A few years ago I taught for a few months at a very fashionable Yoga studio. It was located on a boardwalk facing the ocean. There was also a power station emitting toxins into the air near by. A student once asked me if it wasn’t potentially unhealthy to practice Yoga and especially breathing practices (Pranayama) with the polluting power station so close by. I replied that I was more concerned with the pollution of the mind – the hectic business of the place, people walking back and forth and bicycles flashing in and out of view outside the huge studio windows, the ocean waves hammering away relentlessly, the noise of other classes coming and going, etc. Yoga is a science of the mind, and the place we practice can support that.
“Yoga is the containment of the minds activities”
(Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 2 – translation by Paul Harvey)
In the first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a prominent Yoga text) one of the first things mentioned is a specific description of where Yoga should be practiced (Chapter 1 Slokas 12 & 13):
“12: The Hatha Yogi should live in a secluded hut free of stones, fire, and dampness to a distance of four cubits in a country that is properly governed, virtuous, prosperous and peaceful.
12: These are the marks of a Yoga hut as described by masters practicing Hatha: a small door, no windows, no rat holes; not too high, too low, or too long; well plastered with cow dung, clean and bug free. The grounds are enclosed by a wall and beautified by an arbor, a raised platform, and a well.”
(translation by Brian Akers)
So, cow-dung aside, the core idea resonates with the purpose of Yoga – it is about containment – removing distractions and creating a support for the practice of mindfulness. The short version: practice Yoga in the basement not on the beach. Too many practice spaces cater and indulge the mind instead of supporting it. Where do you practice Yoga? Does it support you in your practice?
… oh and … Pranayama is not about the air that moves in and out but about the affect of breathing on Prana which is already inside us… more on that soon…