My Practice, by Rod Stryker
from Yoga + Joyful Living
Practice is more than something I do. Today, it is such an essential part of my life that it is, in fact, a part of me. Practice is where I source strength, clarity, and inspiration. It provides me with stability in an ever-changing world, as well as, an appreciation for what is most precious in this life. I have been practicing daily for nearly thirty years. It has evolved and continues to change, sometimes day-to-day, but its one constant is meditation.
A few decades ago (when I was in my twenties) I would often practice nearly three hours a day. Today, while I juggle the roles of husband, father, teacher, and seeker, I dedicate approximately one to two hours to it. Fifty percent of that time is for Asana and the rest for Pranayama and meditation. When my schedule is more limited – which happens – I’ll shorten the amount of time for Asana in order to always have at least 45 minutes for Pranayama and meditation.
I am fortunate that my intensive study of Yoga began under the guidance of true masters. They were the ones who helped me discover the profound and sweeping benefits of meditation. In those early years I was passionately committed to physical mastery of the postures. However, it was when – guided by my teachers – I began to meditate, that I saw my life and body truly change for the better. Meditation, not Asana, was what had the most significant impact on me.
The heart of my meditation is jappa (silent mantra repetition). My teachers have been the one to initiate and guide me into the specific mantra practices that were the most auspicious for me. Thanks to meditation practice and the guidance of my teachers, I’ve come to appreciate Yoga as nothing less than a path to the majestic world beyond body, mind, and even breath.
BALANCE AND RITUAL
The two most important elements of practice may be: consistency and reverence or ritual. These days I am fortunate enough to have a room, in my home, whose sole purpose is yoga and meditation. I enter it around the same time every day, about 5:30 a.m. – just as I have been doing for nearly thirty years. The teachings have long praised these quiet hours of the day, before sunrise, as the most productive time to practice. It’s also the time when the rest of my house is still asleep, which means no worldly duties will call or interrupt my practice – my process of remembering deep and abiding peace.
The first thing I do upon entering the room is light a flame and pay homage to it. The flame connects me to the source of life and the teachings. I think of my teacher(s), the teachings, and offer them my gratitude before I “do” anything. Once I establish that connection, I turn my awareness to my inner teacher to guide me as I move into postures and the whole of my practice.
If I’m not home, I begin my practice by invoking that flame mentally. Within a few seconds I feel anchored in it. This is how consistency becomes its own reward. For the past ten years, teaching has led me to do a lot of traveling. I have traveled as many as 120-130 days in a year. With my surroundings constantly changing, it’s all the more important that I am able to access a place that feels like home even when it isn’t.
Clarity, strength, wisdom, and the sense of being guided are never far away. This extraordinary gift is revealed each time I practice. It is supported by my years of consistent effort and reverence for the teachings and my teachers. These are the times when I renew the connection to the best of myself.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
The body and mind are constantly changing, affected by environmental circumstances, diet, and thoughts. Spirit remains constant – a boundless and mighty treasure. Physical and mental needs change; spiritual needs do not. For that reason, the physical (Asana) and mental (pranayama) part of my practice changes day-to-day in response to my needs. The principles of Ayurveda and Tantra shed light on the effect and reach of different Asana and Pranayama practices. The changes in my daily practice come both spontaneously (in response to my inner teacher) and are informed by my knowledge of the principles of practice. On the road I may focus on more restorative or stabilizing practices. At home I often focus on techniques that are deeper and/or more challenging. Whether home or anywhere in the world, my japa practice remains the same.
I’ve made distinctions between Asana, pranayama and meditation in order to describe my personal practice. But from the larger view, they are part of a seamless tapestry. Together, all three serve the higher intent of remaining mindful of the greater meaning and purpose of my life and enlivening the forces that allow me to embody it.
The great sage Patanjali wrote that flawless perception and self-mastery can be ours when we distinguish between the true nature of soul and even the highest states of mind. I believe, and according to him, this ascendant plateau can only be attained yogically through meditation. Meditation is the heart of my practice. It has been and continues to be my most extraordinary and cherished ally in the journey that is my life.