The essence of karma is that there's no fire without smoke - every action in every moment has a residue, an effect and so everything we do (including think) in every moment matters.
In this way we are to a large extent creating our experience of the world we live in moment to moment.
Of course, some of us are born to more privilege in all the forms that takes (material, love, physical etc.), I am grateful every day for the privilege of love I was born into. But even the most privileged amongst us can create a life experience of moment to moment suffering and vice versa.
I work with a lot of people experiencing a wide range of challenges and it's inspirational to witness how they cultivate the ability to be present and to experience joy or contentment in the present moment - and because life is made up of present moments, to cultivate a life of joy or contentment.
That's not to deny that pain, poverty or other challenges exist, these are facts, but they are not ALL there is. We can seek to reduce suffering through structural changes, emotional and mental support and medical science, while also seeking to reduce it through cultivating the experience of joy, awe and contentment where it's available.
When we live with this awareness of how we are shaping our experience moment to moment we can make choices about this, living consciously moment to moment.
Cultivating an awareness of the breath can really help us to cultivate this moment to moment awareness. We can cultivate the awareness that every breath is a new moment with the opportunity to choose a new way of being in that moment. The breath also can indicate when we have the accelerator or brake of the nervous system engaged and that might indicate that we might want to make a different choice about our thoughts, words or actions to shape the next moments.
Moment to Moment on the Mat
Our mat practice is a microcosm of our life off the mat and so the mat is a great way to help us to cultivate this skill of living consciously in every moment, noticing how we are shaping our experience.
We create our experience of our practice on the mat through our approach to the practice - is it a curious enquiry into the body and mind and its possibilities? Is it playful and joyous? Is it a stick to beat ourselves with?
This will most likely change practice to practice and even during a single practice; noticing how we approach the practice can tell us much about our current approach to life.
How do we respond to the challenges, the struggles and the ease? Are we practicing pratyahara (inward direction of the senses) paying attention to how it feels to move and breathe, or are we seeking distraction because we've become over-stimulated and are becoming addicted to that? How connected are we to earth and gravity?
Some days our practice may feel like a physical and/or mental and/or emotional struggle and it's how we respond to this that creates the practice. Do we see these challenges as an invitation to reflect? How do we feel about needing to cut a practice short because we are tired? Can we honour our needs? Can we practice with more softness or with more energy where we need that?
Can we set an intention for our practice? Can we notice when we are wavering from that and choose again? Can we do the same with our days? With our lives?
Practicing in this way requires a great deal of Tapas (the 3rd niyama), determination and perseverance - it's not easy and it's often not pretty!
When we are practicing as explored above we are engaging in Svadhyaya Self-study. This, the 4th Niyama, is not just study of yoga philosophy, but also the practice of studying or contemplating atman (the self), which is done through constant awareness, remembrance, discipline, meditation, and, especially, self-inquiry and it's this self-enquiry that leads to a true awareness that we are creating our own experience.
So, how are you experiencing this moment and how do you want to experience the next ones?
When we study yoga we start with Ahimsha because it relates to all of the other yamas.
We practice Asteya (non-stealing) on the mat, not stealing from or compromising one part of the body or quality of the breath to express an asana - which would do harm. We might then think about parts of our life out of balance, where might we be stealing from? What might we be stealing in our relationships?
Asteya is a big one for me personally as I have to be careful to not 'steal' too much home life for teaching, practicing and promoting yoga for wellbeing in our community - before I take something else on I reflect on asteya. Overwork is one of my Samskaras - one of the grooves of habit I can quickly fall into and the reason I decided to dedicate myself to yoga. Asteya helps me to keep that my biggest samskara in check.
We practice Satya (honesty) on our mat, being honest about where we can go with steadiness and ease and we take this off the mat too. Honesty in our actions, words and thoughts to ourselves and to others - because dishonesty would cause harm, but we also want to reflect back on the principle of ahimsha so that we don't use satya in a way that will cause harm.
We practice Aparigraha (greedlessness, or non-grasping) learning to take only what is truly necessary and no more and to let it go when we no longer need it. This is a big one on the mat, we want to be motivated to explore tha asana and the body and mind but we need to balance this with non-grasping, are we reaching too far, are we obsessing about the next asana? When we focus on 'more' we can sacrifice what is here - in this moment - which is the only place that life is. Grasping and attachment cause suffering because everything is temporary and everything must pass, if we are so attached we will suffer when that which we are attached to is no more.
Brahmacharya sometimes interpreted as celibacy, but more often as wise use of energy and fidelity. Wise of energy is of course particularly apt on the mat, we don't want to deplete our energy early in the practice, nor do we want to deplete our energy for the day and this can help guide the structure of our days off the mat too. This also helps me to ensure I'm not depleting my energy in yoga outreach work depleting my energy for my practice, teaching or homelife.
All of this has the potential to help us to grow and change. This is why we come to the mat even (especially) when life is hardest, because we know that the mat is a place of reflection, strength, flexibility and growth.
When we truly practice yoga we change.
The asana are a route into the psychology of the practice. We practice this psychology through our bodies because we experience life through our bodies and what we embody we are more likely to understand. So we practice ahimsha (non-harming) on our mats, reflect on how else we can practice non harming of our bodies and then our minds and the bodies and minds of others.
We practice asteya (non-stealing) on the mat, not stealing from or compromising one part of the body or quality of the breath to express an asana. We might then think about parts of our life out of balance, where might we be stealing from? What might we be stealing in our relationships?
We start to see through the illusion of separation and understand that we only ever see part of a story and that not everything is about us and that we almost always have a choice.
All of this helps us to grow and change. This is why we come to the mat even (especially) when life is hardest, because we know that the mat is a place of reflection, strength, flexibility and growth.
|Listening Truthfully to Understand |
The importance of satya & the illusion of separation are two key yoga teachings that are very relevant right now.
In recent years it seems increasingly there’s a very strong illusion of separation created by lack of quietly and truthfully paying attention. Instead of paying attention and seeking truth we are witnessing a lot of people shouting and very few people listening.
We are witnessing people entrenched in their views, convinced they are right and others are wrong, desperate to prove to others their own rightness, convinced that the 'other' wants to cause harm to community, fellow humans and the planet.
This is all experienced as noisy conflict and division - yet we know that yoga teaches us that separation is an illusion.
So how can we see through this illusion and find our interconnectedness?
How can we heal and work together?
What does our yoga teach us?
Yoga teaches us that we are not our ego, teaches us discernment so that we are able to step outside the 'I-ness" the ego. Once we are aware of this we can strengthen our resolve to listen to learn and not to protect the ego by being 'right'.
Next we can look at 'Satya' - truthfulness, are we being honest with our beliefs about others?
Satya is a yama and therefore often presented as restraint: about slowing down, filtering, carefully considering, not jumping to our own stories.
How about we ask if WE TRUTHFULLY KNOW that our perceptions of those we disagree with are really true?
How about we ask if WE TRUTHFULLY KNOW whether there really are so many people who actively want to cause harm to others?
How about we slow down, have open eyes, ears, hearts and minds
Pay attention to what we truthfully see and hear
Pay attention to our bias, assumptions and our motives
Pay attention to seeking to learn and understand
To especially seek to understand those who may hold views and have experiences different from our own
When we combine this with the knowledge that we are all interdependent, inseparable from the nature we are part of, we can see that perhaps people who hold views different from our own also want happy, healthy, fair communities and a planet that is healthy and can sustain all life.
If we truthfully listen from a place of love, a place of knowing that separation is an illusion and that human motivations are based on fear or love we can perhaps start to realise that perhaps those with different views have different information? Or different experiences? Or different understandings?
If we listen from a place of understanding that we all want a happier, healthier world and we only differ in how we think we can best achieve that, then we can start to work together to heal, to build a more compassionate future.
How do we do this? Yoga teaches us to pay attention to it all, to pause, be quiet, to watch our own expectations, assumptions, bias and to come from a place of love
Be open to what we don’t expect.