May 1, 2012

Living the Practice.

Collected Writings on the Transformative Potential of Yoga

For almost a decade, I wrote for ascent magazine, an award-winning periodical striving to expand the mind of yoga beyond a standard Western view of asanas, sticky mats and spandex. The magazine limited advertising and presented its articles in a way that reflected the peaceful clarity that can suffuse one’s mind and body at the end of a yoga practice. I enjoyed writing for the publication, and liked reading it too. Thumbing the pages of ascent was somewhat like waking up from the corpse pose.  Everything in the magazine looked fresh and alive.

The pages that felt most alive to me were those written by Swami Radhananda, spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram. She wrote a column for each issue. When my subscription copy arrived in the mail, I turned first to her words. Sitting in my disorganized kitchen, or on the front porch in the sunshine, I would feel a calm descend over me as I read her reflections filled with practical wisdom and relevance to every day life.

The columns Swami Radhananda wrote for the magazine from 1999-2009 are the foundation of an exciting new title released this month from Timeless Books: Living the Practice, Collected Writings on the Transformative Potential of Yoga. The book reflects a great gathering of experience, accumulated during Swami Radhananda’s thirty years as a yoga teacher.

Swami Radhananda was a mother and educator named Mary-Ann McDougall when she moved to Yasodhara Ashram in 1991 to pursue the in-depth study of yoga that culminated in her taking sanyas in 1994. During her many years as a householder yogini before that, she had developed a unique understanding of how to incorporate her spiritual practice into daily life.

Living the Practice resonates with the wonder of small, seemingly ordinary objects: a well-used tea pot, a ripening apricot, a rose bush that has ceased to bloom, a swarm of bees. Under her guidance, these objects become portals into how the mind, body and spirit function.

While many in North America identify Hatha poses as the essence of yoga, for Swami Radhananda the physical practice is “a beginning step,” a good place to start because of its potential to show concrete results.  Once a Hatha practice has been established, what follows is “the Western challenge”—to cultivate an expansion and stillness that can then permeate the acts of daily life. Living the Practice is both an example and a guide for this process.

The yoga beyond Hatha presented here encompasses many topics, including the “myth” of perfection, the purpose of dispelling illusions, the value of silence, the need to come back to harmony in family and community, and the joy of cultivating a “sky-like mind.” She encourages practice not just in a studio, in a private room at home or a temple, but out in the world—at a business meeting, while driving in traffic, cooking or gardening.

Eastern spiritual concepts of devotion, Kundalini, breath control and mantra are also presented in an accessible way, allowing anyone who reads this book to think differently about what the words “yoga practice” might mean. The real purpose of yoga, Swami Radhananda reminds us, is to recognize one’s essential nature, to clarify one’s ideals and find the unique path to liberation. “Life really is what we make of it,” she writes. “There will always be another step. Be ready to explore and take a risk. It is a worthwhile and exciting journey to freedom.”

For more, visit: Radhananda.

Eileen Delehanty Pearkes is  the author of The Glass Seed (Timeless Books:2007), The Geography of Memory (2002), co-author of The Inner Green (2005), and a major contributor to River of Memory (2006). She lives in southeastern British Columbia, where she writes in an old garden shed converted to a studio, amidst an expansive garden of fruits, vegetables, flowers and ponds.


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Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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