Yoga Here and Now...
...Off the mat and into the world
We all come to yoga for various reasons. For some it is purely physical, a way to keep fit and flexible. Others may be searching for something spiritual, or a new inspiration in their lives. Many people come because it's popular, it's hip and trendy and you're considered cool if you practice yoga. Others may come because they are lonely, depressed, or searching for something different that they cannot really define. Whatever reasons one has for practicing yoga are equally valid and if we were to inquire into the reasons why people maintain a regular yoga practice we would probably get an equal number of different answers.
Yoga works on many levels for different individuals, but if we were to make a general distinction it would probably be safe to say that yoga helps us breath a little deeper, release some of our layers of tension, accept ourselves a little better and awakens within us a direct experience of something that is real - our inmost self.
Many people have expressed to me the great warmth, love and support they feel after a genuine yoga practice. They step off their mat, walk out on cloud nine, but are then suddenly bulldozed by the vicissitudes of life; everyday situations of having to deal with stress and pressure at work or in family life. Emotions of anger, fear, desire and pain may awaken and take hold of the individual. Frustrations may arise and throw the individual completely off center, and one may suddenly ask; "What happened to all the warmth, love and support they experienced in their yoga practice?"
Let's face it, for some the yoga practice ends the moment they step off their mat, but for others whatever time they may spend on their yoga mats is a prime investment to set oneself up for the day and remain more receptive to what really matters - remaining centered and strong from within despite the many storms that may rage on external levels. The challenges of life may be overwhelming and sometimes we may feel so pushed up against the wall that we can barely cope. You manage to sneak out of the office, get a few hours respite from life, you escape with a great yoga class, but once you are back at your desk or at home the confrontations of life seems so difficult to bear.
So what do we do?
If we want more of the peace and calm that yoga gives us should we resign from our job and families and run off to the Himalayas? Find a quiet cave, seek out shelter in an ashram, de-robe, deconstruct your ego, recite some sacred mantras and dream of enlightenment to come? No! The real purpose of yoga was never to escape life, but to be able to more fully embrace it and to live more fully in the here and the now.
How does this translate into our daily practice?
Well, like in the practice of physical postures you gradually learn to be with your own pain, tension, frustration. When you learn to breathe with it and shift your focus to your inner core rather than the whimsical patterns of the physical body, something gradually becomes transformed and a new space opens up from within that you come to realize is much more real than whatever pattern of tensions we were stuck in.
Why should our daily interactions with life be any different?
It's all about the inflexibility of our behavioral patterns and the ridiculous strain we may feel from other people that really frustrate us in the worst possible ways. But just like you cannot blame your own body for being so ludicrously inflexible and treat it like a foreign object when you really want to heal it. Something needs to be done and the responsibility is yours. In a similar way, whatever interactions and experiences life throws at us, it doesn't really help to just blame ones immediate environment and all the people that supposedly make life so difficult for us, but rather how we heal, soften and come to turns with our own pain and the rigid patterns of our behavior. For this reason running away to a cave or an ashram will never provide the equal opportunity for growth and transformation. That is never found by trying to escape or avoid ones present situation, but rather from totally embracing it with as much awareness as possible.
Bhagavad Gita (BG) is a marvelous book that highlights this very topic. When you are faced with the extraordinary challenges of life, would you give up, run away, blame other people or find a dozen valid reasons for not doing your duty or stepping up to the task - or, would you make the most of the opportunity to learn to embody a greater skill in yoga in the midst of all your activities? In the 2nd chapter of the BG we can find two verses that address this particular problem:
Be established in Yoga, O Arjuna, perform your actions, but be free from their attachments. Remaining the same in success and failure, this equanimity is known to be yoga (2.48).
Being established in true intelligence (equanimity of mind) one naturally frees oneself in this life from both virtue and vice. Therefore, devote yourself to yoga. Yoga is skill in the midst of actions (2.50).
If we are seeking ways to 'improve' our broken bodies or lives filled with misery, it certainly helps to find a sense of equanimity from within. To keep a check on our excessive behavior, which often fuel desire, greed and anger leading to misery and despair. To become aware of our patterns of fear, that hold us back, paralyzes us, and prevents us from expanding. Then we may eventually find this place called yoga in the midst, whose very presence from within highlights to our mind and body what patterns they are actually made up of. So when we can become a little more balanced in this inner core of perceptivity rather than loosing ourselves in the torrents of constant flux the mind may eventually have the balance and calm that it needs to finally perceive a little bit of yoga. When this equanimity is found, what better ways to consolidate that further than continuing with your daily activities, that is where all the real life-transforming experiences happen anyway. Thus it is the capability of embodying yoga in the here-and-now presence of our daily lives that will truly make us into greater yogis. Not all the fanciful stuff we do on our mat. That is there at best to just remind us of a greater place of freedom from within we can touch, when we learn to listen, learn to trust, find ways to expand and learn to distance ourselves a little from all the background noises of our own mind. Then we may eventually find greater clarity and peace, when we can simply more fully embrace what is. With equanimity, trust and the stern conviction that everything is the way it should be.
What else are we truly other than our own actions? If we can find greater peace, warmth and harmony with our fellow beings, then we can certainly proclaim to have understood a little bit of yoga.
But ok, there are marvelous tasks and challenges ahead for us all. Some might break us, others will surely make us, but please always remember that in the darkest hour of the night, dawn always appears and as that brilliant light unfolds within us, the darkness disperse and suddenly we see ourselves with a new perspective - hopefully a little more aligned with our yoga.
R. Alexander Medin
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