Yoga for a Lifetime: Yoga Sutra 3:6
Yogena yogo jnatavyo
Yogo yogat pravartate
Yo prama tastu yogena
Sa yoga ramate ciram
Only through yoga, yoga is known,
Only through yoga, yoga progresses,
One who is patient with yoga,
Bears the fruits for a long time.
The teacher that taught me to teach gave me this chant and I have always loved it. It is from Vyasa's fifth century commentary (the first that we know about) on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
The point of a sutra (literally a thread), is that it states a teaching in the most succinct way possible; with the guidance of your teacher, you extrapolate that sutra to uncover its depth of meaning and to apply it to your life-practice. Vyasa was one of those teachers and the above is from his commentary on Yoga Sutra 3:6, which reads:
tasya bhumisu viniyogah
Samyama must be developed gradually
Samyama means constraint and describes the self-restraint that ensues when one practices meditation (specifically, the last three of the eight limbs of yoga: dharana, dhyana and samadhi).
In its essence it describes the patience that is required when one practices yoga. Yoga is a practice that benefits from slow and steady progress, commitment and the willingness to wait and see. One of the joys of yoga is how (to paraphrase the words of TKV Desikachar) we simply begin where we are and let whatever happens happen.
The strength in the path of yoga lies in part in its slowness; the lessons that you will learn on your mat are the lessons of a lifetime, not a few months. This is not a quick fix, a cure-all, a handy package that will pick you up, make you strong, calm you down and set you rolling; it is a gradual unfolding of awareness and understanding that will enrich your life and everything you do in your life. This is why yogis need not fear growing older, for there is always something new that will be learnt, a new view, a different way of being that changes, improves, teaches... it never stops; we never get 'there', we only learn how to learn from everything that comes to us in life.
Moreover, it is often the case that we are wrong about what we think we are doing when we start to practise yoga and where we think we are headed with it. I know scientists who have become yoga teachers, accountants who are training to be school-teachers, athletes whose main practice now is meditation and mothers who have become midwives, all of whom express surprise at where they have ended up at the same time as they acknowledge that where they are now is exactly where they feel they are supposed to be. Transformation is mysterious: you just don't know where you are going. Better to put your faith in your practice and let it guide you, rather than push it around, trying to make it look like you think it should.
The only thing that yoga asks of you is that you do it, and this is encapsulated in this sutra and in Vyasa's beautiful explanation of it. You can't read about it in a book; you can't have someone tell you about it; you can't dip in and out of it; if you want to be a yoga student and to discover all its riches, then you have to turn up, you have to do it (and remember that leaping about on a yoga mat was never the apogee of yoga practice that some yoga studios and students would have us believe - asana is the means, not the goal).
Yoga requires patience and teaches patience, it's wealth lies in the way its lessons open to us gradually, giving us time to acknowledge, understand and assimilate the things that we are learning, seeing and encompassing in our lives as we continue with our practice. You start where you are every single time you practice, with a beginner's mind and a humble heart and these techniques, handed down, refined and shared over generations, help you towards a healthier, more whole, more established and simple way of being.
Your practice is like the ripening of fruit over a summer, which happens quite naturally and in its own time, you are simply ripening over a lifetime.