“Coulda, woulda, shoulda” – now, how many times have I said that! I quite often find myself in the middle of a “should” phrase, such as “I should be doing this,” or “I really should have done that.” The word “should” carries many implications. It implies that I am not, have not, or will not be doing exactly what I am meant to be doing at any given moment. It implies that I have control. It implies that I am in disagreement with my experience, in disagreement with reality.
Through my yoga studies, I have come to realize that these “should” statements arise from my Ego, from the part of me that judges, compares, and is my own harshest critic. I have also come to realize that these “should” statements do not serve me in any helpful way; rather, they simply provide further fuel to the Ego by giving rise to the heavy feelings of guilt and shame. So, what do I do about all the “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s” that arise in my mind? Well, when I observe the “should” creeping in on my thoughts, I use it as an opportunity to practice the yogic technique of Pratipaksha Bhavana. That is to say, I exchange the “should” statement with the more positive affirmation of “I am exactly where I need to be and am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing in this moment.” I release a big sigh, and settle into the present moment. With this statement, I shift from my Ego mind to my Spirit heart; from guilt and shame to love and acceptance. With this statement, instead of resisting reality, I accept it with open arms in all of its perfect imperfections.
Is there a repetitive word pattern that you have observed within your mind? If so, does it serve you? If your internal dialogue does not serve you, then can you come up with a positive, affirmative statement to replace it with? Decide to practice Pratipaksha Bhavana for a single hour in your day. Simply observe your thoughts; if a self-defeating thought or word arises in the mind, allow yourself to gently release it by calling forth your affirmative statement. Notice how you feel. How do you feel when your old, repetitive thought pattern arises? How do you feel when you exchange it for your affirmation?
Observing our thoughts and words is a powerful practice that has a transformative effect when we take it a step further by making the conscious effort to interrupt our conditioned patterns. When we engage in this practice, we begin to recognize and release our samskaras (deeply rooted habits accumulated over many lifetimes). We begin to see shifts in our internal world, perhaps of feeling lighter, less burdened, greater joy, and more love. These shifts also radiate outward, resulting in smoother interactions with others, events of synchronicity, and abundance.
There is a well-known quote that aptly summarizes this idea:
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
May you come to know the peace and love that resides within the lotus of your heart.
“We’re all in this thing together, walkin’ the line between faith and fear.” -Old Crow Medicine Show
As you may know by now, I love music and am often inspired by lyrics that touch my heart. I was recently listening to the song “We’re all in this together,” by Old Crow Medicine Show, an Americana band based out of Nashville and this lyric got my attention. In my experience, I have found that there is a thin line between faith and fear; both cannot exist at the same time, yet I find myself continually fluctuating between the two. I have observed that anytime fear or worry crop in, it is because faith and trust are beginning to wane. The opposite holds true as well – when I am completely rested in faith and trust, then fear and worry just naturally dissipate. The antidote for fear, then, is faith. But, faith in what? Well, yoga has a name for this and it is called Isvara pranidhanam, which means surrendering to the universal consciousness, to Mother Nature, to the natural order of all things, to love and to life. When we surrender to the divine order of all things, not only does fear disappear, but we also begin to function from our higher-order qualities of love, trust, open-heartedness, gratitude, and contentment.
Isvara pranidhanam is a practice within itself. In fact, it is one of the niyama’s in the second-limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path outlined in the Yoga Sutras (asana is the third limb on this path). So, just like asana where we practice yoga postures on the mat, Isvara pranidhanam is also a practice that requires continual effort and discipline. It is a practice that I remind myself of daily – to let go and surrender to the present moment and to know that all is exactly as it is meant to be. Our personal and social conditionings breed fear, but fear is just that – a learned and conditioned pattern. Our natural state is actually one of love, faith, trust, and surrender. The proof lies in the eyes of any young infant. The infant’s innate consciousness is pure love and surrender. She does not question whether she will be taken care of or how her needs will be met. She is completely surrendered to the present moment. She brings joy into the world because her pure essence is joy. The concept of fear does not exist in her realm of awareness. We all had this experience as infants, and the practices of yoga help us to shed our layers of conditioned patterns so that we may see this light of joy that still resides deep within.
The practice of Isvara pranidhanam also becomes easier when we realize that there is an underlying thread that connects us all. We all have the same fears and worries as well as the same joys and desires. When we realize this connection, then we are able to support each other in a more open-hearted way. We move through our own life with greater love, trust, and confidence, and we are able to share this loving, positive energy with others. As the renowned yogi Ram Dass says, “We are all just walking each other home.” So, be love, my friends. Simply be love.
You know that blissful feeling in savasana? That feeling of complete surrender, detachment, and unawareness of the daily stresses and worries that you had when you first walked into the yoga studio. Perhaps that feeling of floating, as a simple observer; or, perhaps a feeling of space and light. I remember my first experience of this – it was in Duane’s Friday 5pm yoga class at the YMCA when I was a second year medical student. I didn’t know what this feeling was, why it occurred, or even how to describe it, but I knew that it felt good. It felt so good, in fact, that Friday happy hour with friends quickly got replaced by Friday blissful savasana with Duane. I was hooked, and it was all about the savasana!
Since then, life has propelled me on this journey into the study and practice of yoga, and I now have greater understanding of the mystery and magic of savasana. In yoga philosophy, the witness or observer state occurs when we tap into Purusha. Purusha is unmanifest energy; it is the changeless in a world full of change; it is pure potential and ultimate truth. It is the part of us that remains unaffected by the waves in the ocean of life. When we enter a deep state of savasana or meditation, we allow ourselves the opportunity to slip into this space of Purusha. It may not happen every time and we certainly can’t rush it or force it to occur, but we may get the occasional glimpse of it. If and when we tap into our most natural state of Purusha, then we are unaffected by Prakriti. Prakriti is the manifest state of nature; it is everything that we see, touch, taste, and feel. It is our physical world. So, what happens in savasana is that we allow our mind to loosen its tight grip around Prakriti and we let our consciousness simply flow into its most natural state of Purusha; we open ourselves up to the energy of love, light, peace, and joy that is innately within and around us. Pretty incredible, isn’t it?
So, is there a way that we can experience Purusha more often? Is there a way that we can always be open to the energy of our innate love, light, peace, and joy? Well, we need to work with the tangible tools that Prakriti provides us with in order to experience the intangible, but ever present and ever powerful, Purusha. Let’s explore this idea a little further. Yoga philosophy describes that everything within Prakriti, within the material world, has certain qualities called gunas. These qualities are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva has characteristics such as purity, unconditional love, and deep-rooted peace; so, essentially qualities that very closely resemble Purusha. Rajas has characteristics such as activity, restlessness, power, and prestige; these are characteristics that are ruled by the ego. Tamas has characteristics of dullness, sloth, greed, lust, heaviness, and accumulation. Most of us are continually flowing between these three gunas. For example, we may feel very tamasic on a cold, winter day choosing to simply sit on the couch, watch tv, and eat chocolate. On another day, we may feel very rajasic, where we set out of our house with our to-do list in hand and, come hell or high water, we are going to get through every single item on that checklist! And, then, we have our sattvic days when we just know that whatever is meant to get done, will get done. There’s no checklist, no lounging in front of the telly with a box of chocolates; but, quite simply, walking through the day with peace and ease, taking care of whatever shows up that day.
These three qualities show up in everything – our environment, possessions, food, mood, and actions. It is through the transformation of tamas to rajas, and then rajas to sattva, that we begin to move about our day with that savasana-like state of bliss and clarity. This transformation is a process; it is a journey just as all of yoga and life is. This transformation takes time, patience, and consistency in daily practices; and, it all begins with awareness. An awareness of the three gunas; awareness that there is a witness within us that is changeless and always at peace; an awareness that we have all the tools to move forward on this journey.
And so, with that being said, it’s totally okay to go to yoga class just for the savasana! ;-)
In Service and Gratitude,
Happy New Year! I find this time of year to be filled with so much hope, optimism, and openness to what the new year has to offer. It is a time of reflection, celebration, and looking ahead; a time of letting go of the past and moving forward. It is also a time of setting resolutions – goals, hopes, and dreams for the future. The process of setting resolutions gives us an opportunity to pause and truly reflect on the life we have been living; to examine what works for us and what doesn’t in all aspects of our life – career, relationships, self-care, personal growth. And, as the year turns, we are reminded that we have a choice; we have the choice to continue living as we have been, or to step into something different, perhaps to step into something greater than ourselves. We have the strength to change what isn’t working, stay disciplined with what is, and cultivate more of what invigorates us. If we approach the process of setting resolutions with mindfulness and non-attachment, it can truly become a beautiful practice that challenges us to step into our light and become the best version of our Self.
The yoga tradition, as outlined in the Vedas, describes four basic desires – Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Dharma is our unique purpose in this worldly life; it is often equated to our career, however can be fulfilled in any number of ways including becoming a nurturing parent or volunteering for an organization that you are passionate about. Artha is the means to perform our Dharma; for example, we need a car to drive to work and we need the means to purchase food to sustain our bodies as we perform our work. Kama is the desire for pleasure and enjoyment. Moksha is spiritual liberation and self-realization. These four desires are inter-connected and all are important in creating a well-balanced life. When creating resolutions, I suggest starting by creating four columns on a sheet of paper, and heading each column with each of these four desires – Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Then, begin by listing your goals for each category.
Translating Resolutions into Intentions
In yoga, we talk a lot about setting intentions. Intention setting is similar to resolutions, but with a slight shift in approach. Setting resolutions typically goes something like this:
Putting it all together
So, you’ve made your four columns - Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha – and, listed your resolutions under each column. Next, translate those resolutions into intentions – positive, affirmative statements. Write these intentions on an index card and place it somewhere that you will read it daily. Recall your intentions as you go about your daily actions. Then simply let life unfold, without judgement and without attachment. Allow yourself to remain open to the infinite possibilities that the new year holds for you.
May your new year be filled with so much peace and joy, love and light; may your innermost desires be fulfilled. Namaste!
“Give light and the darkness will disappear of itself.” – Desiderius Erasmus
This month, people all over the globe will celebrate a very special holiday called Diwali. This holiday has its origins in mythology from India. It is a celebration “good” over “evil,” light over darkness, truth over illusion.
The mythological story from which Diwali originates is the Ramayana, which describes the life and journeys of the avatar Rama. It is said that Rama, the next heir to be king, was exiled to the forest with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman. On their journey into the forest, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana. In the search for his wife, Rama met Hanuman, the “flying monkey-God,” who represents devotion, courage, and fearlessness. Hanuman discovered Sita’s location and led the monkey army to fight for her release from Ravana’s hostage. As Rama, Sita, and Lakshman journeyed back to their village, all of the villagers eagerly and joyously lit oil lamps to guide them home.
The deities in yoga mythology represent various aspects of our self. This particular story is one of good over evil. It offers us an opportunity to reflect on eliminating our own vices and unhelpful qualities, such as anger, greed, lust, and jealousy. It connotes that the way to eliminate these qualities is to shed light on them; to acknowledge their presence and then cultivate the opposite qualities, qualities of love, peace, joy, and compassion. Through the cultivation of these “positive” qualities, the “negative” ones diminish of themselves.
Hanuman plays an important role in this story as he represents the courage and devotion required to move forward on this journey. Inner strength and faith are necessary for allowing these open-hearted qualities to flow through us, thereby letting go of the Ego defenses that we cling onto so tightly. We have been conditioned to believe that these Ego defenses are qualities necessary to survive in our daily lives; we must protect ourselves at all costs! But, what we learn through these ancient stories and our yoga practices is that the greatest defense of all is pure, universal, infinite love. Once we begin the journey of performing all thoughts, words, and actions from this place of love, all fears and Ego defenses simply dissipate naturally. It is from this space of love that we connect with all other beings and that we find ways to help each other on our journeys.
So, Diwali is a celebration; it’s a celebration of that love and light which exists within every single one of us. In honor of this holiday, people all over the world decorate their homes and offices with lights and candles, fireworks light up the sky, and families gather together in joyous celebration.
The love and light within me is the same beautiful love and light that is within you.
Namaste, and Happy Diwali!
*The exact date of Diwali is based on the lunar calendar, and this year falls on November 11, 2015.