The most lasting impression I have from spending time with the Iyengars is just how much faith they have in the practice. They trust the process completely and are absolutely unequivocal about the benefits of yoga, and I feel that it is this faith that adds to the power of the practice.
In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras Patanjali says: ‘Practice must be pursued with faith, vigour, keen memory and power of absorption to reach the aim of yoga’ (Y.S 1.20). BKS Iyengar, in his definitive text on the Yoga Sutras, The Core Of The Yoga Sutras, writes that these qualities form the four pillars of the practice and are necessary to cultivate in order to overcome the obstacles that will arise.
The concept of faith can be difficult for Westerners who have been brought up in an agnostic culture to understand. Faith is not just believing in something and, through that belief, expecting that the ride will be a smooth one. There will be times when your faith in the practice will be tested, such as developing an imbalance or creating an injury through the practice itself. It is, however, these situations that will strengthen your faith if you are able to persevere.
Cultivating faith in the practice is also important given the yoga practice, itself, can be a slow grind. Practice sessions involve going through the basic postures in a thorough and pragmatic way day in and day out. Apart from the immediate benefits that are often felt from going through a well designed sequence of postures, in a yoga practice there is no end point that one can strive towards. There are times when one may feel that they are not making progress, that one may even be regressing. Further, in this internet age where everything within it is presented in a convenient and entertaining way, it is easy to get bored with our practice or to expect unrealistic things from it.
To a large extent it is the practice that engenders the faith. Yet, at the same time, it is also important to be active in cultivating the faith, known as ‘sraddha‘ in Sanskrit, as a necessary ingredient for one’s practice to become a long term pursuit and not just a passing fancy.