moving us further from the goal of unity.
Physical practice is a great thing. It creates discipline. It provides health. It grants us the opportunity to challenge our preconceived notions about what is possible, in a controlled, laboratory environment. But this is only one step.
“But Ron, how can I move on to higher levels of practice if I have not mastered the lower levels?” I know this question is coming. Listen, I get it. I have asked it myself. Many, many times. Here is how I answered myself.
Think about it for a moment. Sri Dharma Mittra has his famous poster of 908 asanas. Krishnamacharya knew 2000 asanas. His teacher reportedly knew 7000 asanas. It is written that there are 84 lakh (8,400,000—yes EIGHT MILLION FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND) asanas. Are you really going to master them all? One can spend all day cutting the perfect ¼” dice of onion, but if dinner never gets made, what use is that beautiful onion?
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists 16 asanas, 4 of which (Siddhasana, Padmasana, Simhasana, and Badhrasana) are labeled as the most important.
Patanjali lists zero asanas. ZERO. In fact, he only devotes 3 tiny verses toward asana.
Krishna prescribes 1 asana and 1 pranayama: sitting cross legged with the spine erect, gazing between the eyebrows or at the tip of the nose, and equalizing the incoming and outgoing breath within the nostrils. (Bhagavad Gita V.27, VI.11-14).
Cool tricks help us to get started, but if we don’t move on to seated meditation, we are just doing gymnastics. If we totally identify our practice with these cool tricks, what happens when we become injured or age? The ability to do tricks will go away. Then we are just as miserable, if not more so, as when we started to practice, because we can’t do what we think we should be able to do.
The purpose of physical practice is to prepare for meditation. Do not wait to put preparation into practice!