The Importance of the Journey: Adhikara

by Betsy Weiner

How do we get from here to there? And how do we know when we are ready for what is next? The concept in yoga that addresses this idea is adhikara. This word embodies the concept of the natural progression of our journey. We lay the groundwork for deeper practices by acknowledging where we are, choosing the appropriate methodologies, and taking the first step. Just as you would not ask a beginning student to float into a handstand from down dog, you wouldn’t recommend a new student to an hour-long meditation if they can’t sit comfortably or still for more than a few minutes. Start where you are!

In yoga, we learn about the culmination of practice either through texts (The Yoga Sutras, The Gheranda Samhita, etc), from our teachers (…“at the end of the practice today you will be/feel/experience…”), or from social media and the countless images of practiced yogis and yoginis in quite extreme physical postures. It is easy to get pulled into these ideals and create unrealistic expectations for yourself. No doubt that the ancient texts give us the tools; and a systematic approach to attaining the state of yoga. And a class that is gently guiding us towards an energetic experience based on a well-sequenced series of asanas, along with pranayama and meditation, is a great way to experience the concept of walking the path. And to be sure, we can be inspired by the many practitioners who dedicate their time and practice to shape their bodies into the most extreme examples of asana. It is our work to pay attention to our starting point, and be patient with the process of whatever it is that we are working towards. If you are looking to nail that handstand, then you start the process building the necessary strength and technique to make it happen. If you are hoping to attain total and complete self-knowledge and union within the Divine, well, then sow the seeds for this journey by diving into the texts, finding skilled teachers, and begin where you are.

The concept of adhikara asks us to be the best-knowers of ourselves. What do we need right now? Listen for the answer and know that wherever you begin, eventually you will progress to the next level. Yoga gives us many opportunities to embody this idea. Whether in asana, pranayama or meditation, we have come so far from where we began. We have sensitized ourselves to our bodies, our breath, and our minds. Over time, and commitment to practice, (without attachment to the outcome, of course!) we find ourselves ready for something more.

Another way to embody this idea is by checking in with yourself periodically and asking yourself if what you are doing is moving you closer to what you need. Are you feeling more connected? Happier? More grounded and clear? Less reactive? If not, it’s time to check in with your practices and see where you might be ready to progress.

Our society doesn’t necessarily support this concept of the natural progression of something. We tend to want what we want the minute we want it. Enlightenment NOW! But we lose all the nuggets of wisdom that we gather along the way when we jump from the beginning to the end without experiencing the juicy middle. Allow yourself to be okay with the messiness and do your best to detach from the outcome of your efforts. This is easier said than done, but adhikara is a reminder that we can only handle what we are ready for.

Remember that yoga is not something that you do, it is a state of being. All efforts are rewarded simply by the fact that you have made effort towards something. The attainment is NOT the goal. Wait, I mean, it. The goal is to be in the practices, in the building of your own self- awareness, and in knowing that things will progress as you are ready. Adhikara asks us to show up fully present and in the journey to the state of yoga.

About Betsy: Betsy is one of the senior teachers at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She has been a facilitator in the 230 and 500 hour Yoga Study programs at the Yoga Center since 2003, as well as teaching workshops, retreats, and special classes, as well as mentoring teacher trainees. Betsy holds certifications in numerous disciplines as well as over 1000 hours of training.

Learn more about Betsy and see here full schedule here.