Happy April, beautiful yogis! April Fool´s Day is not my forte – I simply don’t have the chops to coordinate a good prank…ah well. I remember in elementary school a classmate brought in Oreos filled with white toothpaste (to look like frosting) for the class. I was completely disgusted for the poor victims of that prank – ew!
Anyways, in honor of the Spring cleaning and detox theme, Sutra 16 from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is spot on for Wednesday Yoga Wisdom!
Sutra 16: When there is non-thirst for even the gunas (constituents of Nature) due to the realization of the Purusa (True Self), that is supreme non-attachment.
The meaning of this sutra is a profound realization. Basically, Patanjali is saying that once we have experienced the nirvana that is within our own selves, all of the material crutches that we lean on become meaningless. The gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) are different qualities or tendencies of someone or something. These gunas cannot even compare to the wholeness that exists within each one of us. We no longer seek to identify ourselves with a certain characteristic once we understand the oneness and serenity that is our true self.
Elaborating further Sri Swami Satchidananda explains, “You can’t just go into the mind and erase the impressions. But they get themselves erased at one point. When? When you succeed in going within and realizing the peace and joy of your own Self.”
How miraculous - that all of the numbing, escaping, and bad habits are simply pointless! For me, this sutra turns yoga into a lifestyle choice and not just something that we practice on a mat. Yoga will allow us to move closer to finding our true selves and the need for outside influences will fall away. However, it is not a quick fix and we cannot denounce all of our bad habits after our first yoga class – it is a false boycott and, most likely, we will not stick with it. Instead, we must allow the yoga to do its work over time.
Foods that do not serve our body, alcohol, negative thought patterns, gossip, frivolous shopping, and laziness are a few examples of attachments that we rely on to numb, escape, ease our pain, and make ourselves feel happier. Slowly, yoga allows us to leave these outside impressions behind. Not only because we cannot dedicate ourselves to a practice when these impressions are running rampant in life but also because the yoga helps us to realize that we simply do not need these things. It is a cycle that leads us to an authentically happier and healthier life.
It is simple, peaceful and attainable – not a self-depriving struggle. I know that I still have a long way to go to detach from the material crutches around me but the journey does not seem daunting. I know that as I grow and stay focused on my practice, the need for these outside things will simply fall away.
Three simple words that can be so powerful. In the yoga room (or anywhere for that matter), I first heard this phrase from Taylor Dunham in her evening Vinyasa 1/2 class. I was there as a Teacher Trainer and had been at work since before 8AM, gone to assist another TT in a class beforehand, and was just getting on my mat for class at 8:15PM. I was tired. I was happy to be there and I love Taylor's classes (therapy balls - yay!) but it had been a long day. Taylor opened the class talking about this phrase and as she spoke I felt a weight lifting off my shoulders. She explained that it didn't matter if we were dragged there by a friend, if we would rather be curled up in bed, or if we simply didn't feel great - we were there and that was all that mattered. It was enough, we were enough.
So much of our lives is spent getting to the next rung on the ladder. We get good grades so that we can get into a decent college, we study hard in college so that we can get a good job. We work crazy hours in the rat race so that we can pay the rent and if we are lucky, get a promotion or a better job. It is all about moving up, getting there. Wherever there is. Society tells us that we need to have successful careers, live in the right zip code, be thin and pretty, have perfect relationships, live in a beautiful home and wear beautiful clothes. According to society, we are never enough!
Once we roll out our yoga mat though, all of that disappears (for at least a little while). We don't have to be anyone, achieve any pre-set goals, or compete with our neighbor. We can just be. Just as we are.
One time in college someone asked me why I enjoyed activities such as backpacking and yoga over more 'traditional' sports. After giving it some thought I responded that I found I thrived in those activities because I was not competing directly with anyone else but was rather working with myself. She did not understand what I was talking about, which is fine, but that interaction stuck with me. As I grow in my yoga practice (and in life), I realize that what I was saying during that conversation was all about that feeling of I am enough.
Many times people have told me that they don't practice yoga because they aren't flexible, they are too old, need to lose weight first, don't have the right gear, and so on. The beautiful thing is - none of that matters! We should be practicing even more so if we feel that we are constricted in some physical, mental or material way. The yoga teaches us that we are perfect, unique creatures just as we are.
Today, even (or especially!) if you have never stepped foot in a yoga class, tell yourself that you are enough. Whatever happened today, whatever challenges you are facing - you are enough.
Happy Hump Day, Yogis:)
"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” –Pablo Picasso
This quote appeared at the beginning of The Art of Yin Yoga chapter in Ulrica Norberg´s book titled Yin Yoga: An Individualized Approach to Balance, Health, and Whole Self Well-Being. I have to admit that it was not a quote that I would have expected to be in a yoga book so naturally, I became curious about its meaning and its relation to Yin Yoga.
In the chapter, Ulrica mainly discusses the topic of tension; emotional, mental, and physical. Yoga enables us to release this tension and therefore create a more peaceful inner self. The yogis believe that the release of tension can be shown in several different forms. Ulrica illustrates some of these ways including:
-Emotional Release (good or bad emotions)
-Muscular spasms or releases
According to Pablo Picasso, this destruction, or release, must happen before an act of creation. So, in the destruction of tension what are we then creating? Through a dedicated yoga and meditation practice, positive energy replaces the negative thoughts and tensions that we previously experienced. Positive energy is what we need to improve our mental and physical health from the inside out. With that internal change and "when our health stabilizes and we are able to keep our balance better, we can make a larger impact on the world around us” says Ulrica.
Let's take this back a step though and think about our closest relationships and how this positive energy can affect the people who we interact with day to day. How many times have we excused our own rude or aggressive behavior by claiming, "sorry but I am just so stressed right now."? Even if we don't acknowledge it, internal stress and tension is usually at the root of a harsh comment made or an argument that could have been avoided. If nothing else, tension makes us feel lousy and therefore we are not able to provide emotionally for the people around us.
In an excerpt from The Monk who Sold his Ferrari the author, Robin Sharma, also adequately addresses Picasso's idea of creation and destruction. To paraphrase from the book, a student and his teacher are seated together when the student holds out his cup for the teacher to serve him tea. He fills the student's cup but soon the cup is full and the tea starts to pour over its edges and onto the floor. The student is confused and asks the teacher why he keeps pouring tea into his already full cup? The teacher responds, "Just like this cup, you seem to be full of your own ideas. And how can any more go in... until you first empty your cup."
It can seem scary to 'empty our cups' because it is what we know and with what we are familiar. Over time, yoga allows us to gradually tip out the past tensions of our emotional, mental, and physical self. As drops of stress and negative thought patterns are destroyed, yoga replaces them with the positive energy that we need to change ourselves thus changing how we perceive the world around us. Destruction and creation, yin and yang, sun and moon, lightness and darkness - one does not exist without the other.
And now to end on a lighter note and as an homage to my true favorite Pablo out there, please enjoy these photos of my adorable pup (Fun Fact: Pablo is actually not named after Pablo Picasso but Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet).
Continuing in our study in Patanjali´s Yoga Sutra #33, let´s focus on the final two phrases of the sutra. As a reminder, the full sutra is:
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.
Patanjali tells us to "delight in the virtuous". While at the surface this may seems easy, in practice it can take a bit of effort. We all know those people who seem perfect and always have enough time in the day to be the ideal employee, friend, mother, sister, husband, yogi, gardener, hand-stander, you name it! As yogis, we must not fall into the trap of envy or try to pull that person down to a lower level. Instead, we must appreciate how great these people are and strive to be more like them. Okay, okay - I can already sense the smug thoughts bubbling up in all our minds but remember, the point of having these keys is to our own benefit. If we are able to unlock this virtuous category with delight, it will only cause more happiness in our own lives. I know I can think of occasions when I turned to gossiping about someone else because, “she thinks she is so perfect and it’s just annoying.” Ugh, it makes me cringe thinking about it now for two reasons. The first being that this kind of negative thought pattern and conversation benefited no one and only hurt myself; it made me appear petty and jealous and created a space for even more negativity to breed. The second reason is that despite how perfect anyone looks, he or she is battling with his or her own issues. That virtuous person may have self-esteem issues, they may be doing too much and eventually burn out, they could have had a traumatic event happen in their past – we are only seeing what that person is presenting to the outside world. Getting to the point of delighting in the truly virtuous will free the mind of negative thought patterns and misconceptions and only allow more love into your life. Awesome.
Finally, the Sutra tells us to keep a healthy distance from the wicked. We all have people in our lives that drag us down and don't have our best interest at heart. The toxic friend, lover, or maybe even family member is a person we have all known at some point. No matter what we say or what we do, this person will not change. In this situation, step back a healthy distance and acknowledge that these people are not actually wicked, they are only acting wicked. Dissimilar to those in the unhappy category, or lock, the wicked will not heed from a shoulder to cry on or gain from our charity. In these situations, you must create distance between yourself and the person in order to maintain a happy and quiet mind. I am reminded of a friend who spoke about a family member who treated her poorly, spoke down to her, bashed her choices in life, and generally just made her feel bad whenever they had contact. This was a person in my friend´s immediate family so how could she possibly put any sort of healthy distance between them? Life is not always so simple, right? While she may not be able to avoid this person at family events and holidays, she does have it in her power to cut a phone call short or completely avoid any unnecessary conversation. When speaking with the person who is acting wicked, she knows that she will not be able to ´fix´ them so she can stop trying. Trying to fix another person takes a lot of energy and if that person is not ready, it is wasted energy. People can change, absolutely, and when or if they do, we will be the first ones there with an open heart and mind. As yogis, we do not wish harm or ill will upon these wicked people but we also have the power to keep a healthy distance from them in order to keep the peace and tranquility in our own minds.
Quite a big chunk of information to chew on but I advise you do just that - turn this over in your mind for awhile and think of it when you come across these locks in daily life. As Yogi Charu instructed, write this in bold on a piece of paper and stick it on your fridge or your desk or wherever you will see it every day. Especially in a city like New York or Stockholm where we are constantly encountering and surrounded by other people's 'stuff' this is incredibly helpful and important.
Have a great rest of the day, yogis! I love you!
Happy Hump Day, Yogis. As I had alluded to on Monday, I am dedicating a few days of the week to a specific focus within the yoga practice. It is the middle of the week and I know that we can all use some inspiration to get over that hump! Each Wednesday I will bring to you a Yoga Sutra, quote, or philosophy and how you can apply it to your every day life in modern society. So, let's get to it! Today's Wednesday Yoga Inspiration comes from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda: Sutra 33, Book 1 (Portion on Contemplation).
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.
For time's sake I will be discussing the first half of this sutra today and the second half next week. I know we are all busy and can only absorb so much Sutra wisdom in one day!
This is a Sutra that one of my teachers, Yogi Charu, speaks about passionately. Charu does, however, edit Satchidananda's phrase regarding the wicked into: Love the wicked from a healthy distance. I really like this change of terminology so I am going to use that moving forward in these posts. You don't need to be a levitating yoga master to put the meaning of this sutra into your daily life. This is one of my very favorite Sutras because it gives the practitioner real-life applications in order for the "mind-stuff [to retain] its undisturbed calmness".
To take it one step further, this sutra explains that there are four “locks" in this world: sukja (happy people), duhkha (unhappy people), punya (the virtuous), and apunya (the wicked). The yogis believe that you can fit any person into one of these four locks at a given moment. And by practicing the attitudes (friendliness, compassion, delight, and keeping a healthy distance, respectively) described in this sutra, you have the keys to unlock these four categories. You will not get frazzled by dealing with a total jerk on the subway, a billionaire driving her rolls royce, or a saint in robes - you will remain calm and undisturbed.
What does "cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy" really mean and how can you apply it to your life today? To look at it with regard to the locks - when you come across sukja, use the friendliness key. Even when Patanjali wrote this sutra thousands of years ago, there were still people then who turned green at the sight of other's happiness. Recent events come to mind when I was working as a recruiter in New York. It was a competitive environment and everyone in the office knew when you made a placement and roughly how much commission was going into that recruiter's pocket from the placement. Sometimes, I would be having a rough month and another colleague was 'on fire'. Not at first but slowly, it became more and more difficult to be genuinely happy for that person who was hitting their streak of good fortune while I was struggling to make just one placement. The other person was not flaunting it or rubbing anyone's nose in their success but those thoughts started to creep into my mind that were...less than friendly. This sutra tells me that those thoughts of envy and malaise are affecting no one else but myself - and in a negative way! The yogis believe that we should make this happy person your friend and think, as Sri Satchidananda writes, "Oh, such fortunate people. If everyone was like that how happy the world would be...I will also get that one day".
Of course this brings us to the next lock: duhkha or the unhappy people. What key do we use for them? As yogis, we must have compassion for the unhappy. If we can lend a hand to help, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, then we must. In our society today it is not entirely possible to give money to every homeless person we see on the street or to give ourselves over completely to every person in need. We must use our intelligence and common sense as well. Maybe give a hot meal to the homeless person who you pass every day on your way to work, send a thoughtful email to a friend who you know is having a tough time, bring home flowers for a loved one - it does not have to be a huge gesture or totally put you out either. As I was reflecting on the meaning of compassion and thinking about past experiences, a certain occasion came to mind when I was working at a restaurant shortly after college. It was December, close to Christmas, when one of the prep cooks (let's call him Jay) came into the kitchen the morning after his house had been broken into. Among other things, all of the presents that he bought his son for Christmas had been stolen. Usually in high spirits, this robbery had totally crushed him - he did not have the means to replace the stolen presents. Later that afternoon, one of the servers told me about his plan to collect money from everyone at the restaurant and then surprise Jay by replacing the gifts. At the end of the week, I went to look at the pile of gifts that my colleague had purchased. The 'pile' turned out to be a room filled with presents from a Wii, to roller-skates, clothes, Guitar Hero, and more. It was incredible. Knowing that his son would have a great Christmas, Jay was deeply touched by this gesture. Additionally, it brought our whole team closer together - we were looking out for each other. Doesn't hearing that story just make you feel good? No one person was put out or felt drained by giving a reasonable donation and together we not only made Jay and his family happy, everyone left that day feeling good.
Compassion towards the unhappy will not only help that person but will keep your own mind peaceful and serene. It is a win-win!
Next week, I will continue with the last two locks (virtuous and wicked) and keys (delight and keeping a healthy distance). More examples and strategies of how you can apply these keys to your life in modern society to come. To be continued...