Often we settle into a yoga practice that "works" for us. As life changes we wonder why our practice is no longer satisfying, why the gifts of yoga seem to be distant. In these instances I have come to realize that I am imposing yoga on my life, instead of using yoga to listen to life. When we have the opportunity to slow down and truly listen we so often find that what we "need" is not often what we "want." The dissonance between what we want and what we need is what creates suffering.
I have a group of hatha yoga students that I can best describe as perfect. I've been thinking, how can I bring the dynamic, ever changing nature of yoga into our class? To explore, in a group setting, the way yoga can be adapted to meet our needs as they change season to season. Reflecting on this, I developed a series that I hope helps to bring yoga deeply into their life. The series is aimed at uncovering ways to feel completely in the present moment, to put forward our best and to work through the obstacles that keep us from experiencing each moment as perfect exactly like it is. Integrating yoga into our life has three main phases: Tamas, Rajas and Sattva.
In the tamas phase we are not even aware that something is wrong. We may feel heavy, lethargic or stuck. In our "work life" we feel as if there are no options. We may even use work as a way to fulfill our own desires rather than as a place to serve others. We think little of leaving work early and justify the lack of service with long mental lists. In this phase, it is important to emphasize a yogic diet, moving from the core and challenging ourselves to be in alignment. We'll resist doing all of these things, but moving through the obstacles will leave us feeling refreshed and energized. If tamas is dominating your day-to-day life, and you feel stuck, work on: 1) Implement a yogic diet (eliminate sugar, meat, fish, onions and garlic; focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts) 2) Sweat. Engage in rigorous exercise that will break up the pattern of "stuckness" or use a sauna if you can't find the energy to exercise. 3) Music and dancing to being zest into your life.
In the Rajas phase we are extremely busy. We may be getting a lot done, but feel depleted because we are moving quickly from one activity to another. We may believe no one does as much work as we do. Our ego defines our excess activity as "special." We find it difficult to transition to social activities which don't bolster the ego in the same way as our achievements. In this phase, it is important to emphasize relaxing and letting go through restorative yoga, pranayama and meditation. We won't want to! We may want to use our practice to "achieve" something difficult. We may see enlightenment as something "far off" that must be "obtained." Yet enlightenment rests underneath our need to achieve. If this is you, start a calming practice of yoga, sit still and challenge yourself to enjoy the present moment without changing it one little bit. Apply your bustling energy to see underneath the mind, find a place of peace and ease that sustains all your activities.
In the sattva phase even if we are outwardly busy, we are inwardly peaceful. We don't expect the world, or even ourselves to be perfect - mistakes happen. Whether or not we achieve our goals is of little concern to us, as the work itself glorifies the divinity which surrounds us. We can be active or peaceful, there's flexibility in how we approach our day to day life. We listen. In this phase we need to actively sustain our insights so that we don't slip back into a Tamas or Rajas. We need to move in a way that allows us to respond to what is, we find the place in which practicing yoga is not an effort, but a natural expression of the present moment. Activities that sustain sattva are meditation, chanting, gardening, painting, writing and other creative pursuits (but be on the alert for the pesky mind that sees these activities as making us "better.")
Yoga is ultimately about living freely, without constraints, but with responsibility. Yoga is about find out who we are, what we have to bring to the world and sharing these gifts with others. Indeed, in true yoga there are no others, everyone is an expression of the same spiritual energy. Practicing together helps us to build this awareness. We see how others on the path are making progress and it inspires us to do more...or less...depending on who we are. We turn our gaze not on the fault of others, but on ourselves in an ability to increase our awareness. We delight in the virtuous and seek to cultivate this within ourselves. We see what is wrong in and take action, but do not let our minds be moved to anger, resentment, disgust or fear. We are friendly to those who are happy. We have compassion for the unhappy. These states arise spontaneously for the limited time we are sharing planet earth.
May you have happiness. May you see the good in others. May your mind rest in peace.