We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—T. S. ELIOT, Four Quartets
THIS BOOK is designed to share what I have learned so far through my personal yoga path and spiritual quest. I am excited to introduce this practice to anyone who is interested in learning more about yoga. My experience with the practice has brought me great awareness, purpose, connectedness, and delight. Still, I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about the art and science of yoga. In fact, I consider myself quite the beginner. But, to date, I have certainly enjoyed a unique adventure, one that seems to have resonated with many other like-hearted beings in classes I lead in San Francisco and in programs and training sessions I conduct around the world.
After nearly two decades of being a yoga practitioner, my own practice still invariably begins with starting over each and every day. This may seem counterintuitive. After all, yoga is an age-old system of well-being that consists of practicing and repeating many of the same techniques again and again. As our practice develops through days and months and years, we see our physical asana improving; our lungs expanding; our minds evolving; and our ability to feel compassion, patience, and virtue increasing. Yet in my practice, and from what I have witnessed while leading students all these years, the true key to an “advanced state of practice” seems to be the constant willingness to begin again.
The practice of yoga is the ultimate art of paying attention to the now. How precious it is when we can truly be present in every moment with the most loving and compassionate attitude toward ourselves and others. This very attitude is how beginners often enter the practice. They have no choice; they don’t know what else to expect. A beginner’s inherent present-mind awareness, the raw tendency to be absolutely in the body and in the moment without expectation, is at the very heart of the Bhakti Flow experience. When we are so in awe of the wonder of this moment that we can’t help but savor its freshness, its newness, even its bittersweet brevity, that’s when we are most alive. When we retain the beginner’s willingness for adventure and the ability to feel our experience viscerally in every moment, the practice stays fresh and becomes so incredibly vast.
After all, we should never forget that every day is a gift waiting to unfold, to be unwrapped. It’s impossible for one day to be the same as another. In fact, the only thing I know for certain is real is this very moment. The memory of yesterday is merely that, a memory. The hopes of tomorrow are not guaranteed. But this moment, with everything that I can ponder and see and taste and feel and touch and embrace and speak to and listen to and even smell, is real. I pay great respect to every experience that has brought me to this present moment, knowing that my past—no matter what my feelings of attachment, avoidance, or even indifference toward parts of it may be—has happened for some great purpose that is unfolding to me even in this very moment.
Every day, I begin my asana practice anew. I think, I have never stood in this Mountain Pose before. I have never felt this Downward-Facing Dog Pose before. I have never breathed this one breath. My dedication, my very intention behind the practice, has never mattered more than now. I remain hopeful, but I also let go of any expectations about where I think I should be in this pose or where I have been before in this pose or where I want to go in this pose later. I demand nothing from this pose. I choose to listen to my body and breath and heart and let that guide me. As a beginner, I allow myself the opportunity to inquire and open. But I always do my work so that I may establish strength and balance in my foundation and use all the tools I’ve been given. In this way, I set the stage for truly being present in the mystical wonder of living in this moment and in life itself.
Here in the West, there is often an emphasis on the physical branch of practice, namely Hatha Yoga. Because of this, many people think that yoga is primarily about physical contortionism. In reality, it is more about contortions of the mind: the twisting and churning, the considering and reconsidering, the allowing and accepting, the appetite and aptitude, the patience and perseverance. These are the elements of yoga that ultimately bring health and healing to our bodies, minds, and hearts. This true flexibility, that of mind and spirit, is what helps heal our personal relationships, our communities, and the world. One of the greatest yogis, Mahatma Gandhi, primarily taught and lived by the very first root of the first limb of the Yoga Sutras: ahimsa, or nonharming. Gandhi’s devotion to pacifism and reform through example meant that he lived his entire life by this one yogic principle and in so doing created a complete practice for himself and many others. We didn’t need to see him twist his body into a pretzel to recognize how he changed the world with his yoga practice.
I invite you to sit back and enjoy this book but then get ready to take these practices to your yoga mat and out into your everyday life. The greatest changes in history have always begun with the efforts of one devoted individual. Remember that today is a gift you will never get back; part of this gift is the option to begin again. For those who have ever felt off-center or alone, I invite you to take comfort here.
Before we begin—a note on the G word. The word we use to refer to the divine can be highly charged for some people. This is really the “God” of your own unique and highly personal understanding. I use the word God for lack of any better word to describe the wonder that is this beautiful truth. If this word does not resonate with you, please feel free to substitute any word you prefer: Beloved, Mother Earth, friend, nature. Anything that is meaningful to you is perfect.