To find out how much ashram life can affect your personality and outlook on life, play a sport that you used to love playing before you came to the ashram. As a second year BYB student participating in the volleyball tournament at Ganga Darshan, I realized that taking part in a sporting event can be viewed as a dynamically insightful sadhana. It spontaneously resurrects old memories, neuroses, delusions of grandeur, and competitiveness. While exposing the fragility of our self-image, at the same time it can also put to rest some old ghosts.
The first thing that strikes you is how much better you play when you perform trataka (fixed concentration) on the ball. However, whenever you allow yourself to be distracted by applause or by thoughts of how good a player you are, you fluff the ball. Thus the process of cause and effect becomes painfully clear.
Focusing on the ball keeps you in the moment and enables you to defend some quickly returned balls without having to think about it. This gives you more confidence in handling the ball. It also makes you more aware of the negative stream of thoughts that stop you from playing well; you are simply too busy reacting to the stream of thoughts to be able to think about how you can return the ball.
This can be a tricky one. On the one hand we had all agreed to participate in a tournament where one team has to win there, but yet displaying a high degree of competitiveness was frowned upon by some players and deemed 'un-yogic'.
So the game also became about acceptance; recognizing and living with those parts of your nature which aren't necessarily considered supportive of your spiritual growth.
Normally when someone takes what you consider to be your ball you don't hesitate to be vocal in your views. But somehow, you find yourself restraining your speech and simply practising antar mouna. Watching the stream of thoughts that the action of your eager team-mate triggers is very powerful; you see how you had linked events from your childhood to this game. Old memories of feeling ignored or brushed aside rear their tired old head. You see yourself as being rewarded for your non-reaction with insight into why you act the way you do. It also gives you another way to understand the yama of aparigraha or non-possessiveness. You begin to learn to go of the thought that the ball was 'mine' and go with the flow of the game even though that sometimes means you are inactive.
Finally, in support of Patanjali's recommendations, practice is the key. Practice is important not only to improve our game and increase our skills, but from a spiritual perspective it is an invaluable tool to develop self-awareness and mind management as well. We can see whether we can really live and play yoga, with a spirit that emulates the sporting dance of life initiated by Nataraja.