Is the mind continuously on a downward spiral? Once I heard in a presentation that having a positive mind is like exercising a muscle, if unused it withers away. In Yoga we call this Abhyasa (making an effort), which is part of Panchata Kriya or meditation in daily life. Well, I think if you are not lucky enough to be born into a perfect environment, where there are only positive role models, we all have to make an effort to keep our minds constructive rather than destructive.
Another aspect of Panchata Kriya is Vairagya (not colouring with any pre-conceived ideas). How many times do we react to another person unproportionately because something is bothering us that has nothing to do with that person?
Swadhyaya or self-study helps us to remain more objective and is an important skill to separate our own issues with other peoples’ problems. By studying or learning about positive role-models, whether it be scriptures or books like “eat pray love” we create possibilities to expand our minds in a unlimited way.
Tapas, where we balance physical and mental behavior allows us to practice discipline. Hatha-Yoga is a form of tapas. It takes commitment and discipline to practice postures or Asanas, which help us to create balance in body, mind and spirit. And finally Ishwara-Pranidhana or self-surrender , where we devote our actions to something greater that, we trust, exists. It takes the pressure off us, and helps us to live more responsible and joyfully.
There are times where I look at my life with astonishment and marvel at the people and places I had the good fortune to encounter. Although I give thanks to the many blessings in my life, it can be a challenge to stay present and acknowledge the little miracles in daily life. It could be the smile of my children I don’t see when I rush to work in the morning. Did I miss that amazing orange sky last evening because I was busy talking? Was I too busy thinking about something else when I got that heartfelt hug from a friend?
When I was travelling in India, I stayed in Dharamsala and met one of the locals. He asked me where I have been and I proudly counted down the list of places I have visited in the world. He looked at me not with admiration but just said: “Why do you have to go to all these places in the world when everything you need to discover is already inside of you?”
In meditation we practice presence. The real challenge is to stay present as we encounter life. To stay present even if we don’t like something (Dwesha = dislike\repulsion) or feel attracted towards it (Raga = liking/pleasure). To be absolutely absorbed by the moment without judging it.
I was there in the park after the heavy rain, the mist hung over the trees and this multicolored bird sat right there on a branch in front of me. I breathed in this moment as if it was my last. What joy and honor to be in the presence of this bird.
They are pretty, they are elegant and they fit perfectly to one of my skirts. I am talking about the shoes I am eagerly eying in one of the shops at the mall. But I should know better. I am no Cinderella but a Yoga practitioner and all that grounding and spreading my toes have rendered them incapable of fitting into pretty and pointed shoes. Even though my comfy Scholls make my feet sigh with pleasure they look poorly matched with feminine attire. Starting Yoga from the feet up is what I teach and practice and now I have to live with the consequences of my feet not wanting to compromise their firm stand anymore. Still, I am the boss, not my feet. Succumbing to my desire I soon regretted my purchase when after half hour not only my feet, but also knees and back started to protest in agony. After all they like to be supported by the four corners of my feet: “The mound of the big toe, mound of the little toe, back of the inner heel, and back of the outer heel” . With that awareness, I raise and spread my toes, bring them back to the ground, then draw those four points up into the lower leg equally, and lift the arches (especially flat arches). To stand firmly on the ground does not only alleviate possible lower back problems, it also is the most important preparation before moving into any other Yoga posture. Good-bye pointed shoes and thank god for platforms and wedges, that is where I found my compromise. Yogini or not, I still like to look good.
 Friend, John, Anusara Yoga Teacher Training Manual, Anusara Press, The Woodlands, 2006, p. 45
Have you ever tried to play piano with three boys playing fustal in the living room and a little girl “tuning” in with a mouth-organ? Well, if you are as tired as I am after a long day of whatever, it ain’t matter anymore. My mind is so blank that my fingers seem to slide over the keys automatically (not necessarily beautifully). Deepak Chopra said that life as we perceive it is a fraction of the “energy-soup” that exists. Well, at that moment it felt like I was swimming in my mother’s delicious vegetable soup, cruising around the carrots and potatoes and being generally oblivious to the deeper meaning of life. I am not fooling myself into thinking this is some sort of “pratyahara” (non-fascination of senses). It is rather a coping mechanism: if it all gets too much, I simply tune out. So what is the difference of “tuning out” and meditation? According to Georg Feuerstein (The Shambhala Encyclopedia of YOGA) meditation, although a process of “vacating and unifying consciousness”, is paired up with awareness. In other words it creates complete clarity, whereas simply tuning out leaves us in a state of confusion. Another aspect of meditation versus tuning out is that meditation energizes, whereas tuning out leaves us depleted. The morale of the story: Meditate more! It can be as simple as removing myself from the chaos for 10 min. a day into a quiet corner and focus on my breath.
Every morning while having my breakfast I read the newspaper. As I open the newspaper FEAR stares me in the eye: fear of swine-flu, fear of losing the job, fear of being pounced on by ruthless snatch-thieves. The list continues as you all know newspaper sell on disaster and misery. At least the Malaysian newspapers also publicize the latest chicken-prizes. Now that is worthwhile information that could potentially change MY outcome of the day… So why do I keep on reading it; out of habit or because I never catch the mailman on time to stop the delivery? Robert Lawrence Friedman, a psychologist and motivational speaker says it takes 21 days to change a habit. So I am going cancel my newspaper delivery and go on cold turkey of 21 days, not reading the newspaper at all. That includes passing by newspaper stands and NOT glancing at the Malay Mail headlines. And if anyone wants to fill me in with the latest political dramas, I will politely but firmly decline. Now that can’t be so hard. How about creating an empowering habit? During the Christmas break I actually got up every morning at 5.30am to do my Yoga. The first few days I was delirious with energy until about 2pm when I crashed. Then I got used to this special and delicious feeling of energy and looked forward to it every day. However initially my biggest obstacle was my own self-sabotaging mind-talk! My mind would say: “Never mind, just sleep a little longer, you are so tired”. Then my other mind would say: “Get up lah, you’ll regret it for the rest of the day if you don’t”. That would go on for about ten minutes and the latter usually won but occasionally I would regret not having gotten up. That was during the Christmas-break. I had created a good habit, and then let it go… So tomorrow morning not only will I not read the newspaper, I will also get up an hour earlier. After all how hard can it be…I got 21 days?
This week has been a shitty week, pardon my language. My son and I were attacked by some knife-wielding thieves on a motorbike early morning. They were out of luck because I only had my son’s schoolbag in my hand. Then my car broke down and finally my sunglasses were stolen. Although the guys on the motorbike were obviously more vile and professional in their pursuit, my thought was what person thinks something left in a shelf automatically becomes public property? Is there a difference between threatening someone with a knife and simply taking something that you know doesn’t belong to you? Although the Yamas in Raja Yoga clearly state rules of conduct: Ahimsa for non-violence and Asteya for non-stealing I believe these universal laws of human conduct are not exclusively taught in Yoga but are part of every religion. Obviously the guys on the motorbike do not practice Yoga. Well, I can’t change the way those thieves think or act, but I can change the way I react to that incidence. First I am grateful that both I and my son remained unharmed, second that they did not get my handbag and third that I can finally get some new sunglasses. It will take me a little more practicing of “loving kindness” to actually see that those thieves are caught in their own downward-cycle of life. And finally next time I better remember how I judged these thieves when someone offers me that pirated CD.
A great book to start taking responsibility for your thoughts is: “the Secret” by Rhonda Byrne.
I wished I could travel to see my family in Switzerland every year and that I could travel to any otherdestination of my choice as well. However so far we only make it back every two years, which is mostly a financial decision. I was talking to someone else who wished she could travel with the airline of her choice, instead of taking the cheapest ticket, for which she then gets reimbursed by her company. The next person wished he could travel period, but cannot afford it at all and has never been anywhere else then his birthplace. Some people do not wish to travel and are happy where they are. And the last person IS travelling anywhere and anytime she wishes. It is human nature to want and strive. That is how we evolved. Otherwise humans would still be happy catching fish with their bare hands instead of doing so with nets. But when does the striving and wanting get as destructive as the big trawler nets that fish out the seas regardless of kind and size of its catch? It is all a matter of perspective whether I see life as a set of circumstances that I have no control over or I see life as a presenter of choices, so I can evolve and grow. If there is an obstacle that prevents me of reaching a goal I could choose to like the challenge to overcome it or dislike the obstacle of being there. So likewise I could choose to be happy to travel back to Switzerland every two years, instead of never be able to get there anymore, right? However that doesn’t mean I am not striving for making it possible to go back every year. To get back to the trawler: If I go back to Switzerland every year within the same financial circumstances, ignoring all obligations, which would be like overfishing the oceans…it would be foolish and selfish, because it cannot be sustained. On the other hand, if I can take up opportunities to create more financial freedom, I not only keep on learning new things (even if it is about your own limits…) but also can become that person that IS travelling anywhere and anytime she wishes.
There I am having a fit of anger and get the standard line: “but you are doing Yoga, how come you get so angry!” Believe me, I do get angry despite doing Yoga. Being a mother, my buttons get pushed all the time. My children are my greatest teachers and bring forth all those deep-seated, raw and not-dealt-with emotions. Yoga just helps me to manage them better. There is one more difference. Now I SEE myself being angry rather than just being fully involved in it. I see myself reacting, but another part of me watches that and thinks “what is she going on about?” In Buddhist teaching it is called “passive witnessing”. Sure one part of me doesn’t feel so passive at that particular moment, but another part kind of just sits back and observes. There is a great website out there that teaches how to deal with any type of anger and gives rules how to fair-fight http://www.angriesout.com/. Anger can be a great driving or an incredible destructive force. It is one of the most primary emotions we learn to mostly suppress as children. Rather than suppressing it I taught my son how to express it without hurting anyone. Scream into a cushion, bang the baseball-bat into it, jump around, and write about it. We all have our times that are out of control. However all of us are getting better at expressing it with more damage-control. After all it is a powerful energy, it is good to use it wisely.
There is this universal truth about abundance. It says that abundance is right here and available to everyone. All we need to do is to open ourselves to receive it. It can be pretty tough though to hold this thought constant when all around us we hear news of people loosing jobs, that country going bust and this country trying its best to juggle with economic challenges. However thoughts have energy and the more we focus on the downward-spiral, the more we feed that energy. It can be as simple as a walk in the park with a smile on the face. The amount of smiles that came back to me, when I did just that, was astonishing. I keep my focus on bringing joy, health and abundance into my life with every inhalation during my Yoga class or practice. Taking a moment to watch my breath every now and then during the day, whether I drive the car to pick up my kids or do my chores, helps me to connect again with that true source of power, rather then getting sucked into a cycle of fear. I also repeat empowering affirmations, which I make up myself to hold on to the thoughts of abundance.