February brings Valentines Day, a holiday that celebrates love and commitment. This February marks my 25th year of the practice and study of yoga. I have stuck to yoga and yoga has stuck to me. Just why is one of many mysteries of yoga and it has me reflecting on nature of commitment and its importance to the practice of yoga.

Mr. Iyengar’s exacting and mercurial teacher, Krishnamacharya, had a number of methods for measuring the commitment of those who wished to study with him as related in the book, Krishmacharya: His Life and Teachings.

“A man suffering from asthma came to me, along with one of my students.  After talking with him and testing him, I found that his diet was unhealthy and his habits erratic.  He questioned me, “In how many classes will I be cured?”  I was not happy with his attitude.  I did not take him as a student.  If I had, he would not have practiced.  He would have told others that he was a student of Krishnamacharya, and that yoga was not working.  Disrepute for me and, more so, a bad name for yoga.  Not necessary……

Another asthma patient had come to me.  He too asked me a question right at the beginning:  ”What fees do I need to pay?”  I replied, “How long have you had this disease?”  He replied, “For more than twenty years now.”  I said, “Then it will cost you one hundred rupees.  Bring one hundred rupees to the next class and we will start the treatment.” [A hundred rupees was a lot of money in those days in India–perhaps like asking for five thousand dollars today.]  Surprisingly, the man brought a hundred rupees with him to the next class.  From this, I knew that he had sincerely committed to the treatment and would follow what I told him.  I told him, “I don’t want a hundred rupees from you.  You can take it back.  I only wanted to know if you had enough commitment to follow the disciplines and restrictions I am going to suggest to you.”

Krishnamacharya knew that those with weak commitment would not practice and would not see the benefits of a yoga practice.  He wasn’t looking for money; he was looking for commitment.

From the very beginnings of yoga, the ability to commit was paramount to success. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is written:
“The practice of yoga is firmly established when cultivated consistently, with devotion over a prolonged period of time”  (Sutra 1.14)

In his book about the yoga sutras of Patanjali, Edwin Bryant equates the practice of yoga to the cultivation of a garden.  Cultivation of a garden takes devotion and uninterrupted care for a prolonged period of time. These practices can not be interrupted since within a remarkably short period of time even the most devotedly cultivated garden can suddenly decline; “ If left unattended all one’s work will become easily undone,” writes Bryant.

My devotion to yoga came in small steps. Initially, I resolved to attend a yoga class twice a week. At the time it seemed like something I could be consistent with and maintain a constant connection to. I was determined that I would not negotiate, neglect, or compromise. After some time and success my dedication to yoga expanded to a home practice and beyond. Twenty-five years ago a home practice would have seemed impossible. Today it is a refuge. In retrospect I have concluded that until we commit, we have chosen nothing and achieved nothing. In not committing we preserve the illusion of choice without any reward.

The good news is that you can achieve commitment on the first day you decide to do it. When you do persevere, you feel a sense of relief and happiness. Your dedication to a yoga practice brings a change that can permeate every area of your life. It brings the opportunity for commitment in all areas of your life: relationships, career, health, and all things worthwhile.

Quote of the Month

“Life without commitment is like a flower without fragrance. It is like a moon without light.”

Yogi Bhajan