- Breathe in, breathe out.
My husband died almost three years ago of a massive heart attack at age 52. Losing him was a huge change to go through, and my yoga practice and all the years of learning to be present was very helpful. It’s like that quote from Buddha: “List of things to do today: breathe in, breathe out. End of list.” Okay, I might be paraphrasing a bit! But the idea is that what gets us into trouble is thinking, “Oh my God, what am I going to do without my husband?” Or, regarding the economy, “What’s going to happen to me tomorrow?”
Yoga training brings your attention to the present moment and focuses on your breath. It doesn’t mean that you just accept injustice, or that you don’t take time to grieve a loss, whether it’s a job or a family member. But, if you’re stuck in the mud, rather than thrashing around, first acknowledge the reality of it. Then you can start to take very logical, present, sensible steps to extract yourself from the situation. And you realize that this is life. Everything changes, and this too will pass.
- Take a deeper spiritual journey.
Young people in their 20s and 30s tend to be focused on the physical aspect of life. But as I’ve pursued my yoga practice over the years, I’ve seen more people asking deeper, more philosophical questions and being more concerned with the lifestyle and philosophy of yoga than just the very, very small aspect of asana, or the practice of the postures. That’s the equivalent of kindergarten in the yoga world! Asana is great. It’s important for maintaining health and fitness and strengthening the immune system and keeping the body detoxed. But it’s designed to lead to a deeper spiritual journey.
- Pay attention.
In Sanskrit, the word practice is abhyasa, which is translated as “effort towards steadiness of mind”–making an effort to keep your mind focused on one thing without distraction or interruption. Another really interesting translation is the constant struggle to stay firmly rooted in the stable state of the true self. Well, where is the true self? How do I find the true self?
You can experience abhyasa whether you’re in yoga class, trying to meditate, sitting at a traffic light, or chopping carrots. The test: if you’re chopping carrots and you’re thinking about taking a shower and you cut your finger, you know you haven’t been practicing yoga. So I ask my students, “If that’s the definition of practice, when can we practice yoga?” And eventually someone will say, “All the time.” It’s just about paying attention. Forget about stretching. If you want to take a stretch class, go to the Y!
- Be a spiritual revolutionary.
It used to be, if you were going to follow the spiritual life, you had to be a recluse in the mountains and renounce worldly things. You might do scholarly research; you didn’t engage. I don’t see that as the case anymore. I think we who are on a spiritual path have an obligation to be spiritual revolutionaries. We have an obligation to help clean up the planet, care for people’s health, eliminate suffering, and be involved in animal rights, water rights, and air rights. More and more yoga practitioners are getting involved in social action.
- Take right action.
Some things are worth dying for, but not everything is. Your spiritual journey, whether you’re a Buddhist or a practicing yogi or a Christian, should teach you through what the Buddhists call skillful means to be able to take right action in the moment. In other words, your practice is going to tell you when to jump in and fight like mad, and when to back up and put your hands together and bow and say, “Okay.” It’s like the serenity prayer in some of the twelve-step programs: the wisdom to know the difference between changing what you can change and letting go what you can’t do anything about.
What motivates you to practice yoga? Share your response below!