What is yoga really about?

Your mat is one and a half metres by half a metre.  Probably around 4mm thick on average.  It helps protect and cushion your body, it gives you your space to practice and helps with aligning and orienting your body.  Sometimes it is printed beautifully, and has the grip you need for a bit of blood, sweat and tears.

And this mat is a microcosm of your life.  On this mat, you learn about yourself.  Your body – its limitations and its capabilities.  You also learn about your mind and your heart.  You are safe here to explore how you react, how you feel and how, being with that, feels to you.  We all have an asana that we love.  Most of the time it is an asana that we’re good at!  My favourite is arm balances and also flexibility poses.  Why?  Because I’m good at those.  It makes me feel, well, strong and flexible.  Done.  Nope, not actually.  We also have asanas that we don’t like.  For so many reasons.  My worst?  Probably Warrior 3.  Why?  I’m challenged.  It takes a whole lot of strength, physically, but also staying power.  I’m in it for just maybe three breaths and I’m over it.  So here is where the observing and learning starts.  What would happen if I held it for just another breath?  Maybe two or three?  My mind is saying:  Ok.  Enough!  You’ve made your point.  My body is begging me to stop.  But what happens if I take away the easy (in my case, arms behind in Dekasana) and reach them over my head?  Pull my shoulders back, reach my hands out in front of me, biceps next to my ears, squeezing the arm muscles?  How do I react?  And when I come out, how do I feel?

Out there, on the bigger mat – life?  I’m in a situation where my mind is saying:  fight or flight!  Did I learn anything in my beloved (not) Warrior 3?  Say I’m dealing with a difficult person.  Fight or flight?  How about just another breath or two?  How about, just like on the mat when we are encouraged to be gentle, compassionate I do that here too?  Can I practice compassion?  Staying for just another breath so as to open more options in how I want to react/respond?  Is there then opportunity for a different outcome?  Brene Brown puts it beautifully:

Don’t grab hurtful comments and pull them close to you by rereading them and ruminating on them.  Don’t play with them by rehearsing your badass comeback.  And whatever you do, don’t pull hatefulness close to your heart.  

Let what’s unproductive and hurtful drop at the feet of your unarmoured self.  And no matter how much your self doubt wants to scoop up the ciriticism and snuggle with the negativity so it can confirm its worst fears, or how eager the shame gremlins are to use the hurt to fortify your armour, take a deep breath and find the strength to leave what is mean spirited on the ground.  You don’t even need to stomp it or kick it away.  Cruelty is cheap, easy and chickenshit.  It doesn’t deserve your energy or engagement.  Just step over the comments and keep daring, always remembering that armour is too heavy a price to pay to engage with cheap-seat feedback.

And one of my all time favourites, Pema Chodron:

Currently, the majority of the world’s population is far from being able to acknowledge when they’re about to explode or event o think it is important to slow the process down.  In most cases, that churned-up energy translates quickly into aggressive reactions and speech.  Yet, for each and every one of us, intelligence, warmth and openness are always accessible.  If we can be conscious enough to realise what’s happening, we can pause and uncover these basic human qualities.  The wish for revenge, the prejudiced mind – all of that is temporary and removable.  It’s not the permanent state.  as Chogyam Trungpa put it, ‘Sanity is permanent, neurosis is temporary.’

To honestly face the pain in our lives and the problems in the world, let’s start by looking compassionately and honestly at our own minds.  We can become intimate with the mind of hatred, the mind that polarizes, the mind that makes somebody “other” and bad and wrong.  We come to know, unflinchingly, and with great kindness, the angry, unforgiving, hostile wolf.  Over time, that part of ourselves becomes very familiar, but we no longer feed it.  Instead, we can make the choice, and the attitudes and actions that follow from it, are like a medicine that has the potential to cure all suffering.

The Shambala teaching is:  “Placing our fearful mind in the cradle of loving-kindness.”


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