In the modern Yoga world huge amounts of effort and money are often spent on creating appealing practice spaces. We’ve all seen them; fancy bathrooms, sweeping views, beautiful artworks and ornaments, and all the other trappings. And people spend hours and hours creating the “perfect” Yoga music playlist to accompany the asana practice, too. This is all part of the marketing of the business of Yoga; a way of enticing new students through the door, and keeping them coming back. But did you ever stop to think if this approach is appropriate for a Yoga practice?
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the first and foremost texts on Hatha Yoga, describes the ideal Yoga space. “The hatha Yogi should.. practice in a place the length of a bow (about 1.5m)…” (Chapter 1 v12), “…as described by the Siddhas (enlightened ones)…. The room of sadhana should have a small door, no windows, holes or cracks; being neither too high nor too low. It should be clean and free from animals or insects…” (Chapter 1 v13).
Just take a moment to consider that description; a small, plain space, effectively isolated from the outside world. In some respects, it could even be described as a place of sensory deprivation. Doesn’t sound much like a popular modern Yoga studio, does it?! So why is this considered the ideal practice space?
Yoga is often described as the union of the individual with the universal Self, the rediscovery of our true inner nature, or the returning of the senses to their source (Consciousness). Pratyahara, or the turning inward of the senses, is one of the essential elements of Patanjali’s 8 limbs of Yoga; it is the gateway to the inner practices of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Without Pratyahara we are trapped in the outward practices, with no hope of reaching the final “goal” of emancipation. And so the ideal practice space should is conducive to this inner focus because it removes potential sources of outward distraction.
And therein lies the problem; the external stimuli of many practice spaces keep drawing our attention outward and thus preventing us from, or at least making it far more difficult to, turn within and reconnect to our deepest Self. When our senses are feeding outwardly on external sense objects, they by definition will not be turned inward to reveal the true nature of the Self. In fact I think it’s pretty honest to say that when you’re truly practicing Yoga you’re not even really aware of your surroundings, and when you’re focusing on the surroundings, you’re not really practicing Yoga!
If you just want a Yoga “experience”, then by all means practice in a studio with panoramic views, a fancy fitout, and your favourite tunes playing; you will, in all likelihood, have a lovely time. But remember all experiences, no matter how pleasant, are transient; there is no lasting peace in the gratification of the senses, simply a never-ending desire for bigger, better, and more.
But if you truly wish to practice Yoga, find a clean and simple space with minimal distractions, turn your awareness within, and with dedication and patience you’ll find your true Self. You’ll rediscover the peace which passes all understanding, which needs nothing, desires nothing, and is the source and foundation of all experience. And that’s the true purpose and practice of Yoga!
Image from: Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, edited by Franck Andre Jamme, published by Siglio 2011.