The choice to practice social distancing is a lovely example of pure generosity. We are making a series of decisions, many that we may not like very much, to take care of people we do not or may not ever know. Each of us is choosing to make sacrifices for the greater good. For me, I am pausing the work I love to do. I am not seeing friends who light up my life. I am not seeing my parents or my two children who live in the city. Trivial, but still a blow, I am choosing not to go to my local pub to enjoy a craft beer. I am doing so not because I am afraid of contracting the virus. I am doing so because of the person who is in a high-risk demographic who may stay healthy because I didn’t touch as many door handles or parking meters or elevator buttons or whatever.
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.
Self-study is part of yoga's moral foundation, yet many students feel like they don't have the time or energy to devote to more yoga. The good news is that self-study is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we expose ourselves to new ideas, the more we will notice these ideas in all areas of our lives. Being a perpetual student enriches our life experiences on and off the mat.
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.
We are all filled with light. Light that we share with the world around us deliberately through acts of kindness. Light that we also share with the world simply by being who we are. While we will never know all the ways that our own small light brightens the day for someone else, we can each be absolutely certain that this is happening. We are all little lanterns shining like luminaries in the world.
Living next door to an awful construction project has taught me a surprising lesson: living in a way that is contrary to the lessons I’ve learned on my yoga mat feels just awful. Take it from me. There is no peace and no contentment possible when you’re filled with disdain, anger and loathing. This knowledge is inspiration for me to keep practicing as I inch my way back to living and feeling like the person I am on my mat.