Friday morning led class is followed by Satsang here in Spirit Yoga Osaka. This is a time when the Mysore group can meet to practice other aspects of ashtanga yoga, whether it’s chanting or discussing yoga philosophy. Yesterday, July 4, 2014, was my first Friday here. It was a full power led primary; and I actually had fun counting the vinyasa-s! I particularly looked forward to discussing the Japanese word “ganbatte,” often translated as “Do your Best!” — which I realize can differ slightly in meaning depending on context. I wanted to explore “ganbatte” in the context of yoga and how I mean it when I say it in class. Here is a written expansion of yesterday’s talk.
I ask the circle of students (with the help of Naoko-san translating) gathered after Friday’s led class what they feel when someone tells them: “Ganbatte.” Many nod in agreement that it is a motivation, a cheer to go on, to do better. Hiroko-san, sitting across from me, nods too but also adds that depending on the context it can also come with a lot of pressure.
The Japanese are renowned for their work ethic and discipline, it is deeply ingrained in the culture–and beautiful to see when applied to the yoga practice. When taken to an extreme, it has a dark side. In Japan, karōshi, 過労死, or death from work, is legally recognized as a cause of death. People in their thirties have strokes or heart attacks due to working long hours and suffering from extreme stress–they’re just doing their best, right?!
This, of course, would not happen with the skillful yoga students here attending class and practicing with great awareness. Still, it begs the question: What does it mean to do your best in the yogic sense? What does ganbatte mean for the yogi?
Ganbatte is an encouragement, often translating to Do your Best! or Do well! or Be courageous!
It is supposed to inspire courage. In her famous TedTalk on Vulnerability, my favorite researcher/storyteller Brene Brown speaks about how the root of the word courage comes from the Latin “cor,” which is the heart. That in its early form, to be courageous was to speak from one’s heart.
These days we look at courage as bravery, having guts or gumption, daring to do what is difficult. All well and good. But to be truly courageous we must act according to what is true to our hearts as well, and from that place of authenticity we are able to act with greater awareness and equinimity. When we are true to ourselves, then we are in satya, one of the five yamas, the foundation of Patanjali’s ashtanga, or 8-limbs.
Now: what is best exactly? We often confuse what is best for what we think of as what is perfect. We often look towards some future ideal or goal. In our yoga practice, we often think of perfection as the final expression of the posture the way we see it in some yoga video, on YouTube or on Instagram.
Patanjali’s first sutra in the Yoga Sutras is “atha yoganusasanam.” Yoga is happening now. It does not look towards the future. It exists in the present moment.
Never does Patanjali outline the particularities of what an asana looks like, he doesn’t go into degrees or alignment, but rather on each individual’s feeling in the pose. “Sthira sukha asanam,” The posture is both steady and easy. And this will depend on the truth of each and every person, as they discover the balance between strength and flexibility, steadiness and comfort.
So wherever you truly are in your practice, so long as your put the right effort into finding that “sthira” and “sukha,” the right presence and awareness, no matter what the asana looks like, it is perfect for that particular moment.
So: Gambatte! Gambatte!!! Practice with true courage, practice from the heart! That is already the best practice.
PHOTO: Friday’s Led Class here at Spirit Yoga Osaka.