All of the great teachings in the Science of Yoga would be totally worthless if they only pertained to one culture during one period of time. Thankfully this is not so, although to make the teachings meaningful for us, right here, right now, we do need to bend our perception a bit.
The first step in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras—long before “The cessation of the fluctuations of the mind,” even before yama, et. al.—is II.1: “Yogic action consists of discipline, study, and faith.” This verse directly corresponds to the Three Paths of Yoga that Krishna presents in The Bhagavad Gita: Karma (action, which encompasses discipline), Jñana (philosophical self-inquiry based upon study), and Bhakti (devotion/faith). Patañjali’s yoga is also called Raja (royal path) because it is a combination of the paths defined by Krishna.
At one point these three actions were very literal: disciplining the body and mind through asana/pranayama/meditation practice; studying the Vedas directly with a master; and renouncing the fruit of all efforts to the Lord. Certainly all these actions are possible today, but practical/relatable toward the vast majority of American Yogic practitioners? Maybe not—the expression of these actions are still a bit more removed from our current cultural environment.
Let’s find something a bit more universal. We all have to work. Most of those whom I work with (I am in Career Services in higher ed., so this is a pretty big number) want to experience some growth in their career during their working life. Krishna places great emphasis on performance of work in The Gita: (all paraphrased and my interpretations): work without expectation of reward, do not abandon work because it is disagreeable or attach to work because it is agreeable, it is better to do your work though faulty than to do the work of another to perfection, by doing the work you are meant to do you are worshiping the creator, etc. All of these passages illustrate the importance of engaging in work, in society.
How can we relate our work, or our attitude toward our work in the terms of Patañjali?
Discipline: Make it a habit to do good work now. Whatever that work may be, whenever “now” is. One cannot grow without understanding the importance of their current work as it relates to a bigger picture. Greatness cannot be achieved by adding together mediocre elements. Success and excellence are not future events, they take place right here and right now. Create this habit of thought.
Study: We have to self-analyze—where we are v. our goals? What skills do we need to build? To maintain? To leave behind? We need to build our knowledge base so we are better equipped to adapt. Do this through talking with like minded persons (networking), observing and emulating successful people, and reading, listening, taking classes, etc. Not only does study increase our knowledge and skill; it shows us that someone else has done [fill in ‘impossible’ task], which means we can, too. Which leads into…
Faith: We need to grow comfortable with operating on risk. Taking a new job, buying a house, having a kid, following a spiritual practice, they are all great leaps into the unknown that we take everyday. Sure, there are varying degrees, but leaps none the less. We need to develop the faith that our overall purpose is correct even in the face of adversity. Obstacles continually block our way, that will never change. Faith allows us to adapt to circumstance and still move forward.
Yogic practice happens outside of headstand and mantra and meditation. Your practice is not restricted to your Manduka and Lululemon. It can be done at the office, in a tie. Playing with your kids. Letting someone else go first in line. Do what needs to be done with discipline, study, and faith and you are practicing yoga.