A year has shed its skin, yet again. The dark days have reached their darkest and are now gaining light each morning we wake. Some speak of resolutions. I prefer to set intentions.
Drink water. Take rest. Eat well. Love wholeheartedly. Why then, if the answers are so simple, do we meander down paths of suffering?
The human heart is only complicated by the intricacies of our minds. 2018 came with challenges that were circumstantial as most challenges are for me. Some of you may have gone through a similar spin around the sun over the last 365 days. Some of you may have had a year of plenty and are now entering circumstantial challenges of your own. Either way, yoga reminds us of the impermanence of it all. The outcome of any state of suffering can be a return to yourself if you choose it to be that way; a return to self, to your heart, to a place of deep self-love and respect. Which in turn implies a return to the practice and to an understanding that the practice has 8 limbs/ components. Yoga is not the physical practice. It is not meditation. It is not the pranayama. Those are simply the tools, which are part of a whole system of self-care. Like any other system that is made up of parts that require one another for the intricate workings of the whole, being in a state of yoga (fully awake, open, non-reactive, and responsive to life from the loving-kindness of your heart) is something we come home to by cultivating and maintaining all the working parts. I speak of: the Yamas, the Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. If this is jargon to you, let me explain.
The Yamas and Niyamas, in Yoga, refer to the social and personal observances – the ethics of our interactions with others and ourselves. There are ten essential “rules” or ethical guidelines, if you will, that are described as a template for how to live your life in a way that frees your mind from self-created anxiety, regret, and all the other mental obstacles that stand in the way of living freely and happily. The Yamas describe the following five approaches to take in your social interactions: non-harm (non-violence), speaking truth (this goes with non-harm), non-stealing (not taking what isn’t rightfully yours), ethical use of your energy (this includes sexual energy), and non-grasping (non-greed/ not taking more than what you need). The Niyamas describe an additional set of guidelines specific to your personal disciplines: purity/ cleanliness (keeping everything clean from the food you ingest to the environment you live in), contentment (acceptance of reality as it is/ serenity without feeling a lack of what’s not there), tapas (discipline in your actions/ purifying austerity), self-reflection (observing and studying oneself), and finally, surrendering to the highest (letting go of what is out of our control and having faith in a higher power).
For the sake of this post, I won’t go in any depth on the other 6 limbs. Simply, they include: the physical postures (asana), the breathing practices (pranayama), the withdrawal from external stimuli (pratyahara), concentration practices (dharana), meditation practices (dhyana), and lastly, Samadhi refers to the experience of “being one with everything” – I laugh at this statement because it sounds silly and cliche. But really, when we drop into a meditation practice so deeply and the mind becomes so clear and pure, there is an unmistakable experience where we awaken to the reality that time and space are illusions and we witness ourselves in direct connection with a reality of things that is timeless, formless, ever-present, and all pervading. It’s beautiful. It’s impossible to stay in that state for we still have tasks at hand and need to live in a place of action to accomplish daily chores and routines. However, to dip into that state for a moment each day allows you to stay connected to that part of yourself that is pure and loving and wholehearted.
If the end goal is simply to live a life that is free from mental suffering; to breathe more freely, to interact more peacefully; to spend less time in rumination, regret, dwelling, and fear. If the goal is to live the next year and beyond with an awareness of the plentifulness of life. Then, the means are the full 8 limbs of the practice. To sit in meditation is very difficult without adequate care for your body through an asana practice, eating healthy foods, and sleeping well. To achieve a state of samadhi is difficult without first learning to concentrate your mind, then to maintain that focus in a meditative state. To move through your body and to then sit (to even get yourself to your mat for that matter) is extremely difficult if you aren’t following the guidelines of the Yamas and the Niyamas.
Like any system, if you only practice parts of it, the effects of the intricate workings of the system will get watered down. I lost connection to my practice in the beginning of 2018, mostly because I neglected myself. I reconnected with it through love and loss, and a return to myself. And this is all part of the ebb and flow of life. It’s like a glass mountain that we climb: at times we get to a certain height and then “relapse” back to old unhelpful patterns – we slide back down the glass mountain and seemingly find ourselves even further down than where we last started. This is where the tapas, the self-reflection, and the surrendering kick in. We bring ourselves back to our hearts. We sit. We observe. We let go. We reflect. We let go some more. And all this with an unmistakable discipline and a trust in the unknown, the unforeseen, and the uncontrollable. We simply climb back up to where we had fallen and then keep moving along, without an attachment to any particular height. We just move forward as there is nowhere else to go.
Here’s to a year of plenty, in whatever shape it comes. Here’s to a return to the 8 limbs of the practice that is so beautiful to me. May you live your intentions as we enter 2019.