Karma and Svadhyaya
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?
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