What’s the difference between a physical and spiritual practice? My yoga teacher Sara explained it this way “Let your asana, the practice, be your daily offering at the altar of your higher self.” And although Sara has two youngsters, including a 4 year-old boy with autism, she begins her daily practice a 4 AM without fail.
But it was only when I caught up with her husband Ben — also a yogi — that a complete picture of what Sara’s practice means to the entire family emerged.
Sara travels to India to study with her guru, for several weeks each year, leaving Ben in charge. Apparently, caring for a child with autism solo is one of the hardest physical and mental challenges on the planet. So why would Ben sign up for such a plan? His friends don’t get it.
Ben explained it this way “Sara is like a samurai warrior and Ashtanga is her sword. When she goes to practice with her guru and community in Mysore, she tempers her sword over and over in the fire of the practice. And when she returns to her mat at home, she offers this well-honed practice to the well-being of her family. Beyond a doubt, this is the pinnacle of a spiritual practice: intention, sacrifice and commitment to something huge.
For me exercise has always been about being ultra-fit and adventure ready. Spirituality never entered the equation; the closest anything came to being spiritual was a runner’s high. It’s always been about me.
Now my routine evolved into a practice. And words like devotional, spiritual and mindful float around my yoga mat – not to mention, the flicker of a candle nearby. So what is the difference between a physical and spiritual practice for me?
I discovered the meaning of spiritual when I hurt my back. It was either surgery or yoga, so I chose to crawl onto my mat each morning to take asana. It was my refuge and my place of hope. I did not consider any alternative; instead I followed a yoga practice that I believed in. The complete practice now includes: meditation, reflection, candle lighting, chanting gratitude to past gurus and any ritual that makes the practice sacred to me.
This dedication, this relentless discipline, this pursuit of grace has become my secret weapon. No matter where I am before the dawn, I unroll my practice — my sadhana — and I do my thing, connecting to my body and soul at the deepest levels. From there, I look outwards to see what difference I can make.
Last time I spoke to my daughter up at college, she told me that she’s been going to the gym three times a week at 6:30 AM. She has a hip injury and she must discover a healing practice to avoid surgery. Like most athletes she is starting with a physical routine, but if she can sprinkle it with devotion, inward-awareness and commitment, she would be on her way to an empowering spiritual practice – a sadhana. Nothing on her transcript would ever give me more joy.