Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Entering A New Year

The transition period from one year to the next always gives us an opportunity to reflect on the years that have gone by. I find that many memories begin to percolate through the filter of my mind as I think about some of the lessons I’ve learned, the friendships I’ve been blessed with, the people I love, and those I’ve lost, and all the various experiences that have brought me to this day, sitting in this present moment.

It is a time of year when we can look back and be grateful for all those people, places, and things that have enriched our lives, and realize that our journey has been exactly the way it needed to be both for our growth and for our pruning. Some days it may seem like a bit of a mystery as to how we end up where we are, and sometimes it feels like we haven’t moved any steps further ahead at all. The end of the year is a good time to look back and see just how far we’ve come, to celebrate our victories and learn from our defeats.

This is also a time of year when I like to refocus my thoughts. To set an intention for the year ahead, reaffirm what is most important to me, and give thanks for what has yet to come. Part of this process is identifying and releasing old ideas and negative patterns of thinking. These are the limiting thoughts that work only to hold us back or put obstacles in our path. If we are to fully embrace what is to come, and be receptive to the new, then we must also be willing to let go of the past, open our hearts to the possibility of something completely unexpected; live and let live.

Swami Vivekananda says, “We are what our thoughts have made us, so take care of what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live, they travel far.”

So as we enter 2009, let us take some time to think and then write down our intentions for the year to come, as well as our goals, hopes, dreams, and wishes... let our thoughts live - let them travel far.

Let’s take a few minutes to concentrate on an image of the kind of person we want to be, and the type of world we want to create and live in. Let’s turn our minds to the positive, be happy for the joyous, and compassionate to the suffering, and most of all, let us love one another truly and deeply, for only then can we begin to experience the Infinite and come to recognize the face God.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Looking into the Mirror of the Practice

This practice of yoga is a process of gradually learning to let go. Not only letting go of those places where we hold tension, fear, or anxiety in our present life, but also learning to release the old hurts and patterns from the past.

There are many instances when we’ve been unable to fully express the sadness, anger or heartache we’ve felt, and instead of experiencing the full intensity of these feelings we’ve learned to stuff and store these emotions within the structure of our physical body. Although at the time this containment permitted us to feel safe and in control, in the end, it creates restrictions and tensions both at a physical and psychological level.

Some days the past comes back to haunt us so strongly that we can feel its presence in the pinching sensation of our low-back, the pressure in our knees, or the heavy weight sitting in our chest. Stored memories and emotions can appear in a myriad of forms and manifestations.

As we move through the Ashtanga series of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, we gently try to coax out our fears or resentments, and unravel our memories from the dark corners of our minds, drawing them out from the fibers of our muscles. As we purify our minds, we begin to experience the removal of these emotions and memories in our physical body. This gives us the opportunity to examine their presence, and then release them from a place of distance, and eventually allow them to completely disappear.

This process requires that we be very real and honest with ourselves. It does not help to create stories or dramas about what is going on. We must focus our minds and stay completely present in the moment. It requires a degree of courage to confront the past, our patterns, and recollections, and to look these old demons straight in the eyes and say, “you will not have power over me any longer.”
It requires some bravery to step forward into the light, out from the shadow of a previous time.

Ashtanga yoga is not for the faint of heart, or for those with a “weak mind.” It encompasses a deep process of self-discovery, and reveals a certain truth about our weaknesses and strengths. This practice does not permit us to linger long in fanciful whims, mere entertainment, or escapism. It acts as a mirror that we must be willing to look into on any given day if we wish to grow and transform. The Ashtanga Yoga practice challenges us not only on a physical level, but also on the mental, emotional, and spiritual planes as well.

As students of this practice we must be open to change. There must be a willingness to let go of everything that no longer feeds our growth, and a readiness to embrace something new. Each practice contains the seed of our creation, death and rebirth. We only need to open ourselves to the experience of this process within, and then integrate the lessons we learn for the transformation to occur.

Finally, we must understand that even with the right attitude and approach, there are moments when the past jumps back into our present day to challenge us, and make us aware that there still are those hidden pieces inside that we have not yet reconciled, and areas where we are still holding onto some lingering impression of our former self.

Whether it is a grudge, a painful memory, an old belief, or an inhibiting pattern, we must be prepared to take a close look at it through the wisdom and reality of the present moment, observe any discomfort that accompanies it, and without identifying ourselves with it, permit its full release.

This ability, like everything else in our life, both on and off the yoga mat, requires practice and non-attachment (abhyasa and vairagya). Some days this process is much easier then others, but the important thing is that we continue to practice and mindfully observe the lessons and transformations as they occur.