Have you heard about Great Pacific Patch - that enormous “island” of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean?
As sad and alarming as it may be, there is also something amazing about it. It is teaming with life. Scientists recently found that there were huge concentrations of organisms living amongst the plastic debris. Some hypothesize that there are as many of these organisms living there as there are pieces of garbage.
I thought about this as I walked through our neighborhood a few days ago. For all of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s that singularly vibrant time of year when nature is working overtime as the tender green shoots burst forth from trees and plants, the first flowers bloom, and baby animals are born. Everywhere, life is emerging.
Like the animals apparently thriving in their garbage home, the re-emergence of life each Spring is testament to the universal and fundamental power at the basis of all of life -...
I know Supta Virasana may not be everyone’s idea of a heroic pose, but it is to me. Over the years, practicing it has become like spending time with a dear, old friend - someone I trust enough to be fully vulnerable and open.
The process begins the moment my props are set up. Getting into Supta Virasana can’t be rushed. I kneel on the mat to adjust my shins, ankles, and feet, and carefully sit back between my heels.
With my pelvis heavy and well-grounded, I lie back gingerly, staying quiet and attentive to place myself well. There’s a lot to consider. I’m mindful to lengthen, not shorten, my lower back; to keep my thighbones down, rather than lift them up and uproot my foundation; to resist the tendency to arch my mid-back and instead, soften my lower ribs.
Keeping all this in mind, I slowly recline, endeavoring to stay quiet and humble.
As I arrive in the pose, I settle into the the familiarity of the form...
You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.
---Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching
Isn’t this a wonderful image to describe the vantage point we gain in yoga?
We ascend to a more expansive vista within our minds. There, we can observe ourselves and the contours of our lives with the freedom afforded by a broader vision and a healthy bit of detachment.
Meditation isn’t necessarily about quieting your mind; it’s about developing a new relationship with your mind. That’s what the view from the mountaintop is, a perspective that’s bigger than what our minds might tend to tell us.
The first step is becoming self-aware. As we hone our self-reflective capacity - that distinctly human ability to know what we’re thinking - we gain a more spacious (and probably wiser) outlook on ourselves and our lives.
We become temporarily...
Some teachers will tell you that yoga is not a path toward a goal, but that it is simply about being present to what is.
I partially agree with this. Certainly, yoga is a way of being with ourselves, a practice of inner attention, a way of seeing and responding to ‘what is’ with a stance of compassion and unconditional self-acceptance. But it’s not only that.
Yoga is also a process of becoming. It is a path we travel. Yoga sets us on a clear trajectory of inner evolution that leads to greater freedom, deeper purpose, and expanded consciousness in every part of our lives.
Yoga has always had a goal. And that goal is awakening to the fullness of your inner being and, from that experience, becoming a more benevolent human being.
Isn’t it fascinating to consider the paradoxical nature of asana as a practice of spiritual well-being? Through the body, in the body, and using the body, we seek something beyond the body.
I recently received an email from a new student who wrote:
I am looking forward to classes that can remind me what it is all about...
Have you ever gotten so caught up in the what of your yoga practice that you lost sight of the why? I sure have.
I remember once demonstrating a deep backbend in front of hundreds of people at an Anusara Yoga workshop. In that captivating atmosphere of being applauded by my peers, there’s no question I was mistaking outer achievement for inner attainment.
The thrill of doing something other people found impressive was short-lived though. No sooner was the workshop over than I went back to my usual mindset during that time of striving, self-criticism, and never feeling good enough when it came to...
A few days before my Yoga for Turbulent Times workshop last Saturday, a participant sent me an email that read:
I am finding it hard to give myself permission to be joyful or happy in these times. My purpose is to radiate positivity and contentment in myself and others. This is challenging, to say the least, in these days of war, unrest, and climate calamity.
It reminded me of a recent New Yorker cartoon where a doctor is examining a patient and concludes: “Here’s your problem – it looks like you’re paying attention to what’s going on.”
I get it. It can be hard, even guilt inducing, to give yourself permission to be happy when you look around at a world so filled with suffering, destruction, and division. And yet, what are the alternatives? Is taking on the pain and suffering of the world the best way to respond?
One of the central tenets of yoga as a practice of spiritual well-being is that happiness...
What’s your idea of happiness? Is it collapsing on the couch with some Netflix-and-chill at the end of a long week? The pleasure of enjoying your favorite morning beverage? The peace you experience after a good meditation? All of the above? None of the above?
Happiness is a tricky concept because it is so subjective and it is often used as a general, overarching term to describe a whole range of pleasurable feelings we might experience.
The yoga tradition describes three different types of happiness. These three types are based on the gunas, the three primal qualities of matter that constitute the material world.
Tamas is the principle of inertia and heaviness. Tamasic happiness is the satisfaction that comes from being idle and checking out.
The Bhagavad Gita says about tamasic happiness:
That happiness which both in the beginning
And afterwards deludes the self
Arising from sleep, indolence, and negligence,
Is declared to be tamasic. 18.39
In indigenous ways of knowing, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our Being – mind, body, emotion, and Spirit.
—Greg Cajete, as quoted in Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The indigenous view on the holistic nature of knowledge very much resonates with the yogic notion of knowledge.
Jnana, the Sanskrit word for knowledge, isn’t only about understanding something intellectually, it’s about knowing it through your own direct experience. Therefore, it involves more than just the mind. Knowledge in yoga is a cognitive experience that involves your whole being - body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
In the yoga tradition, there are many models of the human being as a series of interpenetrating layers. One of the earliest models, known as the three-bodies doctrine, comes from Vedantic philosophy. Read more
According to this model, the three bodies of the human being are the gross or physical...
I believe that going deeper in your yoga practice isn’t always about doing more or working harder. It’s about getting more bandwidth out of everything you are already doing.
I’m terrible at taking care of houseplants. When I do get around to watering them, the soil is sometimes so parched and dry that the water isn’t absorbed. It just runs off the surface.
I think this is a good analogy for trying to go deeper in your yoga practice only by doing more and more asana. If the ground of your mind and heart aren’t prepared to receive and integrate a deeper experience, all that effort remains on the surface of the physical body. It doesn’t penetrate deeper to affect the mind, touch the heart, or feed the spirit.
If you’ve ever gotten to the end of a yoga practice only to realize that even though your body was going through the motions your mind was completely elsewhere, you might relate to what I’m talking about.
When I tell new students that I have a love/hate relationship with some of the poses I regularly practice and teach, they often breathe a sigh of relief. After all, the challenge of learning how to put your body into new and unusual shapes isn’t necessarily pleasant, so it’s comforting to know that even someone who has been doing yoga regularly for 30 years doesn’t always enjoy it.
For example, I don’t like holding Warrior 2 for 1 minute. I still do it sometimes though, because I know that my achy hip will feel better afterward, that my mind will be sharper when I get back to work, and that my energy will be more vibrant for the rest of the day.
Being able to move through life with greater ease, better energy, and more enthusiasm is what motivates me to practice what I don’t find enjoyable. It’s what keeps me showing up even when I don’t feel like it.
Identifying how yoga helps you to do everything else...
Our free, online bonus content is designed to complement and enrich your experience of Evolving Your Yoga. Resources like video pose tutorials, downloadable journaling prompts, breathwork, guided visualizations, and more will support your exploration of each of the Ten Principles for Enlightened Practice.