Unlike other vessels, human vessels are changed by WHAT flows through them, and HOW it flows. For example, whether you choose to drink water or coffee will affect you. Whether you sip, chug, gulp; whether you do this once a day, or consistently and steadily all day; all of this will affect the human vessel. This is just a micro-example, but this is true of any WHAT and HOW we have flow through us- fluids, food, thoughts, feelings, actions, etc.
Yoga asks us to cultivate several different kinds of WHAT (yamas, niyamas, vairagya, isvara, karma yoga etc.), and it is generally best to focus on one or two at a time. Abhyasa (practice), as defined in Patanjali’s yoga sutras, advises that the HOW be steady, consistent over a long time, in all earnestness, and joyful.
In yoga practice, on and off the mat, check in and see WHAT and HOW you are being a vessel. You might be surprised, as I was, how often the answer is boredom, inertia, criticalness, ambivalence, or of course the “bigger” ones of anger, regret, guilt, joy, love, etc. Once you spend enough time noticing this, take it even a step further, and set an intention for the WHAT and HOW you want to be a vessel for, in actions, thought, and speech.
This is not a program for changing us into better people, because there is nothing missing in us. We are already holy beings, are already whole, already light, already divine – whatever term you use. The key is to cultivate that as the WHAT that flows through us and the HOW as all the time.
Beings that have achieved that are the ones we call gurus – they are just vessels for the divine. It is that light that draws us towards them, and encourages us on our path. Teachers are beings who are vessels for the teachings. They are just a bit further down our path, and flow to us what they have seen and experienced. Students are vessels for experience – for the real-life application of what has been passed down by gurus and teachers – whether in writing or spoken transmission.
That being said, it’s not realistic to say “I’m going to have ahimsa flow through me all the time.” One because inevitably we will fail in some small way, and two because external circumstances change. What is ahimsic one day, may not necessarily be the same the next. The air in NYC flows differently than the air in Hawaii, and will inevitably affect WHAT and HOW flows through you, and your ability to be a vessel.
While we need intention, we also need to keep that intention fully open to the present moment. This is not to say we become inconstant in our WHAT, but that we don’t become rigid in it either. There must be a balance, a flow, to our practice as a vessel.
Vinyasa is generally thought of as meaning “flow” – but really it means: well-sequenced indivisible moments of time. How well are your moments sequenced, how well are they chosen? The better sequenced and chosen, the more you “flow” in practice – on and off the mat.