A turbulent week in our country has stirred up the energy around us and for many, within us. The work in our yoga class helps prepare us to weather difficult times: it draws us back to our centre, to our selves, for strength and perspective. We establish our grounding, a sense of stability and firmness; we connect to our breath and use it to turn toward stillness and resolve within. We set an intention. We challenge ourselves to explore what we can achieve in this moment- listening within, learning with each breath, carrying a lightness of spirit, and respecting our limits. And in so doing, our capacity for positive change grows.
A personal mantra can help to connect and retain positive energy and drive. Mine this week has been the words inspired by Gandhi “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I wish to see humanity let go of actions driven by fear and work collectively to steer our world toward better balance. I realise that is ambitious but I think it needs to be. The seeds of resolve must germinate within each of us before they can take root and flourish. Each person needs to play their part: the momentum of positive change is carried by each of us. So keep planting seeds and nurture them as they grow, one breath at a time.
Connecting to the words from last week’s theme, as students settle their bodies and bring awareness to their breath, we can begin to embody a sense of gratitude that the breath is there for us. It gives us life, literally breathes life into us. We tune in and feel the subtle transformations as we soak ourselves in this sense of gratitude. From a thought, we can start to physically feel its effects as the body relaxes, and almost spreads out, opens up a bit. It is as though we embrace the feeling.
As we practice on our mats, and effort levels gear up, it often becomes more challenging to retain the cloak of gratitude. The mind is being trained as much as the body, so bring in reinforcements: light up a soft inner smile and add lightness in your heart. Stay with your breath and feel into the movements. Challenge yourself and then give yourself space to reflect on what you have achieved as opposed to what remained out of your grasp this time. And yes, you can feel grateful when it is over!
There has been a lot in the news and on the airwaves about an epidemic of anxiety. Spectrum (British Wheel of Yoga) magazine included an article on this topic in the Summer 2016 edition. The author closes the article quoting the words of Louise L. Hay. I have since discovered they come from her book “Meditations to Heal Your Life” (Hay House Inc, 1 Jul 2000; pages 236-7). So this week’s classes begin with her words, to take into our practice and our lives.
I trust myself. – by Louise L. Hay
We trust that our next breath is there. Let’s begin to trust that other things will be there for us, also. The world is a work of art, and so am I. For me to contribute positively to this ongoing creation, it is necessary that I trust the process of life. If things get difficult, I confidently go within and anchor my thoughts in truth and love. I ask for the guidance of the Universe as I make my way safely through stormy seas and calm, blissful weather. My job is to stay in the present moment and to choose clear, simple, positive thoughts and words. I know it is not necessary or even possible to have a reason for everything. I do know that I was born a beautiful and trusting soul. I take a moment now to treasure the mysterious and invisible process of life that I am.
Still rooting our theme in the present, we consider the law of karma, of cause and effect. Our actions, whether small or large, whether to heal or harm, have consequences- for us and everyone. Some we can foresee and many we cannot. Some consequences follow quickly, others may manifest years later. Yet other consequences seem absent altogether. They may not yet have appeared, may never reveal to us (though they may to others), or we fail to connect the dots.
Imagine the energy created by all our acts swirling all around us like dust, some positively charged, some negative, others neutral. It can be a strain to anticipate which particle will settle where, when, and on whom. So let go and free yourself of the illusion that you can control how the dust settles. But you can use the law of karma to be more considered in how you act now. Be an active participant in creating more positive particles that swirl around your life and all of life, unconcerned with who benefits from this, as we all win here. We have in the present moment the learning from past acts and results to guide us. So use the past positively in the present to create a better future- one breath at a time.
Let’s turn back to our Yoga Sutra guidance. Yoga is moment by moment ability to still the fluctuations of the mind. We transcend the shackles of life situation and free ourselves to experience life. Not exactly a sacrifice when viewed that way! Yet still, we often resist moving toward that. Why? There is a reason they say “yoga is not easy”: Simple, yes. Easy? Well, no, at least not for most of us.
In one way or another, we all have things we tend to cling to which, in our more honest moments, when we put aside rationalisations, we know are not beneficial to us. And yet we persist. So it is perhaps not surprising that the other key ingredient for moving toward this state of inner tranquillity is non-attachment (Sutras 1.12 and 1.15-1.16). Effectively, we try to free our minds from becoming invested in and bound to possessions and status (acquired from past events) but also not consumed with thoughts of future acquisitions and outcomes: We detach from identifying with life situation (see last week’s theme), and instead, fully engage in our life as it is playing out now, in each present moment. Absolutely we can set goals and make plans but with an honest appraisal of how they nourish our life vs. their implications for our life situation.
Our yoga asana practice gives us much opportunity to cultivate this quality of non-attachment. Some will fixate on and become distracted by the end posture, which prevents full attention to the progression toward it. Whether overly keen to “get there”, or reluctant to try, both are removing themselves from being with it as it unfolds and develops, in whatever way. When we open ourselves to every moment and breath as an opportunity to enrich us, we loosen our binds of attachment. Whether it be challenging ourselves further or restoring ourselves with a rest, be present for it. So take a deep breath and dive back into your life.
Ruth teaches yoga in Cheltenham UK, weaving yoga philosophy into the asana practice to help students connect yoga on the mat to their lives off the mat.