Yatkaroshi yadashnaasi yajjuhoshi dadaasi yat;
Yattapasyasi kaunteya tatkurushva madarpanam.
Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou offerest in sacrifice, whatever
thou givest, whatever thou practiseth as austerity, O Arjuna, do it as an offering unto Me!
~The Bhagavad Gita IX.27. Sivananda, Tr.
Leave off the “unto Me” part for now and focus on “Whatever thou doest…do it as an offering.”
Our practice becomes an offering when we do two things:
First, we must accept and perform our practice as it is, with good intention. We are not out to compete or reach some level of perceived “perfection” attained or defined by another. We do the practice that we have right now, with full knowledge and belief that our practice is the best it can be at that instant. It is not done with a sense of obligation; it is done as an act of adoration. When a child creates a painting, we do not judge it against the technical skill of a Van Gough. Rather we adore the love and effort which went into it. And we display it in the place of highest honor for all to see. As Gandhi said: “Full effort is full victory.”
Secondly, we must practice without expectation of reward. We practice because it needs to be done, not to become more shapely, more relaxed, or as “good” as that person. This is incredibly difficult for any of us who practice Hatha Yoga and own a mirror. We can see the results of our practice (and the results of not practicing) and become very caught up in the image looking back at us. We must overcome this attachment to the body. Quite difficult!
For some time I have been working on incorporating mantra into my asana practice. Try inhaling “Om” and exhaling “Om.” Or the Jivamukti method of inhale “let” exhale “go.” (I personally inhale “Ra” and exhale “ma” because that has meaning to me.) Try this with EVERY breath. It is hard. Concentrating on the mantra helps to shift the focus away from just the physical position of the asana. Yes, I want to do (and you to do) the poses safely, however judging our expression of an asana against someone else’s criteria is not the purpose of asana practice. And it is downright dangerous. Concentrating on mantra makes the mantra the most important element, and interestingly enough, the body does what it needs to do better because it is not confused by all that judgment.
How do I do samasthithi? I breathe Ra [in] ma [out].
How do I do a handstand? I breathe Ra [in] ma [out].
What happens when I fall out of handstand? I breathe Ra [in] ma [out].
My practice is not the pose, it is breathe Ra [in] ma [out].
Then the poses become an offering: the best poses you can do at that moment done without expectation of reward. Then they are truly a manifestation of an act of adoration, not an exercise.