Why asana and pranayama are the priority of your spiritual practice | Mark Whitwell on Actualizing Ideals

Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga
Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga

Yoga is the actual enactment of giving and receiving, which is the basis of all life. In the giving of life there is immediate and synchronistic receiving of life. In the receiving of life there is the synchronistic ability to give life. This is how reality is functioning, how life creates and sustains all forms, the male-female power and polarity of the natural state.

Look at a tree.

We see a powerful trunk rooted deeply to stand erect. It is hard and upright; the eternal strength of life. When we get up to the foliage, we see that it is soft and succulent. Every leaf is so juicy and wide open. There the nutrients are received and collected for the health and well-being of all the trees. Their subtle chemistries are shared, transported by the power of life and the mysteries of soil and roots to ensure the continuity and improvement of all other trees.

Without the foliage, the trunk would be stiff and eventually wither or rot. Without the magnificent trunk, there could be no foliage reaching toward the sunlight.

This is exactly how your wonder-full life is functioning. You have a masterful base and spine that support your soft crown and receptive front. All of life is this equation of ‘strength receiving.’ This is the nature of reality; the natural state of all things. Just as the tree requires nothing extra to confirm its authenticity, neither do we. We both have a right to be here peacefully.

We are this union. Our flesh and blood, our heartbeat and breath and Sex, are the perfect intelligence of life. We are already manifesting God; we can’t help it! The intelligent union of opposites exists in every cell of our bodies. The strength of the base of our body and the spine perfectly complements our soft, receptive front — an exquisite union which provides all that we need to receive and embrace our life.

Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga

Yoga Sadhana — that which you can do

Without the embodiment of this profundity via participation in the union-harmony of inhalation with exhalation, the principle of giving and receiving remains an ideal only. We are left bereft with a sense of failure to live up to our ideals, to give or receive.

Social obstructive patterns, fears and trauma run very deep in society and prevent our ideals being implemented despite our best intentions. Love is action. There must be a practical means to embody what is true for us.

Your daily Yoga practice is your direct participation in the natural state. When you are inhaling you are receiving your breath. As the breath moves down the front of the body it softens the knots and tension that have accumulated due to our reaction to experience. Each day, we receive our breath and engage the soft feeling frontal line of the body from the crown, face, throat, chest, belly, and genitals.

When you are exhaling you are giving your breath back. The exhale is the practical action of giving that engages the strength of the legs, the base of the body, and the spine. Each day, we participate in the union of inhale (receiving) and exhale (giving) with coordinate movements.

You will find that your whole body participation in the breath seamlessly flows outwards into your relational life. You will find an uncommon and very natural pleasure in relationship. You will have the required strength and receptivity to receive and digest your experience, to really be there for others, and to be fully intimate with your special partner.

Orthodox religion and secular self-help provide us with an endless quantity of abstract ideals that often do give us an initial jolt of inspiration. We get excited at the possibility of living in a way that we know is more true, loving, or less petty. Yet, we cannot just consume ideals within texts.

The next step is to bring our Yoga practice to these sources and they become real and tangible in our daily lives.

My teacher TKV Desikachar

A Life of Devotion

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888–1989) was a radical in his own Advaita Vedanta culture and his scholarship was not readily accepted. However the leaders of Vedanta knew that Yoga worked for them and came for instruction from Krishnamacharya. There was deep mutual respect.

Desikachar told me,

“They accepted Yoga, but only reluctantly.”

The same is true in religious cultures around the world today. Mere temple religion exploits the gullibility of the public. With Yoga religion evolves into Yogic participation in Reality itself.

What is being said here is that Yoga asana and pranayama practice is the practical means that must be there to actualize a life of devotion, or understanding, or service or any religious or spiritual idealism. Asana and pranayama is the mother’s milk of spiritual life. It is even saying that without Yoga no realization is possible.

Dear devotees of life, do your yoga!

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Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years, and is the author of four books on Yoga. https://www.heartofyoga.com/blog/