Hindsight’s a Bitch

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How many times have you looked back on a situation and thought, “Wow, if only I’d seen it from this angle in that moment.” Who hasn’t?! Distance and time always bring clarity,  but it’s so frustrating that we don’t always see so clearly in the moment. I guess that’s why they say, “Hindsight’s a bitch.”

Everyone experiences this because in the moment it’s often hard to have a clear understanding of the bigger picture. This lack of clarity in the Yoga Sutras is called Avidya, or “the veil of misperception.”

This is one of the most important concepts in the Yoga Sutras and sheds light on why all people find themselves suffering.

Ultimately, the purpose of Yoga is to lift the veil of Avidya, and the trusty old Yoga Sutras provides us with four tips for how to see more clearly in the moment (see below). Let’s look a little closer at the concept of Avidya. Here’s what TKV Desikachar says about it.

Now what is this avidya that is so deeply rooted in us? Avidya can be understood as the accumulated result of our may unconscious actions, the actions and ways of perceiving that we have been mechanically carrying out for years. As a result of these unconscious responses, the mind becomes more and more dependent on habits until we accept the actions of yesterday as the norms of today. Such habituation in our action and perception is called samskara. These [unconscious] habits cover the mind with avidya, as if obscuring the clarity of consciousness with a filmy layer.

We seldom have an immediate and direct sense that our perception is wrong or clouded.

Avidya seldom is perceived as avidya itself. Indeed, one of the characteristics of avidya is that it remains hidden from us. Easier to identify are the characteristics of avidya’s branches. If we know that these are alive in us, then we can recognise the presence of avidya.”

Recognising the Four Branches of Avidya as Warning Signs

This gives a tool to see our blind spots. When we realise that one of the four branches of Avidya (ego, aversion, attachment and fear) is showing up in our lives it’s a warning sign that we’re not seeing the big picture.

Ideally, we then catch ourselves and ask ourselves, “What am I not seeing/understanding?” We’ve explored this concept this week in my yoga lifestyle programs and I personally have done a bunch of journaling about this week. It’s fascinating, sometimes scary, but always helpful what can be revealed.

Below I’ve explained the four branches of avidya with a bit more detail and provided thought provoking journal questions for you to dive deeper into what might be clouding your current vision and understanding. Enjoy!

The Four Branches of Avidya, Misperception

1. Ego – Asmita Ego pushes us into identifying with things that change, with something other than our inner light (purusha), and expresses itself in statements
like, “I’m the worst/best/right one.”

Journal questions: Recently, what impermanent aspects of myself or life have I been strongly identifying with? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

2. Attachment – Raga Attachment shows up often as demands, cravings, resistance to change and a feeling of needing something we don’t need or know is bad.

Journal questions: Recently, what necessary changes have I been resisting? Or, what have I been craving and/or demanding and is this necessary? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

3. Aversion – Dvesa Aversion expresses itself as rejection of people, thoughts, experiences and especially things that are unfamiliar. Not wanting to see what something is mirroring back to us about ourselves.

Journal questions: Recently, what ideas, thoughts, people or new experiences have I been strongly rejecting? Why? What is that idea/thought/person/experience showing me about myself? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

4. Fear – Abhinivesa Fear appears in many aspects of our life and is perhaps the most insidious of the branches. It manifests as uncertainty, doubt, hesitation, anger, depression and in many other ways effecting our decision, interactions and lifestyle.

Journal questions:  What have I been afraid of, worried about, anxious about lately? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

How do you remind yourself to see the bigger picture? 

Curiosity, an Act of Self Love?

 

“Curiosity is an act of self love.” Whoa! 10625000_10205131255750845_3181629407312370686_n

I was listening to an interview by Geneen Roth, author of “Women, Food and God” and this statement just rolled off her tongue like it was the most apparent thing ever. 

But for me, in that moment, those words hit me light a lightening bolt. I felt like a cartoon character with bulging eyes and almost jumped up and said, “Eureka!” 

Along my journey of figuring out how to live a content, joyous and healthy life, I’ve again and again come back to two big things. 

No matter if the topic is food and diet, relationships and communication, fitness and yoga practice or business and purpose in life — there seems to be a re-occurring theme. It’s almost like the universe is singing her answers to me in a little mantra. 

I ask, “What should I do with my life?”

She answers, “Self reflect, self love.” 

I cry, “My relationship is falling apart, what should I do?”

She answers, “Self reflect, self love.” 

I tell her, “I totally F*#^ed this one up! I’m lost, desperate, shamed.”

She answers, “Self reflect, self love.” 

I say to her, “My body is sick and I don’t understand why.” 

She answers, “Self reflect, self love.” 

OK, ok, I get it. Self reflect, self love.  

Self reflect. 

And so I do my practice. Sometimes is hard. It’s hard to self reflect, to look inward and see what’s there, when what’s there feels dark and uncomfortable. My throat tightens and the fear of facing a thousand writhing monsters that live in the dark places grips me. 

But I do my practice. I breath. I move. I close my eyes, and simply FEEL it all. It’s harder and takes more courage than any epic warrior sequence or crazy upside down balancing posture. This is the yoga that requires my true warrior energy. 

The Yoga Sutras calls this Svadyaya, self study, and lists it as one of five (meaning it’s pretty important) of the personal practices we need to cultivate for health and enlightenment.  

It’s harder still to stick to it. 

To keep looking, keep being curious and keep breathing when the practice of self reflection starts to get uncomfortable. 

A part of me desperately wants to wait and see what’s there and what will happen if I just relax into the sensations and feelings of observing.  

But, another part of me screams, “Save yourself, run away!” convinced that looking at the dark side will break me. Or worse, become me. 

And there in lies the basis of all of my fears — the belief that I am or can become defined by the uncomfortable mistake, terrible experience, sickness, broken heart, confusion, ect. 

The ironic thing is that when we fear looking at the hard stuff because we don’t want it to consume us, the running away from it ends up controlling us. 

We become like bouncy balls ping ponging around a room. Each time we hit a wall we don’t want to look at we go flying in the opposite direction ad infinitum. Our path becomes determined and controlled by our desire to run away.

I’m fiercely independent, and seeing how running away controls me, motivates me to stop and face those walls. 

So I’ll self reflect, but I’m not going to like what I see or love myself for it. 

I tell myself, “Ok Morgan, I’ll look at that ugly wall. Maybe I just need to admit that this is part of me and I’m ugly, just give in to it.” 

At this point a fascinating thing always happens. I look. I see the ugliness — the pain, the shame, the fear, the anger. I stop the ball bouncing and flying, in other words, I stop my mind spinning me out into stories around this thing. I just see it. 

So many sensations come up in my body, in my throat and heart and belly, and in a way it does break me — breaks me out of the cage of stories I had trapped myself in. 

The minute I really stop and simply observe, the self criticism, worry, judgements and projecting also stop — in it’s places comes a sigh (or sob) of self acceptance. And it is the biggest and most wonderful relief ever! 

Self love. 

This is what Roth meant when she said curiosity is an act of self love. When we truly approach ourselves and our lives with curiosity we step into the observer mind, like a child, not judging and criticising, just wondering and watching. 

All of the wisdom traditions of the world teach us the importance of observing objectively and gazing inward, either through meditation, prayer, chanting, ritual or service. And all of them teach this as a path to liberation, or God, which to me are one in the same. 

Every time I stop the stories I’m reminded of who I was before the story. The innocent child born into this world full of light, peace and purity. And every time I remember that self it feels like coming home. It feels like safety and happiness. And I cry out of relief and joy, just like I always have the feeling of crying when I see my mom after being gone for too long. 

I’m reminded that this is not a game of changing who I am, but of coming back to who I’ve always been, and that it never was and never will be those monsters I make up in my head. And then I feel strong. 

Pay Attention. Be Astonished.

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“Pay attention. Be astonished. Share your astonishment.”~ Mary Oliver

No one could have epitomised this quote better than the 74 year old man reading it with passion from the podium of the crowded hall. These three are the most important things in life, he told us.

We were showered with other such inspiring quotes by poets and scientists, rappers and rabbis, warriors, priests, prophets and philosophers all speaking about the same understanding, the same message — that the divine exists within everything, and the path out of suffering is simply through paying attention and acknowledge it.

This shower of wisdom and quotes came pouring out of the most animated, enthusiastic, scholarly and radically non-traditional 74 year old I’ve ever met. Mathew Fox, a theologian and ex-priest (kicked out of the church for his compassionate, inclusive and liberal teachings) eloquently wove together the true meaning of spirituality, ritual and mysticism — beyond dogma, religion, cryptic languages or dower practices.

And that meaning, he told us, has everything to do with our fate as individuals, as a species and as a planet.

I often feel uncomfortable using the word God. In fact, I mostly avoid the word spiritual.

They bring to mind either oppressive, confining religious systems that seem to have no spirit, or over the top, airy-fairy, ungrounded practices that seem rooted in denial or separatism.

Ironically, I’ve also chosen a life and career dedicated to deepening relationship to spirit — my own, that of others, the planet and the whole universe. Part of that dedication however is about demystifying spirituality and our understanding of subtle energy. Rather than putting it in the sky or cave or far off ashram where it may feel inaccessible to the majority of people, I like to frame and find spirit within our everyday life.

I like to replaced the word “God” with “Universal Energy,” but I know that it all means the same thing. And most importantly, I know that everyone, everything for that matter, has spirit within and for that simple reason is intrinsically spiritual.

This is why I’ve been so drawn to study and practice Yoga. It’s non-denominational (even though culturally influenced by Hinduism) teach us many practical ways to live in deeper connection to universal spirit.

Pay Attention. 

One of the most common phrases in the yoga world today is, “live in the present moment.” Though cliche, there’s a damn good reason it’s repeated over and over again.

If our consciousness does not reside in the present moment, we can’t paying attention to all of the wonder around and within us. When we’re lost in worry or regret, planning or reliving, we’re distracted from the awesomeness of life. These fluctuations of the mind, the Yoga Sutras says, lead to suffering.

Hatha yoga teaches us how to pay attention. We begin simply by observing our breath and sensations to climb out of the racing thoughts and bring our awareness into the moment. It’s a simple method but highly effective.

The minute we start to pay attention we begin to see, feel and acknowledge spirit. And something magical happens — not just to a select blessed few, but to everyone.  Our nervous system calms, we feel more connected within ourselves as well as with others, and this simple paying attention changes how we interact with ourselves and the whole world.

Be Astonished. 

The more we pay attention, the more awe, wonder and amazement of the world within and around us arises. We become dazzled and amazed with our own existence, and this naturally leads to gratitude.

Fox said at one point, “Humanity will not be saved by more information, but by more appreciation.”

He explained that this “radical amazement” not only leads to joy but also to courage, because all beauty contains terror. He spoke about how wonder is an act in which the mind confronts the universe, and this can be equally awesome as terrifying.

But, it is this confrontation with the universe that we need to heal ourselves and our plant. In Fox’s workshop he spoke about how disconnect the modern world is from the cosmos and the universe. This is not some far out notion, the universe and cosmos are simple the stuff we’re made of.

Another of my favourite moments was just before he dismissed us for lunch Fox threw up his hands and said, “The cosmos are not an abstraction, they are the tomato in your hand!”

All food, all life for that matter, is nourished by the sun, the cosmos. With each bite we are taking in the magnificent, complex interconnectedness of the universe. How often are we taught to remember that?

Fox asserts that it’s this lack of realising how much we are part of the bigger whole, the entire universe, that leads to our lack of self care, environmental degradation, war making and psychosis.

Spirituality is about finding that connection and having the courage to confront a universe that’s full of uncertainty and terrifying beauty. This courage is all about opening and strengthening the heart. “Courage” after all comes from the Latin word for heart, which also implies inner strength.

Share Your Astonishment. 

Fox spoke about the four paths of spirituality we all walk down. The first, the path of positivity, joy, astonishment and the second, the path of negativity, facing the terror and finding courage, leads to the third. The path of creativity.

Sharing our astonishment, in what ever way, is an act of creativity that comes from the heart and requires courage.

Sharing our astonishment is what we’re here to do. In yogic terms they call it “dharma” and is a word with many meanings that very much echo Fox’s message. Dharma on the one hand refers to the cosmic order of the universe. It is also spoken about in terms of individual dharma.

I like the way Deepak Chopra phrases it, “Following our dharma in the deepest sense means that we’re not really obeying the laws or regulations set down by society. Dharma isn’t about the external world but about aligning with the pure spiritual force within. When our intentions, thoughts, words, and actions support our life’s purpose, we are in dharma. And then we bring fulfilment to ourselves and everyone else affected by our actions.”

When we feel ourselves guided by creativity, not just in the sense of fine art but creativity in all aspects of life, we know we’re connected to spirit. This creativity from spirit leads to the fourth path of spiritually, the path of transformation. Just as Chopra said, when we are in our dharma we are fulfilled and everyone else is affected by our actions.

At the end of his lecturing Fox exclaimed, “Our activists need to get more spiritual and our spiritual people need to get more active. We are the first species on the planet who can choose whether or not we go extinct.”

So, call up that courageous heart and share with us your astonishment! You may well be astonished with out it transforms the world around you.

How to Stick to What’s Best for You

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We don’t really need to be told what to do to feel better, we all more or less know. The catch is, knowing what to do doesn’t mean we’ll actually do it. So why is that? Why do we often have such a hard time doing the things we know will make us feel healthier, happier, more energetic and peaceful?

I was deeply touched recently listening to a fellow student’s voice crack as she asked these very questions. I could hear the deep longing in her voice to understand as she said, “What is this part of me that stops me from doing what I know I really want? What is this resistance?! Where does it come from?”

Not only could I relate to her plea, but it made me realise that EVERYONE relates to it. I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t struggled with moments of self sabotage or daily resistance to doing what’s best for them.

Our teacher wisely answered, “That’s a great question and I want you all to really look into it.” Ha!

So, I’ve been asking myself what the hell this is all about. Clearly, there are as many answers as people in the world, but given that this is a universal struggle, there must also be some universal underlying causes.

Serendipitously, one of the books I’m reading, ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene Brown, revealed to me how this resistance relates to our belief in worthiness, scarcity and the ego. Not surprisingly, the Yoga Sutras threw out some very similar ideas thousands of years ago.

Brown says, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” 

Looking back I can see how my sense of worthiness, or lack there of, influenced whether or not I stuck to self care practices and/or how much I resist them.

For example, I used to resist exercising every day even though I knew it would make my life better and now I honestly couldn’t imagine a day without exercise.

So what changed? I started engaging with exercise from a place of worthiness rather than a place of lack, scarcity or what Brown calls the “not enough culture.”

Exercise used to be all about staying fit to look good, which is definitely engaging with the world from a place of unworthiness, lack and feeling not enough. Somewhere along the way (no doubt greatly influenced by my yoga teachers and practice) exercising became more about feeling good.

When the internal question of, “should I exercise or not?” arose, I used to translate it into, “Do you want to look better because in the eyes of this culture you clearly aren’t beautiful/skinny/strong/ect enough if you don’t?” Which is quite frankly depressing and un-motivating. No wonder resistance came up!

Now, I mostly translate that same daily question as, “Do you want to feel more energised, clear and light?” The question has nothing to do with my worth, no dark underlying self doubts are wrapped up in it, and I think for that reason I feel less resistant.

The Yoga Sutras teaches us to identify with the part of ourselves that is unchanging, that is pure light, connected to God and the whole world. This is call our purusa in Sanskrit or in English our soul.

The Yoga Sutras says that ego, I-am-ness, is one of the five causes of suffering. Ego means identifying with anything other than our purusa. It’s believing that we are defined by the things in life that change like appearance, wealth, social standing or even health.

Both thinking, “I am the best” or “I am the worst” are ego, and according to the Sutras will lead to suffering. Brown says the opposite of lack is not abundance, that’s simply the other side of the same coin. The opposite of lack is “enough.”

Knowing that we are purusa, pure light, means knowing that intrinsically we are enough no matter what changes occur in our life, body or culture. This knowing gives us courage, and strength to keep trying and practicing without worrying about failure, success or results. This is the attitude that turns practices into habits and lifestyle.

So often we give up on something before we’ve even begun because we’re so afraid to fail. And we’re afraid to fail because we’re afraid what that might mean about who we are. When we wrap our identity up in the results of anything we’re not engaging from a place of worthiness but of ego, and following the road signs to suffering.

We may not need to be told what to do to live a healthier life, but in order to actually take action and stick to it we need to approach our attempts for change from a place of worthiness and connection to purusa.

Sadly the larger culture of airbrushed models and material obsession teaches us the opposite, making the whole paradigm shift fairly difficult.  I know the more I’m surrounded by people who engage from a place of worthiness the more this reinforces my ability to do so, and for that reason I see the support of conscious community as the final crucial element of bringing ourselves more and more into alignment with actually living the life we know we want to live.

Sharing our stories strengthens our culture of worthiness and wholehearted living, tell us what’s helped you overcome resistance to doing the things you know are best for you?

It’s Not Personal, I Promise! 

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I find it strangely consoling to know that humans have been confused and suffering in the same way for thousands of years all over the world.

When I read the Yoga Sutras, a book of wisdom written over 2,000 years ago, I’m reminded that all the psychosis we struggle with — fear, doubt, ego, attachment, ect. — are universal plights of the human race.

This ancient book of wisdom outlines in a very concise way the common struggles and pitfalls people faced thousands of years ago in an entirely different culture (India), and the bazaar thing is that it may as well be describing the average modern Westerner.

When I stop and take into account that societies and individuals all over the world have struggled with the same personal issues for millennia, it doesn’t instil in me a sense of hopelessness about our species. Quite the opposite, it makes me feel a bit more relaxed as these same issues crop up in my life.

When I realise we all experience the same problems, I don’t feel so alone in my suffering and I stop taking the issues so personally.

Recognising the universality of human psychosis makes me realise firstly that nothing is WRONG with me. It’s an old habit of mine to think “Why am I like this?” and “What’s wrong with me?” when I face my fears, doubts and ego. In my journalism days a teacher once told me that you won’t get the right answer if you don’t have the right questions.

Asking constantly what’s wrong with ourselves, in my opinion, isn’t the right question. It causes us to focus on whatever negative aspect of our selves is leading to the suffering, and leads us away from remembering that IT’S NOT PERSONAL, nothing is wrong with US, we’re just being human.

Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to work on overcoming ego, fear and doubt, but when we take it so personally we tend not to ask the right questions, and therefor not see beyond the issue causing suffering.

The second thing the Yoga Sutras reminds me is that many amazing people have forged the path to over coming these universal issues. Which means firstly that they can be overcome, and secondly we don’t have to figure it all out on our own.

The Yoga Sutras is just one of many amazing ancient texts that can help us live as humans with less suffering and pain, and for me personally it is the one that has made the most sense in my life.

The Sutras describe this confused aspect of the human condition as “being under the veil of misperception,”  called avidya in Sanskrit. And really, most Yoga practices aim to teaches us how to lift this veil of misperception.

The trickiest thing about avidya is that it’s hard for us to perceive that we’re misperceiving! 

"Avidya is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing things as they really are.  The abstcles are asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (refusal) and abhinivesa (fear)." - T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

“Avidya is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing things as they really are. The abstcles are asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (refusal) and abhinivesa (fear).” – T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

Thank goodness for the wise yogis of yore who forged the way through these murky waters because we’re lucky enough to have some tips on how to identify when we’re clouded by the veil of avidya.

The Yoga Sutras teaches us that because it’s hard to recognise misperception itself, we should look out for it’s four main branches. The four branches of avidly are ego, aversion, attachment and fear. When these four branches show up in our lives we can look at them and think, “Ah, I must not be perceiving clearly. I must not be seeing the whole picture.”

So when your ego next rears it’s head, or you find yourself stumped by fear or suffering because of attachment and aversion, stop, take a big breath, and firstly realise this is just part of the human condition. Secondly, ask yourself, “What am I not seeing clearly? What is the greater truth about this situation that would dispel my fear/aversion/attachment/ego?”

These questions, just like my journalism teacher taught me, will lead to the right answers, the ones that lift the veil of Avidya.

 

 

How to set a Yogic New Years Resolution from the Heart

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by Morgan Webert

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with New Years Resolutions.

On the one hand, I love resolutions because I’m dedicated to personal growth and feel inspired by evolving into a happier healthier person.  On the other hand, I’ve also felt these resolutions can lead to self depreciation and feeling less than, emphasizing what’s lacking and the destructive mentality of always wanting more.

This was the dark side of setting resolutions I saw each year. I intuitively felt it was the reason so many people didn’t stick to their resolves longer than a few weeks and saw how it then created more self depreciation when the resolve was broken.

So, when along my yoga path I learned the practice of sankalpa, intention setting from the heart that aligns to your life purpose, I began to learn how to set goals without a dark side and they’ve genuinely transformed my life.

Rod Stryker, founder of ParaYoga, says, “By definition, a sankalpa should honor the deeper meaning of our life. A sankalpa speaks to the larger arc of our lives, our dharma–our overriding purpose for being here.”

This sankalpa statement becomes something you can call on again and again, reminding you of your true nature and guiding your decisions.

Here is a quick guide to help you set a Sankalpa from your heart for the New Year.

1. Know that you already are who you need to be to fulfill your life’s purpose.

You are good enough! Yoga philosophy recognizes that we each have a shinning light of divine power and wisdom within us, called our purusa, and most of our yoga practices simply work to get rid of anything covering that light. Unlike typical New Years resolutions that are based around a need to change, a sankalpa reinforces the amazingness you already have – your true nature.

2. Listen to your heart-felt desires.

Let your vision of yourself and the world be big, and think about who and how you want to be in that vision. Start writing down qualities of that vision and observe how your heart space feels as you write them down. Some will deeply resonate with you, circle those.

3. Create a broad positive statement that encompasses your true nature and heart-felt desires in the present tense.

Looking at the qualities from above as well as some of the intentions you’ve already set, can you find an underlying desire that unifies them all?  Now make that an ‘I am’ statement in the present tense. For example, “I am clear, healthy and peaceful.” Don’t worry too much about the wording, this statement will likely change over time, but fine a simple clear statement to start with that really feels good when you say it. This statement will anchor you in your true light, your purusa, and guide you through specific intentions and decisions. 

4. Get specific in a way that aligns with your broad sankalpa.

Now, from this space of deep connection to your true nature, pick a few specific actions that are going to reinforce this. Stay in the present tense, this psychologically strengthens your intention.  For example, “I am clear, healthy and peaceful, I eat foods that make me feel clear and I am patient with my family.” You’ll find that ego driven intentions won’t sound right next to the heart-felt sankalpa, and those are usually the ones we don’t stick to.

5. Write down your positive, beautiful, inspiring sankalpa and post it somewhere you’ll see it every day! 

Please share you’re intention with us if you’d like, or what you got out of this exercise, and as a community we can reinforce these heart felt New Years Resolutions.

Happy New Year!!

Do you dig trenches or carry buckets?

Do you dig trenches or carry buckets? 

by Morgan Webert

Have you ever done something with ease and then immediately after felt shocked and surprised because every time before felt like a struggle? Its as if suddenly, boom, there you are doing it and its no big deal!

While it might feel like that moment snuck up on you, more than likely you’ve been building up to it for a long time, slowly and diligently removing the obstacles that previously made it a struggle.

This removing of obstacles, Patanjali says in the last chapter of the Yoga Sutras, is the primary action of the focused yogi’s mind that reaches exceptional, super-human capabilities (YS 4.3).  He goes on to liken this action of the “mind that remains with its object without distractions” to a farmer who cuts a dam to allow water to flow into the field where it’s needed.

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In the most recent yoga anatomy lecture with Lesslie Kaminoff, he shared with us a parable inspired by this farmer metaphor.  Kaminoff compares two types of farmers.

The first farmer carries two buckets on a stick across his back up the hill to a pond to fetch water for his fields.   He does this day in and day out to keep his fields growing, just like his father did, and just like his son’s will do.

The second farmer, on the other hand, carries a shovel out into the fields and begins to dig trenches next to his plants and then laboriously digs a trench up the hill to the pond.  When finally he makes it to the pond, he cuts the last bit of earth, lets the water flow to his fields and takes rests appreciating his good work.

The metaphor asks us to ponder the nature of our actions. Are they more like farmer one forever filling empty buckets one at a time, or more like farmer two, creating space so that water may flow from the source and continue to nourish the field long after the works been done to dig the trenches?

The yogic system understands that the energy of the world exists within us and all around us, we do not need to create that energy, its already there.  Our job, and the task of our practice, is to decipher what stands in the way of that energy flowing optimally and then remove the obstacle.

We can draw this metaphor out into so many areas of life, but let’s have a look at how it relates to our breathing. 

Firstly, when we practice asana (or any aspect of life really) and find ourselves holding our breath, it often indicates a state of stress, physical or mental. Physically it often happens when students strain to get into or hold a posture.

While holding the breath might temporarily give a sense of stability, control or deepening, it’s actually depriving your body of oxygen, bringing or keeping you in a state of stress and not sustainable. Practicing like this wont strengthen or open the body, nor will it teach focusing and calming the mind.  Its like the first farmer forever hiking up the hill with his buckets.

images-1On the other hand, if a person learns to breath smoothly and fluidly through challenging poses (and moments of life), they will not only receive more oxygen to the brain and muscle tissue, but also learn to active the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the mind and find greater focus.

Cultivating these qualities will strengthen a yoga student both physically and mentally, making the inevitable challenges of life easier to deal with as they arise. Cultivating these characteristics and skills are like digging trenches up to the pond. You might not get the pose right away, the fields might stay dry while you’re digging, but eventually you know you’ll reach the point where you can sustain the posture with ease, deal with the mental challenge with a sense of ease, or water the field with ease.

So have patience and compassion with your struggles, but also be discerning, and dig those trenches to the source!