as in yoga, so in life
"Calming the mind is Yoga. Not just standing on the head."
- Swami Satchidananda
"Yoga is.. the disunion of the union with sorrow."
- Bhagavad Gita,
translated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Every time I do a yoga practice, or teach a yoga class, I'm struck by the same thing - yoga is preparation for how to live well.
Perhaps some people come to yoga for the workout, or the stretches, the power poses or the sweat - that's fine, but exercise isn't, to me, what yoga is about, at all.
In asana practice, we're deliberating putting the body into a stressful series of poses. (Even the easier, non-pretzel types of poses are a challenge to the body and especially the mind. Don't think so? Hold the same pose a minute or two longer than you normally consider 'comfortable,' and you'll see what I mean. The mind will start to go a little wild, rebelling against the pose, the quiet, the strain, the potential 'danger' in holding a pose too long... lol.)
At the same time the body is in a stressful position, the breath is even, deep, flowing and relaxed. This is the apparent paradox of yoga -- how to be in a stressful position while maintaining an even, calm breath. Because the breath and the mind are intimately linked, you've probably discovered by now that the mind will automatically follow the breath (and vice versa). As you slow down the breathing, keeping it even and relaxed and deep, the mind also slows down, relaxes, gets calmer.
Yoga practice without a focus on the breath and the inner calmness is missing the depth of the experience of yoga.
My personal experience is that an on-going yoga practice becomes a constant teacher, a lifelong learning and research project - into the self. For a while, a new pose may be challenging, physically of course, but also to the smooth, even maintenance of the breath. Once the pose is familiar, the challenge lies in keeping the breath calm and even (same time spent on the inhale, and on the exhale), and developing the calm mind to go along with it... a daily discipline and exploration, since the breath + posture relationship is always different, changing, kaleidoscopic.
There is definitely nothing static in yoga, ever. Even while holding the body still for a few minutes at a time, the inner experience is moving, moving, moving.
All of this becomes an incredible resource for how to live one's life away from the yoga mat. Most people's lives are composed of a fair amount of stressful 'postures' throughout the day -- and the on-going challenge to each of us becomes about how to maintain equilibrium, balance, calmness... even in the face of extreme difficulties, chaos and stressors.
When I'm practicing yoga, I'm practicing life -- and often find myself thinking that this must be what the eye of a storm experiences. The winds can be whipping all around (and they do! and often!), creating all kinds of chaos, upheaval, loss, uncertainties -- and yet the eye of the storm itself is silent, calm, unmoving.
In the middle of even the most strenuous or stressful yoga poses, my primary focus and loyalty is to the art of breathing, of maintaining that calm state.
If I can keep the breath even no matter what is going on with the body during yoga, well, I can keep my life even, no matter what is going on around me during the rest of my day. Practice in one area, apply the lessons learned to all areas.
If you haven't taken the time in yoga to explore your breath and how it works, you're in for a stunning adventure into your self. It's my hope that you'll give yourself license to experience, deepen, discover and play with the practice of breath plus asana, and find that calm, quiet eye within your own system... the one that can stay even and calm no matter what kinds of winds are blowing all around you.
That calm, even one is the real you.
Breathe in. Breathe out.