Niskriya and SakriyaMay 11, 2023
I have a well-meaning acquaintance, you might know the type, who considers herself quite the yoga expert, yet can never seem to motivate herself to actually practice it. Recently, she was trying to convince me that box breathing was superior to lengthening the exhalation for stress relief. Mind you, she had barely dabbled in either technique.
As I often remind my students, the teachings of yoga are not just meant to be intellectual concepts, they’re intended to be put into practice. Yoga is a discipline that requires active exploration. The knowledge we gain from yoga is meant to inform, elevate, and refine our actions.
In fact, the Sanskrit term for knowledge in yoga, jnana, refers to knowledge gained through direct experience.
I recently learned that’s there’s a term in the tradition for the process of acquiring knowledge without putting it into practice - niskriya, meaning "inactive" or "without doing." This mode of practice describes individuals like my friend, who may have knowledge of yoga principles and practices, but fail to apply them in their lives.
On the other hand, sakriya, meaning "with action" or "active," describes the mode of study in which one actively applies the knowledge and insight gained from yogic study to their life and circumstances.
It should come as no surprise that the tradition places great value on the sakriya approach to yoga practice.
Moving from niskriya to sakriya can be likened to the experience of tasting a new food. You may know all about the properties and characteristics of a strawberry, but until you actually taste one, you cannot truly say that you know what a strawberry is.
Similarly, yogic study is meant to be applied as well as assimilated, both inwardly and outwardly, so that over time it can transform the way we show up for ourselves, for others, and in our lives.
What’s particularly exciting about this approach is that we don’t need to wait until we have mastered a technique or concept to try it out. We can approach our practices with the freedom and permission of a student. Seeing yoga as a lifelong process of dynamic learning allows our own experience to become our greatest teacher and source of knowledge.