By Donna Farhi, Bringing Yoga To Life
Yoga is not Woodworking 101 but Japanese carpentry. Our teachers may show us precisely how to bevel the edge of a table or chair, but there is only one person who can bevel that edge. No matter how clear the teacher’s description or careful her demonstration, it may still take a hundred crooked, crude, and rough attempts to become proficient and produce that smooth edge. Just as a poorly sanded surface will splinter fingers for years to come, false understanding will continually sabotage a life. What we produce through such patient artistry is a spiritual understanding of enduring beauty.
We may find that when we begin our practice we have a low tolerance for frustration. We may use any slipup as evidence that we have unwisely placed our faith in such a practice. Through our cultural conditioning, we may falsely believe that things should come easily, that life should be as it is on TV; a series of climatic moments where everyone is having a birthday. Or we blame someone else; “If the teacher were clearer, I’m sure I would get this.” But nothing can replace the minutes, hours, and days of practice, observation, and just plain old trial and error involved in a lifelong apprenticeship. It is the very slowness of this apprenticeship that is the healing, for in slowing down we fall into a more natural rhythm with life and with ourselves. Thus we gradually change, gradually understand, gradually integrate the unconscious material of the psyche into the conscious mind, and the incremental nature of these changes ensures that we metamorphose without losing anything in the equation.
Compassion and acceptance of yourself and others is a yogi’s core value – actually we could consider it part of the first core value, or yama, called ahimsa – which is non-violence to yourself or others and includes not judging yourself or others. When we live in a place of judgment, we tear out a part of our human heart. We can even witness the ill effects through the energy shift that takes place. Think about it the next time you judge yourself or another person and pause for a moment to feel the energy that takes place. If you stay there and witness it, there is a level of toxicity and contraction and restriction. Then also witness and hold onto the understanding of what happens when we shift into compassion and non-judgment of self or others – everything opens, flows – positive radiant energy flows and is beautiful. The message of every yoga asana could be a grounded and compassionate and curious: “I love you.” As a teacher I try to always be in this place – but as a student I also try to be in this place – where I am building love, acceptance, compassion – for myself and for all others in the room. Try it out, and see if it changes your experience.
Live while you are alive…
Learn to be what you are in the seed of your spirit
Learn to free yourself from all the things that have molded you
And which limit your secret and undiscovered road…
Never forget that love
Requires that you be
The greatest person you are capable of being,
Self-generating and strong and gentle –
You are your own hero and star…
Be grateful for life as you live it,
And may a wonderful light
Always guide you along the unfolding road.
Yoga has been found to lower fasting blood sugar in people with diabetes, as well as levels of hemoglobin A1c, a measure of longer-term control of blood sugar. The effect may in part be due to lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels. Higher blood sugar levels increase the risk of such common diabetic complications as heart attacks, kidney failure, and blindness. Yoga may also help lower high blood sugar levels via weight loss and appears to improve sensitivity to the effects of insulin. (source: Timothy McCall, M.D.)
“Everything you have in life can be taken from you except one thing: your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. This is what determines the quality of the life we’ve lived. Not whether we’ve been rich or poor, famous or unknown, healthy or suffering. What determines our quality of life is how we relate to these realities, what kind of meaning we assign them, what kind of attitude we cling to about them, what state of mind we allow them to trigger.” ~ Victor Frankl
(Inspiration comes from: “The Heart of Yoga”)
Yoga is a practice of observing yourself without judgement. Asana translates as “posture.” The word is derived from the Sanskrit root as which means “to stay,” “to be,” ‘to sit,” or “to be established in a particular position.” An asana has two important qualities – steadiness/alertness and the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. You could take this concept off the yoga mat and into your daily life. Ask, “am I being steady, alert, and comfortable within the position I am in?”
When we practice asanas there is a natural starting point where we begin, just the same as for anything else in life. The starting point for our practice is the condition of our entire being at that present moment. Because we are all changing constantly – our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our energies – even the exact same sequence of postures done in the same way will be a different experience every single time we do them. It is helpful for us to know – be aware – of our whole self so that we can advance step by step, developing our practice in accordance with our abilities.
Developing a yoga practice (life practice) according to this idea is referred to as vinyasa krama. Krama is the step, nyasa means to place, and the prefix vi- translates as “in a special way.” This concept tells us that it is not enough to simply take a step; that step needs to take us in the right direction and be made in the right way.
Inspired by passages within: “Yoga Mind, Body, and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness” by Donna Fahri
Take time to pause frequently and ask “Who am I becoming through this practice? Am I becoming the kind of person I would like to have as a friend?”
Our whole day offers us the opportunity to practice yoga. What we learn on our mat can be a reflection of where we are – our asana can be a powerful mirror for us. During asana, rather than focusing on the external form of your posture, learn to perceive progress through “invisible” signs. While your asana unfolds, it may be helpful to ask, “Am I moving towards greater kindness, patience, or tolerance? Am I calm and centered even when other people around me are fidgeting or distracted? Is the energy I am creating within my whole entire posture grounded, attentive, and at ease?” Check in with your breath to see if it is easily and fluidly moving through your body. When I find myself pushing my body to its limits just to feel the pose more intensely, I honor where I am and without judgement, and bring myself back into a pose that feels more like a compassionate offering.
I realize that what I create on my mat is going to be carried with me for the rest of the day. If I let go of the external form, and create a focused, calm, attentive, beautiful asana practice (a dance with my body following my breath) – that’s what carries me through my day. On the other hand, if I create pressure, pushing, resistance, holding of my breath (bottling) – then that is what unfolds throughout my day. Yoga is a disciplined practice – where we take care of and tend to each moment without judgement. We are all human – we fall and we will never be perfect (and that’s not the point anyway!!) – but we pick ourselves back up – look honestly at where we are at – and start walking the path again.