Yogi Assignment: Yatnah, Effort

The ancient spiritual path is built on the notion of personal discipline. Patañjali defines practice as abhyasa and says that it includes an element of effort, which is called Yatnah in Sanskrit. Practice is not and should not be easy. It leads you to a place of peace, but that great prize of peace is not won without considerable effort on your part. Traditional yogis committed themselves to lifetimes of personal practice with the humble recognition that they would make a few small steps forward on the road to enlightenment. In our modern world it can be tempting to throw effort away and replace it with a few phrases of positive thinking. But there is just no substitute for practice.

Yoga makes you feel good, of that there is no doubt. Practice purifies your body and mind and removed obstacles that get in the way of your natural state of harmony. Millions of people are drawn to the practice because of the peace that starts to transform your life when you begin to practice. But practice you must. Effort cannot be reduced to a catch phrase hashtag that gets thrown around as the antidote to ever difficult situation in practice or life.

This week’s Yogi Assignment is Effort. Called Yatnah in Sanskrit, effort is your demonstration of commitment, depth and sincerity. When things get tough and you need to put in the effort, that’s when the real yoga begins. The strength that comes from practice doesn’t stop on the mat. Instead the calling of all yogis who live in the world is to take those lessons off the mat into daily life.

Practice with all your heart and put your effort in to calm and clear your mind. Remove your passions, triggers and baggage over many years with the fire of purification. If you’re lucky you get a moment when you can just be. After the mind settles you can immerse yourself in the Eternal Divine, the limitless emptiness, the Great shimmering Oneness behind all things, in the Infinite. This absorption is the part of yoga that brings a state of deep peace. It is defined as yogas citta vrtti nirodah, yoga is the stilling of the mind. After the mind finally stills you rest and abide in your own true nature, so that you can experience the deep and imperturbable peace under all things. But then what?

As Jack Kornfield says, after the ecstasy, then the laundry. For so many of us (truly everyone reading this), our path is not to renounce the world and live as a sanyasi, our path is to live in the world and use the lessons of our practice to make the world a better place. The Gita defines yoga as skillful action and for that your mind must be clear. Our job as yogis of the world is not to be so absorbed in our bubble of positive vibes that we do nothing. One definition of ahimsa (non-violence) is taking action to stop the himsa (harm) of another being. Can you truly claim to be living and embodying peace if you sit silently by as others are harmed and you have the means to do something about it? Set your intention to live and act in accordance with yogic values. Accept that we will all fail (even a vegan will step on an ant, even the calmest amongst will loose our cool). Take time each day to practice, to turn the mind inward, to become still and then let all your actions flow from a place of sattva, harmony, goodness and kindness. Practice and act with the right intention, to do good and not harm, and, perhaps most importantly, non-attachment. You will never control the outcome, but you know what your intentions are. The heart always knows the truth and it shines when real love  pours in.

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