We humans are social creatures. Our nervous systems are actually designed to pick up on and imitate the emotions of others. We actually leak emotions to one another! In times like this one as we (all of us, around the world) navigate this pandemic, we are feeling the impact of this “emotional leaking” more than ever. Each of can practice being mindful of the emotions we share as we engage with the world around us by making sure the things we say are True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind. This level of awareness will help each of us to stay in the moment, which is the only place we can find some peace and calm. More importantly, when we’re feeling calm (or at least calmer), we will “leak” a little of that sense of calm to the world around us.
What are we contemplating or looking at when we practice yoga? We are looking at ourselves. As we move our body into the many odd shapes of yoga postures, we are teaching our minds to hold still so that we can look inward. Over time and with practice, we begin to see clearly our thoughts, our habits, our preferences, our fears, our joys, our worries and our hopes.
If you struggle with small choices such as “Do I want a salad or a sandwich for lunch?”, it is likely that you struggle even more with life's big decisions. Religious and spiritual disciplines teach that connecting with the desires of our hearts is key to understanding our “call” or “purpose in life” or even what makes us special and unique. Learning to tune into what we really want rather than what we think we should want helps us, in the end, to make the best choice of all - to be happy.
Yoga has made me certain that the differences I discover between myself and others can be life-giving. Each time I’m struggling to find something in common with someone else is a moment that could be filled with growth and mutual learning if I can stay open and curious about the differences between us.
A contemplative practice such as yoga provides quiet, respite from the stream of thoughts created by our mind by teaching us two skills. The first is the power to notice our thoughts. This awareness, in turn, gives us the power to disengage from them. In the quiet of my practice, it often seems as if my thoughts are bubbling away at the far away surface of my awareness while I’m peacefully resting in a deeper place where my thoughts are not at all important. This space from my mental chatter is, in essence, me shutting up and allowing myself to be loved.
It is surprisingly easy to forget that yoga postures are a means to an end. Please read that again. And again. All the jumping around we do on our yoga mats is not yoga. It’s a part of yoga. (In another essay, I’ll get into the nitty gritty of how tiny a part of the practice it is. I’ve got solid arguments that it’s somewhere between 1/7th and 3/196th.) The postures are a tool that yoga offers us to help us better experience the gift of our life. They are a tool that yoga offers us to help us live more like the people we yearn to be.
Do you feel hurried all the time? Do you sprint through your days? I used to be a fast person (a fast walker, fast talker, fast eater, fast worker ...). Yoga has changed me. I'm now a little slower because I've learned how to immerse myself into my experiences each step along the way. It turns out that slower is a very nice way to be.
Yoga had something new to teach me about practice – and it didn’t take long to do so. Almost before I knew what was happening, I realized that I was practicing yoga not to get better at doing yoga, but to get better at approaching life the way I was learning to approach yoga on my mat. When I practiced yoga, I was practicing a way of being. I kept practicing because I wanted that way of being to become a habit that supported me all day long.
Is it possible to eagerly anticipate an event and still stay present to the moments of your life? It absolutely is. In fact, anticipation has been shown to increase happiness levels for up to 8 weeks before an event, which means you're better able to enjoy every single moment in those two months!