There are moments in life when we physically have to sit through something very uncomfortable. It’s tough. It’s riding the wave of uncertainty. What will get us through those times (and all times quite frankly) is letting go of the beginning and not reaching for the end. What we have is this experience right now. There is no past or future. The more we try to hold on to what has been or reach towards what may be the more difficult our journey will be. You are here, right now, no other time exists no matter how badly you wish it to. Suffering is created from attachments, the less we are attached to an experience, time, idea, emotion, etc… the less we will suffer. When you experience something unpleasant, do not wish for it to go away, do not grab for your comfort zone. Rather, become familiar with the state you are in, examine it, learn from it, let is pass through. The less reactive we are the less intense our experiences will be. If we want peace, we must be peaceful. There is no other way.
Yoga Practice: Eka-pada-paschimottanasana (one leg posterior stretch)
This asana relaxes the mind and makes it more flexible. This will increase our ability to adapt and find peace where we are.
- Sit on the floor, legs straight in front of you
- Bend right leg and place the heel either against the inner thigh or on top of the thigh of the left leg
- Pull the head to the extended leg (left leg), bending forward, holding the big toe of the left leg with both hands. (use a strap around the extended leg if it is difficult to reach the toe)
- Hold this pose for a few minutes
- Release on an exhale
- Repeat on the other side
Often we deem ourselves either successes or failures depending on the outcome of a pursued goal. When we set a target and either achieve it or not we determine whether we have won or lost at the respective task (i.e. I am either the “winner” or the “loser”). I propose abandoning the win/lose spectrum and adopting the “have I learned anything?” metric.
Pride and self importance are attributes commonly associated with success. These are emotions of the ego and impair our ability to develop empathy. Similarly, failure often leads to experiences of depression and decreased self-worth. These are precursors to self-sabotage and unhappiness. Instead, why not look back at our journey and determine how much wisdom we have gained? This would prevent the inflation of the ego and it would nurture our evolution. Throughout our time on earth we continually visit both peaks and valleys. The less we reinforce our ego with either positive or negative feedback the less intense the ups and downs will be. However, this requires us to learn from the experience. If we do not focus on the learning, but rather focus on the emotions evoked from the high points and the low points they will only increase in frequency and intensity. Whereas, if we take the time to examine the path and allow ourselves to learn from it our minds will become focused on the journey rather than on the destination.
Yoga Practice: Today, in place of practicing a specific pose, ask yourself what you have learned from today’s events, without attaching positive or negative emotions to them.
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.