To be non-violent does not only mean to be physically non-violent, but also verbally and mentally non-violent. Additionally, it means we do not inflict pain onto ourselves as well as others. Thinking thoughts such as, “I am unattractive,” “I am stupid,” “My co-worker is a know-it-all,” etc… are all forms of violent behaviour. Although it may not appear to be such since it is not physical, it absolutely causes harm to ourselves as well as to others. It is very important to soften ourselves, to be more kind and more compassionate in our minds, words and actions. Everything we do impacts the path we are on and at some level adjusts the road to suit us. If you speak, think, and act with anger then you will only recognize an angry, harsh world. However, if you speak, think, and act with kindness and compassion, you will be greeted by a kind and compassionate world. As Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Yoga Pose: Balasana (Chid’s Pose)
This is a resting asana. It reminds us of a time when we were excited about life and open to all possibilities. A time when our initial reaction to others was non-judgmental and friendly. This pose allows us the space to surrender and soften, to become more childlike.
- Kneel on your mat or the floor
- Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as the mat or wider than your hips
- Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs
- Forehead to the mat/floor
- Arms either alongside your lower legs, palms up or extended forward with palms on the mat/floor
- Breathe slowly and deeply into the lower abdomen
- Stay until you feel peace, smile to yourself
Somewhere along the line we’ve convinced ourselves that suffering is bad and now we run for some crutch at the first sign of discomfort. We all have a crutch be it alcohol, drugs, shopping, religion, television, etc.. These activities prevent us from being present, from being open to all the experiences life has to offer. Using a crutch is running away from this moment. They do us no service, in fact, they hinder our development. We fear suffering so much that we have created a world bursting with distractions. There’s a string from every angle pulling us out of the present. Where have those distractions brought us? We have lost touch with our own strength, with our adaptability. Any experience slightly out of routine creates anxiety and stress within us. When this happens we immediately reach for something to bring us back to our comfort zone. Instead, what we must do is pause at the onset of suffering and observe the experience. There is no need to make judgements, neither good nor bad is happening, there is only what is. Practicing non-reactivity allows us to find the source of peace within ourselves.
Yoga Practice: Meditation
Meditation brings up all the dwells deep inside of us and grants us an opportunity to practice non-reactivity.
- Find a quiet space where you can be alone
- Sit either in a chair with feet flat on the floor or comfortably on the ground – in both instances make sure your spine is straight
- Close your eyes
- Breathe deeply into your lower abdomen
- When you begin to feel any agitation, fear, anxiety, or unease do not judge it, just stay, do not attach notions of good or bad, do not reach for a crutch, remain present
- Stay in meditation for 15 min
Sometimes we can get carried away with trying to perfect ourselves: our health, our mind, our spirit. When this happens we have strayed from the ultimate goal of liberation. There is a fine line between creating a life of peace and creating a life of imbalance be it on the positive or the negative side of the spectrum. Someone who is overly enthusiastic and happy is no better off than someone who is depressed and pessimistic. Both extremes are blocks to enlightenment. Through the path of yoga we work towards balance, towards equalizing opposites. Yoga teaches us to accept our present state and from there we move towards harmony. There is nothing aggressive in yoga practice, only kindness and compassion. The harder we work the further we are from the goal. We do not actively force samadhi (enlightenment), rather, we prepare ourselves through gentle and consistent practice to receive the gift of transcendence.
Yoga Practice: Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
This asana (pose) offers rest to an unsettled mind. It is an asana that guides us to our innermost self and allows us to rest there and become acquainted with who we really are. From that knowledge we can learn which steps to take in order to arrive at peace.
- Sit on the floor with legs together and extending in front of you, hips tilting forward (opposite of tailbone tucked under)
- you may sit on the edge of a folded blanket if your lower back is arching
- Inhale, extend your arms overhead
- Exhale as you slowly stretch up and forward as you fold from the hips, stop as soon as you feel your back begin to arch
- Lower your arms
- Head follows the natural curve of the spine
- You may continue folding forward until you feel discomfort in your body
- Stay in the pose for 5 minutes
- Inhale and rise up
- Lay back into savasana (corpse pose) and examine how you feel
It is often a complaint during practice that the mind gets carried away and it is difficult to focus on the task at hand. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika writes, “We have to start somewhere [in regards to taming the mind] so it is better not to concern yourself with the mental activities; just do your practices and let the mind do what it likes. If you do not try to constantly block and suppress the mind, it will automatically become obedient and concentrated.”
The more we try to control our minds the more tense we become, by actively focusing on changing the patterns of the mind we unintentionally add to the thing we are hoping to reduce. It is far easier to quiet the mind through focus on the body. For example, while in meditation our attention is on our soft inhalations and exhalations, the rise and fall of our bodies. When thoughts arise we place them gently into bubbles and guide those bubbles out of our mind. We do not forcibly try to remove the thoughts for that will only create more thoughts and more tension. Do not allow the thinking mind to distract your self from having an experience.
During yoga practice we strive for presence in our poses as well as in-between our poses. However, we are often drawn away from those moments by our thoughts and this can frustrate us. Today while practicing do not feel angered by your thoughts but rather excuse your mind from them and continue to practice. Have compassion for your thinking mind and soon it will do as you like.
A jug fills drop by drop.
There is no magic pill that produces greatness, it is achieved overtime via slow and deliberate actions. People become skilled at what they do by doing it. They possess no innate gift of perfection. These individuals choose a path and step after step they walk along it. There are difficult days, easy days, days of enthusiastic optimism and days of utter despair and hopelessness. What separates the experts from novices is dedication through it all; not stopping at the first sign of success and not quitting at the first sign of failure.
Yoga teaches us to practice. Some people say, “I am embarrassed to go to a yoga class because I am not flexible, I will look like a fool.” Yoga is the antidote to rigidity. Through continually performing poses we become flexible. This will not happen over night, I have been working specifically on hip openers for over a month and pigeon pose stills makes me nauseous; however, I press on knowing that the only way to release the tension in my hips is to chip away at it everyday.
We like to believe there is something special within people who acquire exceptional skills, whereas, the truth is, the only thing “special” about them is their ability to practice. We can all enjoy whatever we desire if we are willing to put in the time and effort to cultivate that reality. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, not a set of magic wings.
Yoga Practice: Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose)
This pose is difficult. It takes time and effort to acquire the strength to maintain it properly.
- Start from adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog pose)
- Shift your weight forward to phalakasana (plank pose), arms vertical, wrists inline with shoulders
- Use your core muscles to maintain this pose
- Slowly, with control, lower down into chaturanga dandasana; elbows bent and pressed against torso, legs and torso a few inches above and parallel to the floor, quads turned slightly inward
- Breathe deeply and calmly
- Hold for a few breaths then release to the floor
- If unable to come parallel to the floor come a low as you can and practice everyday until you are able to lower to only a few inches above the ground.
“The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning…Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable.” – Carl Sagan
There are aspects to life we will never fully understand. This makes us uncomfortable; consequently, we seek meaning and stability. We like to think something is 100% the way it is. We get married with the intention of being connected to another human being forever. We accept religion in order to avoid the instability of life. We trust doctors with our lives instead of exploring alternative ways to heal ourselves. We ask advice rather than trusting our intuition. We live based on how others live because it makes us feel more safe, “it worked for them, so it must work for me.” This kind of thinking holds us back. It prevents our growth and keeps us from truly living. The truth is, this moment is all I know, all any of us know and the stability we seek is present in this instant only. As for meaning, it is up to us to create meaning through our interactions with ourselves and others. Meaning comes from the relationships we build, from the love we bestow on the world, and from the moments in which we recognize the universal soul.
It may be easier to accept stories about what should be and what awaits us in the future, but, that is not the truth. The truth is in the space we occupy now. The wisdom of the universe is present at this time. To access it we must shred our “have been’s” and “should be’s” and accept whatever is. What is now? That is the question worth answering.
At the beginning of today’s practice set an intention to find meaning in the present.
There are those days when everything feels like an uphill battle. When the inclination to do nothing at all is so great it typically wins out. We are left feeling unproductive, unmotivated, and with a general sense of malaise regarding our existence. These days happen. Maybe not for all of us, but I for one am no stranger to this experience. It’s difficult to be strong all the time, it’s difficult to always do what we’re supposed to do and somedays we just fail. It’s easy to feel down when this happens, and after it happens once it becomes easier for the cycle to repeat.
The way to nip this cycle in the bud sooner rather than later is to totally and completely have the experience of doing nothing, of “wasting” time. Allow yourself to be fully present and melt into the fruitlessness of the moment. We all know life is a series of ups and downs, this will not change. However, to ease the downs we must break our attachments. The more we force ourselves to be where we are not, the more attached we will become to activity of conquering ourselves. This is detrimental to our evolution. By doing this we are simply creating more stress within us. Be where you are and you will no longer want for anything. That is how the cycle stops.
Yoga Practice: Savasana (Corpse pose)
Savasana is the ultimate relaxation pose. While lying in savasana we let go of all worries and all life’s demands.
- Lie down on the floor with legs apart.
- Arms are positioned so there is a space between the torso and the arm.
- Breathe slowly and deeply into the area behind the navel.
- Stay as long as you like.