We had an amazing retreat last week up in the Berkshires. The weather was typical Massachusetts early spring weather- soggy and chilly. We still had a lot of time outside for walks and some palm tree vinyasas in the morning, and a walk in the afternoon. We had three sittings for meditation, three movement sessions and of course three meals for three-ish days, all in functional silence. It is very difficult to explain what happens in a group when they agree to live together for a time in silence- not surprisingly, it is difficult to use words to describe the experience. One participant shared a poem by Naruda with the group which we agreed summed up our experience. You can click the link below to read it.
You will see a picture of our phone tray below. Our phones sat there for 2 1/2 days, huddled together, unused and unnoticed, and for some, uncharged. (A few phones are missing from the picture because we needed them to take the picture). You will also see a very full compost bucket, another source of joy that came out of the retreat. We cooked three plant-based meals together each day and the compost that ended up in one person's garden was an unexpected source of satisfaction. And the teamwork in the kitchen, in silence again, ended up being a beautiful dance of knives, towels, juicers, pots and pans, and crisp fresh produce.
This was a time of timelessness where our minds and bodies recalibrated to a deeper place of rhythm- far more profound and perhaps accurate than the clocks, watches and phones that usually run our days. We all took souvenirs home, some were in form (rocks, stones, leaves) but most were not. The times we connected deeply with ourselves, the times in meditation that our minds bumped up against quiet, the times that we felt we were one organism moving together rather than 9 separate people performing a task, these are the things that we took home to remember our time together.
There was a lot of maneuvering for most to be able to attend and make their lives work for this time away. The good news is we can always replicate parts of the retreat at home. For instance, in the Miracle of Mindfulness (this month's book club book this Thursday night) Thicht Nacht Hahn suggests that we all find a day to be in mindfulness per week, which means you will be mostly in silence. My teacher has been encouraging the same for some time, and if a full day is not possible, the suggestion is to at least find 4 hours per week where we put down the devices and mind-stimulants and see what is below that fuzz. Practicing this for a while I will say it takes at least a day to detox! But 4 hours is a good start.
Interested in trying? I would be interested in hearing how it goes! It is challenging, and one suggestion is to find a buddy who will be doing the same. Not necessarily on the same day, but someone that you will check in with and let them know you attempted your mini-retreat. Reach out to a friend and see if they are interested in supporting you. Another suggestion is to sign up for Spiritual Mentoring and then your check in is with me. We can also speak of the experience and work to integrate whatever comes up.
Even if you can't find a full 4 hours, try some amount of withdrawal- whether you put down devices and TV 2-3 hours before bed, or you forego checking your phone until a certain time in the morning. Start slow if needed. If nothing else, you can come to a yoga class and know you will be in a mini-retreat for at least 1 1/2 hours!
The NY Times ran an article on the 17th about refill shops. (Thank you to all the people who sent it to me. I in fact did not see it on Sunday so I appreciate the heads up!) The last paragraph of the article reminded me that I intended to write about convenience in a newsletter months ago, and this statement rekindled that desire. Here is the statement in case you can't access the article:
“It’s incredible that we, as a society, feel entitled to create garbage that will last forever for something we’re going to use for 90 minutes in aggregate. That is an insane paradigm.”
I am sure we can all agree that using something that is disposible after one or two uses is one of the ways our lives have become more convenient.
My teacher recently challenged us to investigate what we lose for the sake of convenience. Naturally I have been thinking about this, and found that a second part to that question- How do I resort to entitlement and privilege to make things more convenient? If we agree that convience costs us something, does it makes sense if we add entitlement to it, the payment will be higher?
I want to come clean by admitting that I bank at "America's most convenient bank" (as their tag line goes). I can't say for sure its more convinent for all people, but it is right downtown, and that makes it easy for me. I just checked and saw that TD Bank does not win any awards for investing in ethical businesses. They do not make any of the top 15 lists of eithical banks. I recall a friend withdrawing all of her money out of TD bank a while ago for this reason. While I thought that was very courageous of her, I was not willing to go through the effort of following her lead. I figured that since she was wealthy and didn't work she had the time to do this, and so her privilege allowed her the freedom to make an ethical choice. But it was also my privilege that allowed me to not change since I did not feel directly impacted by the investments the bank makes. Actually my privilege allowed me to not even know how TD invests their (my) money.
Do we fail ourselves when we choose convenience? If there is something we truly believe in, but we choose not to do it because it is out of our way, or too hard, or no one else is doing it, how will that sit in our heart? It is a good question to ask ourselves, if we can do so in a non-judgmental way. And the kicker is to not judge all the people who are not doing what we see as right action. We have enough work to do inside this head of ours, foisting our morally correct action on others is just distracting us for cleaning up our own house. This part is not easy, believe me I know that! Do I cringe when I see people buying plastic water bottles by the case? (Which to me is very different than buying one once in a while if you forgot to bring your own.) Did I chastise my husband for bringing home yet another large bottle of Panteen conditioner? (Check the blog for the first part of that fun story). Am I surreptitiously leaving coupons for Eco Loka at houses that I see have plastic buckets of plastic pods in their laundry rooms? Yes, yes yes!! Guilty on all accounts. While these encounters inspire me to keep up the work of telling people about the plastics problem, and providing a possible solution, they also remind me to not be in the place of pointing a finger. Instead, I strive to see where I allow convience to forgo following through with the work it takes to do and be what my heart tells me to do. The foundation of a yoga practice is effort, self study and surrender (yoga sutras chapter 2 verse 1). All of this falls under that. While I would like to point a finger at the USA for being the number 2 country for carbon emissions, I also have to see when I am driving needlessly. Is it because I think my 100-mile trip in the car is going to make a difference in the 5,416 million tons of CO2 that we emit in a year? No. However, it makes a difference to my heart to not just be the one who points, but to be the one who acts.
In the Bhagavad Gita, seeking "right action" is explained by Krishna to Arjuna. Krishna emphasizes that it is not just about knowing what to do (consider how easy life would be if we always knew what to do!) but also when to do it. Krishna is really teaching Arjuna how to be a "right actor". The work we need to do to become a right actor (the one who knows what action is for the highest good and when to do it) is never convenient. And, it never includes the "you should be doing this!" In the beginning of the story we see Arjuna as willing to pay for what he thought was right action with his reputation of being a fearless warrior. By the end of the book Arjuna is willing to place not only his life on the line for right action, but the lives of all the people he loves and respects. We are usually not asked to pay such a high price! Once we start to see the hidden cost of not responding to right action, we might be willing eschew convenience for something that requires a bit more work.
The end of the story
During a Passover seder participants are encouraged to imagine themselves as slaves leaving Egypt. We put ourselves in the shoes of those being released from bondage to better recognize our freedoms - and our bondages. Another benefit is that the story of the Exodus becomes alive! When we don't have a live story, it can become quite boring. Once the story becomes a lived experience it evolves as we evolve.
Have you ever found yourself telling your story over and over? It is interesting how we can speak about our suffering and our perceived failure and dissatisfaction as if we're trying to convince everybody that it's true. When we do that, we are usually not seeking resolution, instead we are entrenching ourselves in a part of our identity that suffers. How often do we authentically ask somebody, or our own selves, what the remedy might be? You might respond by saying "I asked people for advice all the time," but think about it. Are you asking for advice or are you seeking a willing ear to air your grievances, or someone to confirm your identity? I have found that when I speak of my problems, I am usually trying to get somebody to agree with me. I'm hoping they will say, "Oh yes, that's terrible," "it's unfair," "let me kiss the boo boo," etc. Or I want them to assure me that my perception is correct. More often than not I’m trying to get people to visit me in the little (sometimes big!) room that I have setup to showcase my suffering. When I recognized this, I began to listen to others in a different way, and I quickly realized that most of us do the same thing!
My teacher used to say you can tell your story once maybe twice. But after that, If you want the story to change, you have to stop telling the story and seek the resolution. This was a very powerful teaching for me. How do we seek this resolution? One of my other teachers would say just ask good questions. Good questions don't always have, or need, an answer. If they are really good questions, they will open the doorway to a deeper understanding. So, if you find yourself retelling the story over and over again, and you're sincerely seeking the way out, see what happens if you ask yourself a good question. That good question may lead to finding a good answer or asking an even better question. At the very least it may help stop the process of solidifying suffering deeper into your self-concept.
I know it is easy to suggest, but if we're in the habit of telling the stories, we are in the habit of telling the stories – and a lot of the time we get pretty good at it. Yoga has a solution for getting out of that cycle, and it's called sadhana. Sadhana means spiritual practice, and spiritual practices are formulated for personal transformation. A very simple and powerful (though not necessarily easy) sadhana is meditation. Meditation allows us to look at our mind without needing to respond to it. We begin to look at the thoughts we're carrying around in our heads and see how we are using our thoughts. Once we examine these thoughts and our stories enough, we can begin to put aside the things we don't want to carry with us anymore.
I have this very bad habit of using canvas bags to carry things between my house and the studio. A lot of the times the thing I’m carrying never even comes out of the bag when I reach my destination. It just gets carried back and forth and back and forth. At some point I look in bag and I realize it is full of stuff that I really don’t need. (If you see me one day caring a bag over my shoulder, don't ask me what's in it! It could be quite scary and confusing). Until we sit down in meditation and dump out and examine the bag of thoughts, we're wasting energy schlepping these things around across our lifetime. Meditation is the beginning of sorting through the bag and seeing what it is you're really carrying around. The next step, of course, is to start asking some really good questions. There are many other steps, and sometimes the next question will lead to a very specific sadhana to address a destructive or uncomfortable thought pattern.
At some point, for some things, we will be ready to start the work of dismantling negative conditioning, traumas, and confusion. And the start of that, believe it or not, can simply be stopping your story line. Until then, watch your thoughts and empty out your bags.
It is never too late to start!
It’s never too late to benefit from a yoga practice, and you’re never too old to start. Check out this NY Times article which gives you an insight to someone whose journey began in his 60s.
There are so many misconceptions and misrepresentations of yoga practice out there! It’s actually a bit scary and quite frustrating when I consider how many people might be turned off by the practice based on what they see on commercials, social media and TV.
I have worked with many people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s who decided it was time to begin. We all begin where we are, which is one of the beautiful things about the practice. Keep in mind that the practice of yoga is vast- it is not just about doing poses. This is one of the unfortunate misconceptions being thrust on the public. I came to yoga based on the physical poses (asanas) and that got me interested in all the other stuff, and here we are 30-ish years later, and I am still learning and practicing. It’s true that when I speak with friends close to my middle age who do not practice yoga, I realize how beneficial the practice has been to my physical body. But emphatically: asana not my primary concern, even though that is where I started.
Happily, yoga can help us grow old gracefully. I say happily because we are all going to grow old, and its kind of cool to be able be getting older and not freak out about it, or try to halt time, or rewind it. It is crazy to think that so many of the messages we get from our society are aimed at trying to turn around or halt what is an inevitable part of life. This is one of the reasons I so love working with older people who want to start yoga. Someone who shows up later in life understands it's time to get on with it, and why not do it with grace and contentment.
It really is never too late, and it will always be beneficial. There is still so much of life we can live, so much of our own selves we can discover, and so many treasures we can pass on to the younger generations.
Happy New Year!
Happy new year everyone!
I wanted to share an article that came in my inbox on Saturday from the NY Times. "Words to the wise" has several great tips on living a happy fulfilled life. You can think of them as resolutions, or just receive them as the great life lessons they are meant to be. I followed the advice of the author in our New Year's Day class. (Thank you to all who attended. It was fantastic to have such a lively, large group the first day of the year!). Each of us wrote our intentions for the new year on a slip of paper (so we were clear), put them in a basket and then everyone took an intention as they left. This way each of usl had a partner to help support our intention and we are also supporting another. Often that is what makes us shine our best selves, when we can support someone. Don't you find that to be true? I didn't have a chance to poll everyone after they took their slip, but I am betting someone pulled out an intention that was the same or close to their own. This is another benefit from this practice, we see we are not alone in our desires to move forward.
I hope you enjoy the list below. I did! I am curious to know which ones you might already be doing, or the ones you intend to adopt.
By Melissa Kirsch, posted 12/21/22 New York Times
Words to the wiseOne of my favorite New Year’s traditions is writing resolutions for other people. Tonight, if you’re with a group of friends or loved ones or strangers who are down for one last New Year’s Eve reindeer game, hand out slips of paper and instruct the assembled to write a resolution for the year. Put the papers in a hat, pass the hat, everyone draws one.
One year I received the resolution to always put my clothes away at the end of the day, rather than letting them pile up on a chair. A friend was to rise from bed every morning, waggle their fingers and say, “It’s showtime!” The resolutions can be whimsical or reflective. They can be things the author would like to resolve themselves or things they think would be good for others to try. It turns the rather dreary exercise of making (often self-punishing) resolutions into something exciting: an exchange of gifts, a gesture of community.
A resolution for all of us: Take some of the good advice below. These words of wisdom came in response to my request for your nontraditional, highly specific bests of 2022. (Read Part 1 of readers’ faves here.)
Best advice you gotIn your closet and your life, subtract whenever you add. — Mary Shanklin, Winter Garden, Fla.
From the “Ten Percent Happier” podcast: Stop and recognize happy moments when you’re in the middle of them. Literally stop and say out loud, “This is a happy time.” It’s a way to ground yourself in the joyful parts of your life. We do this with moments of trauma and crisis all the time. Maybe we should flip that script. — Mary Guzzetta, Pittsburgh
You don’t have to identify with your feelings. — Rori Quinonez, Toledo, Ohio
The best advice I received this year was to stretch my calves regularly. It cured my mild knee pain. — Nicole Byer, Simsbury, Conn.
Parent the child you have. As a parent of a child with special needs, this is my mantra. But this is also true of any child. Stop trying to make your child quieter, louder, more outgoing, more interested in things their sibling likes and appreciate the unique and individual small person you’ve been given. — Sue Lanigan, East Aurora, N.Y.
Everyone is going through something. — Rose Fischietto, Macedonia, Ohio
Dance often, host parties. This advice occurred to me and my friend after a million hours of discussing our pandemic depressions and dating lives. We made lists of the best bars with non-pretentious dance scenes we wanted to try out and themed parties we wanted to host. — Emily Kennedy, Brooklyn
If there is an issue bothering me, I think to myself, “Will this still be an issue in one week or in one month?” If the answer is no, it’s a small problem so I let the stress go and move on. — LaNae Williams, East Lansing, Mich.
If you didn’t have to keep working, would you? — Tom Myers, Holden Beach, N.C.
After my son and his fiancée were involved in an automobile accident in Spain, a friend told me I would need to learn how to practice “powerless mothering.” Following several spinal cord surgeries and six months of challenging rehabilitation, my son’s sweetheart has slowly regained strength and mobility in her upper body, but she remains paralyzed from the waist down, and my grown son has become a loving caregiver. My friend’s advice has helped me see that I can still be a supportive mother without any power to change their new world. — Candice Dale, South Portland, Maine
The best marriage advice: Binge shows and movies in separate rooms. — Juli Leber, New York City
When the wrench is on the nut, tighten it. In other words, if you’re already touching a piece of mail, deal with it. If you see a thing you’ll need soon, buy it now. If an uncomfortable conversation comes up, have it rather than deflecting it. — Kasia Maroney, Trumansburg, N.Y.
The best way to make a decision: Does it light me up? — Robyn Pichler, Weaverville, N.C.
I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days is 100 percent, and that’s pretty good. — Hudson, San Diego
Put 10 pennies in your left pocket. Find something for which you are grateful. Move one penny to your right pocket. You should find all pennies have moved to the right pocket at the end of the day. Celebrate. — Mike Wilson, Sedona, Ariz.
Stop reaching for people who aren’t reaching back. — Katya Davidson, Portland, Ore.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to do it, or that it’s good for you. — Divya Rao Heffley, Pittsburgh
Be where your feet are. — Submitted by both Pattie Saunders, Portland, Ore., and Kelly Kammerer, New York City
We are just upon winter solstice (Wednesday the 21st) which is a time when we can give attention to the longest night of the year. and see how the outer is affecting the inner. There are many rituals that surround this cold dark time of the year. Rituals that are celebrated externally also have a deep inner significance. What we do on the outside is reflected inwardly. We know this if we pay attention to how we feel when we smile verses how we feel when we frown. When we engage in a ritual it gives us structure which grounds us. When we are soothed by being grounded we awaken to the space around us and in doing so we recognize that the outer environment is affecting us and is being affected by us.
What significance does the longest night of the year have for us? When we sleep, we are plunged into darkness, as when we practice meditation. Our eyes close out the light. When yoga practitioners begin savasana (final relaxation) we place a cover on our eyes to shut out the light. When we intentionally seek darkness, knowingly or unknowingly, we are seeking something significant in this darkness. Afterall, consider how earnestly we seek sleep. There are the metabolic reasons for sleep- for example our organs detox, and our body regenerates. This actually happens in meditation as well, which is why people who have a deep meditation practice don’t need as much sleep and have more energy during the day. But something else is happening when we shut out the light- we are encountering our inner light. Whether we remember it or not (most of us don’t) it is happening. With the seen world shut out, it doesn’t exist. Like in a game of peekaboo with a young child. When they cover their eyes, they believe that all of the players disappear. In a game of hide and seek, when that young child closes their eyes they believe they will not be found. We hold on to that belief in a way because it is true! When we enter the darkness, we as an individual disappear. What does that mean, that we disappear? The person that has to be someone, has to do something great, or the person that always does something terrible and wrong, the person that has to distinguish themselves from others to be important- all that disappears. And when all that disappears, you are not separate, apart, or alone. And so the mind can rest its machinations and your energy can now focus on what is hidden by all those exhausting beliefs — which is the inner light. When you shut out the seen world and the exterior light you are putting those exhausting mind movements to the side and giving time for the inner light to be dominant. What a relief! Or maybe not? Entering this darkness can also be very scary if we do not have the context for what happens to us when the mind-driven personality ceases. If we don’t recognize this as a chance to be in the inner light, we will dread the darkness, and the non-existence it seems to represent.
Now with the solstice coming we are entering this external darkness together. The earth and its orbit is putting us into darkness for the longest stretch of time. We can dread it, or we can celebrate the fact that for a relatively short amount of time we are collectively immersing ourselves in to the darkness and into the resting of the mind and the seen world. Of course, in this modern lifestyle we enjoy now, the darkness of the night can be easily eradicated by flipping a switch (or if you are in my house, you can just ask Alexa to turn everything on). But during olden days when we were at the mercy of the movement of the planets, stars and sun, rituals developed, and awareness of the external energies were sharper. Possibly the power of the collective pause was felt more strongly and honored more deeply. And guess what!? We can still do that by asking Alexa to keep the lights and TV off, and we can join others who still see this night as a sacred time to come together and seek the light in the darkness.
This time of the year is usually very busy with family, shopping and parties. The available light, weather and general mood tells us to stay indoors wrapped up in a blanket, but the social norms tells us to get out and party. We can't ignore that airborne illnesses are still a thing (for some people the flu this year has been worse than Covid) and so you might want to be judicious about how and when you are risking exposure. What to do when faced with such choices? Maybe discernment and compromise is best. Go to the events that hold deep meaning for you and feeds your energy rather than depletes it. Think of your available energy for socializing like a bank account. You have to make sure there are enough funds to cover your expenses. If not, you will have to replenish or forgo. By now you probably have an idea of what replenishes you, just like you already know what depletes you. Sharpen your pencil and do the math. See what you are willing to spend down your account on.
This month we have some workshops that will help replenish your account so you can do more, if you want. Better to have the option of fueling your holidays (you can always decide not to go even if you have plenty in your account!) than not having enough to get you through to 2023.
Check out the offerings to see what fits your schedule and budget. As always, getting outdoors is a good, inexpensive, easily accessible way to refuel, and so far we have had good enough weather to do that. If you would like to follow some short guided meditations, you can do that here.
Ah yes, I also wanted to point out that we will be focusing on Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and Savasana this month in class. Both great ways to recharge your system! Bring your eyebags, scarves and maybe favorite blanket to class with you so you can get nice and cozy. You can also choose a pose you want to work on so start considering your requests!
A big part of my yoga practice has been self-study, the aspect of yoga that requires us to investigate our own habits, inclinations, and recurring behaviors.
One of my favorite teaching stories inspires self-study: There was once a man who blamed a neighbor for ruining his rose bushes, believing that the neighbor drove into them every morning when he set out for work. Over time, the man got so worked up about his neighbor, it became almost unbearable — until one day he suddenly realized it had been his car all along. The man’s own careless driving had ruined the roses.
We’ve all had the “aha” experience of recognizing in ourselves things that annoy us so much when others do them. That’s what makes self-study so valuable. It teaches us humility, patience, and acceptance — of ourselves as well as others.
The decision to open a refill store suggested a self-study challenge, which was to see how much single-use plastic I discard in a week. I started this last week. Instead of throwing the plastics away or tossing them into the recycling bin, I put them it in a (reusable) shopping bag. I couldn't collect everything (too messy or I was far from my shopping bag), and probably missed collecting about a third of what I used. Still, what I had saved was a revelation. Naturally, I tried not to veer from my usual usage during my challenge… but that is one of the things that happens when you begin to observe yourself — things do change. Of course, change is part of the plan.
On the eve of the Third Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, then-President George H. W. Bush is reported to have said, “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.” Though it may have felt like the last word on the matter for Bush, time has shown that a significant number of American’s didn’t agree. And more and more disagree every day.
People are complex, aren’t we? We all feel there are things in our lives that are not up for negotiation, and many really aren’t. But often enough we come to learn we are able to change things we imagined were non-negotiable. That’s particularly true when self-observation allows us to recognize another way. I may never give up that spontaneous paper cup of chai when out with friends, but I can remember to take my travel mug when I deliberately head for the coffee shop. Or maybe I just say no thank you to the plastic lid which is something I don’t usually do when I don’t have my travel mug.
So how am I doing now? Well, it’s a work in progress. I am happy to share that I won't have to buy shampoo and conditioner in those plastic containers anymore. Ditto for laundry detergent. Still, there is still the occasional plastic bottle and sandwich bag. What I know for sure is that if I took this picture last year the bag would be much fuller.
So, back to the self-study challenge. Part One: If you want to join me, for one week collect the plastics you would otherwise have thrown away (or recycled). If it’s clean and you’re local, I’ll take it and put it to good use. Some will become part of a community installation we are going to create in front of Eco Loka at 23 Race Street. Snap a photo and send it to me, and we can arrange a drop-off of your salvaged plastic at the stordio (my combo word for store and studio). Part Two: At the end of six months, repeat the challenge then take another photo and compare the results. We’ll collect and display the pairs of photos at the stordio so we can see the impact of our collective efforts.
This isn't a contest, of course. It’s just an opportunity for self-study, a way of observing our habits to see whether we’re able to change ones we otherwise might imagine are not negotiable.
I hope you’ll join us.
Don't rush it!
Did your family ever just get in the car and just take a drive to take a drive? Just piling into the car with no particular destination in mind, just driving for the sheer enjoyment of the scenery and time together.
Nowadays we all drive fast to arrive at a destination and never seem to have enough time to even get where we are going, let alone enjoy the ride. Joy rides seem to be a thing of the past when people were grateful to have a car and grateful to have spare time to just drive and be with family.
From what I have observed on social media it seems as though the idea of a yoga practice has suffered from this same intensity. So-called influencers encourage a practice geared towards attaining a goal, whether it is a tricky flow series or handstand or perfect triangle. Having a goal certainly is fine and often necessary to keep us interested. But do we really want our yoga practice to be as fraught as our time on the road?
We did an experiment last week which was to internally express gratitude for each of the movements that we did during a flow class. Kind of like you might do when driving through a beautiful landscape. We were encouraged to not push our asana, and just flow through — as though we were watching the landscape pass — then express thanks for our ability to be in the asana without striving to have it different. Even if the tree pose you were in wobbled to the ground.
You may think, "Isn't that how you are supposed to practice yoga asana?" Well, yes. But consider the messages we tell ourselves during class that reflect and are augmented by the media portrayal of yoga and by our culture’s contemporary way of being.
Being grateful for what is present is one of the highest yoga practices. The ashtanga path of the Yoga Sutras is given to yoga students who desire higher consciousness: We are told to follow ahimsa, to act without violence; to move forward with aparigraha, non-grasping; and to look for santosha, contentment in all things. The ability to appreciate the wealth of what is here in the moment is an aspect of the Goddess Lakshmi that adds a richness to life that cannot be obtained by "getting there.”
This month, as we investigate gratitude, perhaps we can start to look for this contentment in aspects of our life rather than always wondering how fast we can get there. It's a sweet challenge don't you think? Let me know how it goes. I will be doing the same.
It's not about being better.
I hope that those who are coming to asana class are enjoying the quotes from Pema Chodron that have been shared these past 2 months. Her writing is always so spot on, people often feel like she is speaking directly to them and addressing their personal neurosis and suffering. We spoke at the book club this past Thursday about how she creates such a safe space for her students (and for those of us reading her words years later) because she speaks of her own struggles and she assures us that it is ok to be just who we are. In fact, she points out how us wanting to improve and to be "better" is really an aggression against ourselves. She challenges us to consider, and eventually believe, that we are fine the way we are already. She stressed that our practice is not so we can "be better", it is about being at peace with who we are, right now.
Consider how contrary that is to the western way of life, which is about doing better, being bigger and faster, and then being even better at it all once you got good. You might see that this ideal has leaked into yoga practice here as well- do better poses, become stronger, more flexible, do more, take more classes, get more certificates, become MORE PEACEFUL. The real teaching of "be here now" gets lost in all that "doing" and "becoming". Ahimsa (non-harm) is the first teaching of a yoga practice. If we are continuously striving to be a better ME, we are continuing that aggression that Pema pointed to. Aggression and ahimsa are just not able to share the same space. Santosah (contentment) is another important tenant of yoga. Can we be content with who we are right now, without constantly trying to be a better person? Anyway, how long have you tried to be a "better person" and how is that going? When will we become a good enough person? The teaching says never! Can we ever be a good enough, strong enough or rich enough person? Will you ever be popular or successful enough? Most likely just as you reach one goal someone moves the post further away from you. Gandhi said “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.” Greed of course can be directed at more than just money.
There is a thin line that is difficult to tread (my teacher calls it the razor's edge) between attending to things, like our body and mind, and not getting caught in the trap of doing these things so we can "be better". We still need to do asana so our body remains healthy. A meditation practice is here to help us find the path of contentment, peace, and ahimsa. A full yoga practice which incorporates movement, meditation, self study and surrender, is designed for the purpose of helping us reach contentment. It is not to give a great beach body- although it might do that. There are a lot of things yoga can do for us, but if we keep our sights at the pinnacle of the practice- peace and the inherent joy of being- it will work! And then we can be kind to ourselves and give up the aggression of trying to be better. We all can agree that this world needs more kindness, and like everything else, it starts at home, in this case in your own body. It is hard to not get distracted by all of the other trappings of yoga, and the being betterness of the world around us, this is true. But that is why we have practice, books to instruct us, and teachers to guide us. And we have our own hearts to remind us why we started in the first place.