Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten Season for those of the Christian Faith. Lent is a time for Christians to focus on their spiritual selves and the sacrifice their Lord made for them. During Lent many Christians give up something they consider to be a vice in order to experience suffering, add something that will bring them closer to God, give time or money to help others, participate in prayer and penance, and abstain from eating meat on Friday.
Embracing the yoga practice during the Lenten Season can help Christians better understand the meaning of Lent and why the above mentioned practices are observed. In the Yoga Sutras, Book 2 Sutra 1, Patanjali tells us "accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in action". In other words, self-discipline, self-study, and self-surrender are the preliminary yoga. Patanjali goes on to say in Sutra 2, "self-discipline, self-study, and surrender help us to minimize obstacles and obtain samadhi (bliss)". Through study of the Yoga Sutras we see that our efforts are a means to samadhi, or absorption - a mind clear and focused on God.
According to the Yoga Sutras, the first practice of yoga in action is "accepting pain as help for purification", or self-discipline. This can be likened to the Lenten practice of giving up vices. Our nature is to run after pleasure and by abstaining from those things we find pleasurable our minds are steadied and purified. Under the practice of self-discipline we can also add the Lenten practice of adding things that bring one closer to God. Lent is a great time to commit to your yoga asana (posture) practice and/or your meditation practice.
Another form of self-discipline often practiced during Lent is abstaining from meat on Friday. In fact, abstaining from meat and other animal products is, in my opinion, the highest practice of the yogic practice of ahimsa (non-harming). Non-harming is an essential practice for the yogi, as it creates karma that leads to eternal happiness. Through the practice of ahimsa we develop our compassion, and through compassion we begin to see our self in all beings, and see that we are all a direct line to God.
We see that the practice of yoga is much more than the physical practice of asana. The practice of yoga is a set of practices designed to awaken us to the Divine. By embracing the yoga practice your commitment to and understanding of your own faith can be strengthened. Even if you aren't a practicing Christian, I encourage you to use this holy time to deepen your practice and understanding of yoga and connect with your own Divine Self!