Bill Mahony is known in yoga communities around the world for his insightful, compassionate and engaging approach to the study of yoga philosophy. In his workshops, seminars and retreats, Bill integrates a deep knowledge of yoga philosophy with insights refined over nearly five decades of his own yogic practice.
Currently a professor of Religion at Davidson College in the United States, Bill holds academic degrees from Williams College, Yale University and the University of Chicago. His most recent book, Exquisite Love: Reflections on the Spiritual Life based on Nārada’s Bhakti Sūtra consists of Bill’s extended commentaries on a 10th century Sanskrit text on spiritual love. His other books include The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Bill a few questions about yoga philosophy. In this first of this two-part interview, Bill shares his own personal journey and the...
As we head into the new year, it is worth remembering that yoga gives us a way to start fresh not only once every 365 days but every single day. Like the sunrise, each time we enter into the practices we have the chance to begin again.
Moving with awareness, breathing fully, turning our attention inside we can experience the present moment as if for the first time.
Whether you are feeling strong in your body today or somewhat wrecked, close to your heart or far away, the starting point in yoga is always right where you are.
Though we usually think of time as moving in a linear progression, we can also see it as circular. The cycles of day and night, the seasons and years all circle back to a point of completion before beginning again.
In the cycle of the seasons, the Winter Solstice is such a moment of culmination, when darkness reaches its zenith, after which the days turn toward increasing light. Its the turning point, the transition, the pause in swing of the pendulum.
These days leading up to the Winter Solstice are the perfect time to take stock of where we have arrived at as the previous cycle moves toward completion and ponder what we would like to create in the next.
Not only does yoga practice provide the space to step back from the busy-ness of our lives where we can reflect on it all with greater clarity, yoga also offers specific ways to experience this tiny moment of standing still:
The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle.
Practice reveals this source place, this inner light. It glows with quiet joy, strength and, most essentially, love. We can allow it to light our way through times of darkness, struggle and challenge.
Like candles on the menorah, may the promise of the season illuminate your days with hope and comfort.
Thanks to Ondine and Tasha for making this menorah.
“Yoga is Skill in Action”
The Bhagavad Gita
Skill: the ability to do something well; expertise, adeptness, adroitness, prowess, mastery, competence, capability, aptitude, artistry, virtuosity, talent
Among all the many skills we develop as yoga teachers, the skill of being a student is perhaps the most important. It’s the meta-skill that overarches all the others.
Unlike most other subjects, being a student of yoga is not only about the knowledge we gain or the skills we sharpen. It’s about walking a path that takes us to the higher realms of wisdom and freedom. It’s a continual unfolding of the truth inside.
For the teacher who approaches yoga as a path of lifelong learning, yoga continually deepens. It never gets dull.
Through steady practice we gain access to the living core at the heart of our tradition.
Our teaching stays authentic and carries the force of our own experience. Mastering the skill of being a student not only enriches our...
It’s the a-ha that answers the question we have been asking ourselves.
It’s the bright idea that floats effortlessly to the surface of our awareness.
It’s the creative solution to a problem that arises seemingly out of nowhere.
How many times have we heard or experienced this? The answers we seek come after we have let go of all effort.
Psychologists might give one explanation for this, productivity specialists another. But yoga has a particular take on how this phenomenon works.
In yoga, our mind is seen not only as our faculties of questioning, thinking, analyzing, reasoning and so on. Yoga recognizes there is also an aspect of our mind that connects us to our inner wisdom.
When we disengage from solution-seeking part of our mind, the busyness of our mental chatter settles. Internal space clears. Then, as if silently summoned from the depths of our being, the voice of deep knowing can emerge, precisely because we have made ourselves available to hear what...
Subtle takes time.
In the space of sustained inner attention, awareness penetrates beneath the obvious to notice and capture insights in our practice.
Subtle can’t be downloaded or clicked on.
It’s delicate like the wings of a Gossamer butterfly.
Yes, practice gives us the opportunity to develop the strength of mind and sensitivity needed to refine our perception and grasp what might otherwise remain elusive.
The question is, how much do we value it? And more importantly, are we willing to unplug and simply stay put with our experience long enough for the subtle to emerge?
The traditional 3 paths of yoga outlined in the Bhagavad Gita provide a useful framework for deconstructing the work of the hatha yoga teacher:
Karma Yoga, The Path of Action
The disciplines we practice and teach. Asana, pranayama and the actions we perform, study, and refine within these practices.
The actions we use to teach: concrete skills including planning and preparation, the cues we give, the adjustments we make, the attention with which we observe our students.
Jnana Yoga, The Path of Knowledge
The understanding that informs these practices, including the teachings of our tradition.
The larger context we hold for the practice that evolves out of a combination of study, reflection and personal, inner experience.
The wisdom that gives rise to what we convey (whether overtly or subtly) when we teach. This includes the physical and energetic space we create through our welcoming, our interactions and our sheer presence.
Bhakti Yoga, The Path of...
A self-realized meditation master once said:
Hatha Yoga, Shmata Yoga. Even en elephant can stand on his front legs, but has the Ida and Pingala merged into your Sushumna? Is your courtyard filled with the fragrance of your own love?
I am paraphrasing here, perhaps quite liberally, but you get the jist of it.
It’s a question I come back to again and again. What makes asana more than a physical discipline, even one done with an awareness of breath and good alignment?
And the answer keeps coming back: it’s the context we give it, the intention behind it, and the inner trajectory it moves us in that brings asana into the realm of spiritual practice and part of a larger path of self-development.
All we do on our mats - the one-pointedness we cultivate, the strength we engender, the vitality we increase and even the more subtle awareness ourselves we cultivate – must be placed in service to our own evolution and to becoming a stronger force of love and goodness in the...
Is there anything more powerful than remembering death to clarify what is most important in your life?
In the Buddhist tradition, remembering your death is a daily practice. Not in a morbid way, but as a reminder of preciousness of this fleeting, transient existence of ours. The perspective it brings allows for a healthy detachment from the unfolding dramas of daily life.
Our yoga practice should do us the same service. Hopefully, our practice environment (both inner and outer) gives us the space to remember again and again what we hold most dear and essential.
Remembering that each day is an opportunity to take hold of, to live fully and to learn from, practice supports us to become established, steadily and gradually, in our inherent goodness and share it with our world. These are the things to be remembered daily.
Our free, online bonus content is designed to complement and enrich your experience of Evolving Your Yoga. Resources like video pose tutorials, downloadable journaling prompts, breathwork, guided visualizations, and more will support your exploration of each of the Ten Principles for Enlightened Practice.