One of the first things I teach students is that the term yoga refers both to a state and to the practices that lead you toward that state.
The idea that the journey is the destination might sound like a new-age platitude, but it’s there right from the beginning of the tradition.
I want people who are new to yoga to understand that yoga isn’t some lofty goal that they'll achieve one day when they finally nail a handstand.
It’s something that you practice from the minute you roll out the mat out to the final bow of your head at the end of a session.
Yoga includes, and perhaps is characterized by, the mindset that’s cultivated throughout their practice.
What is the yogic mindset, anyway?
One definition of yoga from the Bhagavad Gita defines is evenness of mind. Chapter 2, verse 48 says:
Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or in failure. Yoga is evenness of mind — a...
How does your yoga practice change the way you show up for life? How you work? The way you are with your family? Is yoga helping you to become more of who you want to be in the world?
These are questions that have no right or wrong answer, in fact, at the beginning, no answers at all might arise. That’s okay, because just asking the question sets the stage for the beginning of self-reflective awareness.
The act of asking questions send a signal to the brain to self-reflect and starts to build the muscle of inner discovery. It’s the kind of inquiry that allows you to bridge your yoga practice and your life. This is the doorway into this multi-dimensional way of knowing with the body, mind, emotions, and spirit that’s fundamental if we want to take our practice deeper.
I remember once being instructed by a meditation teacher to “Think with a smile.” I’ve always loved that instruction, and even though I admit I am not always able to do that, it’s an image that has stayed with me as a reminder that the way I experience life depends— sometimes quite dramatically—on the inner attitude I bring to situations.
It’s helpful when I can think with a smile because even though the outer situation doesn’t necessarily change, it shifts the way I relate to it and generally makes things better and not worse.
Have you ever noticed the slight smile often depicted on the faces of the gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern spiritual traditions? In Sanskrit, this facial expression is referred to as manda smita, a gentle smile. I have always loved contemplating that smile. It feels encouraging and comforting to me and seems to say, “Don’t worry, hold on, everything is going to...
I have a lot of warm socks. But this pair is different from all the others in my drawer because it was knitted for me as a gift from a student.
Isn’t it true that when you receive something as a gift you have a different relationship with it than a similar item that you’ve paid for?
In her insightful and heartening book, Braiding Sweetgrass, indigenous scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about her experience of picking wild strawberries from the field as a young girl and considering them gifts from nature. She recalls how different and odd it felt when she saw the same type of strawberries for sale at the market.
Although yoga isn’t, and has never traditionally been, exchanged as a gift in the usual sense, I think there are some useful parallels to be drawn from this analogy.
Originally, the practices and teachings of yoga were passed down from teacher to student through established rites and lineages. Things are...
Last week I shared the experience of radical compassion arising unbidden. Several readers wrote and told me that they too, have experienced spontaneous feelings of tenderness, warmth, beauty, and love at times. It’s always encouraging, I think, to hear your experiences in yoga, or those that come because of your practice, echoed by fellow seekers.
Perhaps more common than my “compassion bomb” experience, though, are the inner obstacles we all face to viewing the world, ourselves, and others compassionately. The yoga tradition tells us that aversion, which takes the form of judgement, fear, anger, and other divisive feelings, often gets in the way of acknowledging the suffering and pain of others that gives rise to compassion. Therefore, in this post, I’m going to share more insight into the nature of compassion in yoga and some strategies I’ve found to be effective in practicing compassion when it feels hard.
In the previous post I explored ...
Compassion Bomb: A sudden explosion of awareness of and empathy for the suffering of humanity that results in a genuine desire to express goodwill and love.
It happened to me last Monday. I was spending the afternoon at a mall while my phone got repaired. I sat down on a bench to eat my burrito and began one of my favorite mall activities—people watching. As I observed the other shoppers walking by, who were few and far between that day, my first thought was, ‘So, this is who else goes to the mall on a freezing cold Monday afternoon.’
But as I continued to watch everyone, wearing masks as well as their bulkiest and warmest winter gear, I became quiet and started to think about the collective challenges, complexities, and uncertainty we are all living with right now. And then it hit me: an overwhelming feeling of radical tenderness, caring, and compassion for those strangers, and by extension, for all of humanity.
I’ve come to think of these waves of...
To be beautiful means to be yourself.
You don’t need to be accepted by others.
You need to accept yourself.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Like many of you perhaps, I have been contemplating the teachings and impact of Thich Nhat Hanh, the beloved Vietnamese Buddhist Master, since his passing last week.
His book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life was the first spiritual book I bought in the early 90s when I was about 21. Shortly after I read it, I went to see him speak at Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where I lived at the time. Riverside Church is so enormous it’s more like a Gothic cathedral than a church. I sat way at the back in the highest balcony. I couldn’t have been farther away from where he was to speak.
Still, the moment he walked onto the stage a wave of compassion washed over me. Even now, as I recall the tenderness that I experienced in that moment it feels so alive and...
It was four years ago this week that I got the call that my father, who was 84 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, had passed away. I got in the car right away and drove to my parents’ home on Long Island.
That same night, the rabbi who was to speak at his funeral shared his view about what happens to the soul after death. He likened it to being in a limousine with darkened windows. The person inside the car can see out, but those on the outside can’t see in. The departed soul, he explained, is just on the other side of the window. We can’t see them, but they are so close. This was my experience of my father in the days following his passing.
As I helped to carry out the myriad details of the funeral arrangements, wrote the eulogy I would deliver, made the playlist of the songs he wanted, and attended to everything that had to be accomplished quickly so that the service could take place according to Jewish...
The dharmachakra, or wheel of dharma, is one of the most ancient symbols in Indian culture and one of the most well-known and important in the Buddhist tradition. Its even an emoji .
Dharma comes from the Sanskrit root dhr, meaning “that which upholds.” It’s often translated as right action or sacred duty.
Chakra means “wheel”. Here, the term has nothing to do with the energy centers in the subtle body.
The oldest known depictions of the dharmachakra are solar symbols that appear frequently on the clay seals of the Indus valley civilization dating back to 2500 BCE.
The symbolism of the dharmachakra varies. In Buddhism, the hub of the wheel represents the discipline of the seeker. The rim symbolizes concentration and meditation. The spokes represent different aspects of the Buddha’s teachings, depending on the number. For example, a wheel with...
Since you, like me, always have been and always will be,
now ease into your dharma
and be that which you must be for this time
and this place right now.
- Author Unknown
This short poem expresses the essence of the teachings in chapter two of the Bhagavad Gita. It speaks to the paradoxical understanding of the human being in yoga as an embodied spirit, a timeless, transcendent essence bound up in the manifest world of time and place, name and form.
Maybe right now isn’t the time for grand visioning or laying out big plans. Maybe it’s a time to focus on what’s right before you, to put one foot in front of the other, and respond to the needs and circumstances of your life. To be that which you must be for this time and this place.
Yoga offers us the possibility of holding a kind of dual recognition: Staying aware of our unchanging Self while being fully engaged in the actions of everyday life.
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.