I finished the final hatha yoga class of the spring series this morning. We don’t usually go this long into the summer, but there had been unique difficulties with space.
After teaching the class, I sat down to continue my contemplation of a verse from the HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA by Swami Muktibodhananda, sent to me by a fellow yoga teacher as a birthday present. Yesterday, I was puzzled when reading the verse about not “bathing in the morning…,” and I also wish to examine further, in the same verse, the instruction about avoiding “tasks which produce pain in the body…” I have violated both “rules” in the last two days. Today, I study Swamiji’s commentary and am relieved to read how she clarifies the first part of the verse by adding that one should not bathe in the morning with cold water when the weather is wintery. I nod, of course.
The second caution, which I try to practice and often relate to my students, about avoiding tasks which produce pain, is sometimes hard for me to follow when I am doing yard work. Years ago, I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. The health practitioner who told me this also said: “You are the most healed patient with this disorder I have ever seen.” When I heard this, I thought I was home free; but every once in a while I see a recurring symptom, especially, when I push myself without realizing I have gone beyond my capacity to finish some outdoor project such as weeding, fire clearance, planting and watering.
Taking a warm bath before teaching the class this morning, however, is something I instinctively did to counteract the back pain resulting from too much yard work the other day, even before reading the clarification. Today’s study of the HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA verse also reminds me of my guru, a raja yoga master. I heard him say more than once, “Yes, there are various ideas a yoga practitioner may find useful to follow, but you might also have to make an adjustment for the sake of your health.” I am grateful that I have not felt the push to blindly adapt arbitrary belief systems.
What I have always loved about being a student and teacher of raja yoga is the encouragement I get to investigate and decide about the many practices and suggestions for myself. No yoga dogma is the happy result. At the same time, I’m aware there is more for me to learn—I need to work shorter hours; I need to work smarter.
Still, if my goal is to experience peace, love and freedom, how can dogma be helpful? My experience of Raja yoga is that it begins with an ethical foundation, moves me through mindful, physical, mental, emotional and energetic explorations with an eye towards an ultimate goal, whether it be samhadi, satori, freedom from suffering, clarity of mind, ease of body, or other visions about what my ideal human experience might be.