My feet have been gathering no moss for several months now. A little frost, some sand between my toes but very little hometown dirt has stuck to my shoes since last fall. Teaching, family and wanderlust have kept me on the move since well before the fall elections and only now do I have the time and desire to settle in and reflect on what appear to be major shifts in the national landscape.
Do you think that yoga can change society? Can it help those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in their society, particularly women?
This question was posed to me in a recent Skype interview with a woman who is working on her Ph.D thesis on Women and Yoga at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. My response to this, and to many questions regarding the effects of yoga practice, is that it depends on the motives and sincerity of the practitioner. For yoga to be transformational the student must be willing to settle for less.
To have negative traits is not to be flawed, but to be complete. – Deepak Chopra
This quote reminds us that expressing our authenticity means to embrace all of our ambiguity as human beings. How many times have we pledged to be kind, stay calm, or get up early and do our practice and then lashed out, stressed out or slept in the very next day? Being authentic, not perfect, is a quality of self acceptance, of being comfortable in our own skin and often, needing to find the humor when we fall short of self imposed rules and regulations. Authentic joy fills the space of our inner witness when we are neither attached to our perceived good qualities or repelled by the “bad” ones. This is often followed by a big belly laugh of recognition of our wholeness.
Yogas Chitta Vrtti Nirodha
Most of you who have studied yoga for any length of time are familiar with this definition of Yoga by Patanjali. Yoga is the calming of the whirlpool of the mind.
At times the mind feels like a busy shopping district crowded with panicked last minute shoppers 3 days before Christmas. Every thought is bumping and jostling for first place in line. All the while trying to find that special something that will grab you with its need for attention, fulfillment, and gratification.
Book Three, Sutra 2 of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras states: “The continuous inward flow of consciousness is meditation” (Nischala Joy Devi translation).
When I was a child we adopted our first dog, a spirited toy poodle. Predictably, the care, feeding and training that was promised by us kids, failed to materialize and fell onto mom. With 5 children and little extra time on her hands, dog training became a low priority. As a result we spent many hours frantically trying to find, catch and retrieve “Pepe” who took every opportunity to escape the home front and run free. At the time we thought of this as people with a “bad dog” problem, but looking back, I see it was a dog with “bad owners” problem. We were too preoccupied to give the dog the attention, discipline and love it really needed.
Book III of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras can be intimidating and vexing to our logical linear way of thinking. There are layers of meaning and even practical ways to look at the seemingly miraculous powers that Patanjali says are bestowed on the adept practitioner of yoga.
Although the outcomes may be super, the process is natural; Tapas the spark of interest and enthusiasm, Svadyaya, the deep and childlike curiosity to learn about our true nature and Isvara Pranhidhana, the realization that there is no end to the profound and awe inspiring nature of our own Being.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Book I: 48 “When consciousness dwells in wisdom, a truth bearing state of pure spiritual perception dawns”
With age comes wisdom, so the saying goes, but the passage of time alone does not guarantee that one will also become wise. I often ask in classrooms, how students perceive an intellectual person and a wise person. The words associated with wisdom are commonly; calm, patient, insightful, humble, joyful, peaceful and innocent. Although certainly not mutually exculsive, the strictly intellectual generally brings a feeling of egoism and proprietary attachment to what they know, while the wise often have no desire to take credit for their knowledge and wisdom. In fact, to become wise is a process of reliquishing long held beliefs while being open to deeper and more profound understanding.
Awareness and understanding of yoga, or of anything that is important, grows at a unique rhythm and pace for every individual. Trying to force a shortcut to maturity results in resistance, confusion, and separation. This is the antithesis of yoga, since yoga is the unity of heart and soul from which trust and respect arise.
Approaching yoga as a process, more akin to falling in love than to working toward a promotion, will make the experience one of expanding freedom. Mastering technique and striving for accomplishment give way to joy and wonder. In gaining trust in yoga’s process there is a loss of trust in old responses that once may have “worked” to attain position or favor. Relationship takes priority over results. Trust is gained in the the kind response, the compassionate response to bring about deep and enduring supportive connections that are divinely human.
Yoga is based on a set of theories. Faith and belief systems don’t require and often discourage testing and questioning. As a result, they are limited by these restrictions. Theories, by definition, are to be tested. Our bodies, mind and breath are our laboratories in which we test the theories of Yoga.