ABCs of Yoga

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Roy Holman. Roy is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. He  can be contacted at and at

I had a chance to ask T.K.V. Desakachar a question when he was leading a workshop in Portland a few years ago: “Do you think we in the West are too asana focused?” His eyes lit up and he said,”Oh yes! By age 60 one should be doing 20% asana, 40% meditation, and 40% pranayama.” His father Krishnamacharya once said, “Nowadays, the practice of yoga stops with just asanas.”

Many of us get into yoga for Exercise reasons, which is fine. We may begin yoga for physical reasons–perhaps to help heal an injury–and stick with yoga for other reasons; perhaps we become more centered or peaceful. Some of us may even begin yoga for the other E word: Ego. We may wish to impress people with our fancy poses or even sexy body. As Yoga Sutra scholar Chip Hartranft puts it, “In fact, hatha yoga practice may initially be driven to some extent by narcissism.  After all, hatha yoga can appeal to us because of the powerful way it addresses some of the self’s most cherished preoccupations–health, attractiveness, sexual energy, and longevity.”

There are four letters that precede E that may get ignored.

A might stand for Awareness (not just asana).  Our practice begins and ends with awareness. We can begin to notice what draws us to the mat (or away from the mat). Awareness involves no judgment, just noticing how we feel in each pose, what draws us to certain styles of yoga and to which teachers. What is our motivation? What are our patterns? Additionally, A also stands for Ahimsa (nonviolence), the most important “yama.”

B is for Breath. Connecting the breath to the movement, to me, draws me out of the head and deep into the body and the yoga practice. I begin to lose  myself and find my Self. Breath seems to bridge body to spirit. Pranayama–breath regulation–is a profound but underappreciated limb of yoga.

C is for Compassion and ties into ahimsa mentioned above. We are often so tough on ourselves. Can we accept where we are?  Can we have compassion for ourselves even if we realize that, due to our low self esteem, we indeed practice partially because of the egoist reasons mentioned earlier? Can we have compassion for ourselves when we find ourselves
comparing ourselves to other students or judging the teacher?

D is for Devotion and Divine.  While reading about the great Krishnamacharya’s life and practice, it struck me how dedicated and devotional a yogi he was. He once said,  “…the reason for learning yogasana is not just for good physique but to obtain atmajnana (spiritual progress.)” Yoga teacher Dharma Mittra, known for his ability to do thousands of incredible poses, said,  “The postures mean absolutely nothing, no matter how adept one is with them, if they’re not done is a spirit of devotion.”

When I studied at Oneness University in India, there was a big focus on devotion to the Divine.  It was humbling for me to see that I was really  more into ego and control than surrender, trust and a devotion to the Divine.

Whether you define this devotion as one to your Higher Self, God, Universal Intelligence or whatever, I suppose that all paths eventually lead there even with our egoist detours. Indeed, we need look no further for the Divine than within our most sacred, essential Selves.

E also stands for Enjoy, so let’s enjoy this beautiful yoga journey together!


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