Compassion for the Self

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I think that as yoga practitioners and teachers, we are hyper-aware of the way we are treating others. There is a lot of giving of the self:
We think about Karma Yoga and how to incorporate it into our regular practice,
We willingly stay late after class to discuss difficulties that others are having,
We consider ourselves eco-friendly--eating, cleaning, shopping and commuting in ways that we consider kinder to the earth,
We try to think before we speak maximizing the compassion we can offer to our spouses and children...

But what about Compassion towards Oneself?
Frequently when I stumble upon this discussion while reading yoga books, I fly right through it. I often think to myself that I have no problem with loving myself. I think that if anything, I might even have too much compassion for myself.

I really surprised myself yesterday with the berating I gave myself upon spilling some oil. It was as though out of nowhere a reservoir of anger bubbled up to the surface and spewed out of my mouth. I said some things that I would never say to anyone else---and over some spilled oil?
Part of my path of yoga is to freely admit and accept my faults.  But am I overly admitting my downfalls? and rather than kindly accepting them and working to love them equally with my strengths, am I using them to ultimately put myself down further?

In the Buddhist philosophy, the word Bhavana translates as cultivation or development, but can be combined with another word to mean the cultivation of that thing.

Karuna Bhavana is the developing of compassion--true compassion, not sympathy or pity.
Metta Bhavana is the cultivation of unconditional love.

In our everyday yogic approach to life--seeking to maximize compassion and unconditional love for others--can we extend the same insights to our own selves? Can we practice metta-karuna-bhavana toward our faults as well as our gifts?


Saturday, August 28, 2010

I have a tendency to be slightly controlling.
Or so I thought until reading Judith Lasater's chapter on Control in her book Living Your Yoga.
Turns out I have some control issues on which to work.

For instance--letting go of situations that don't go my way--not my strong suit.
Case and point: Today I missed the post office closing by thirty seconds, popped my bike tire on the way home, and fretted about my continuing difficulty in finding a job.
I desperately want to control these things. And not only that, but I tend to latch onto them--things that are completely impermanent and small-picture--and I'm still thinking about them seven hours later.

Here's a couple gems of wisdom from Judith that I should keep in mind as I try to to control my lack of control.

"Control is our attempt to keep at arm's length our feelings of being out of control. It springs from that fear that unhappiness and death will overwhelm us." (p. 58)

Ah, that tricky death again!

"The more we try to control our world, the less control we have. The more we are willing to let go of control and simply stay present with what is, the more control we have." (p. 57)

This is the ultimate truth for me.  I take so much satisfaction in the routines of my life that when trouble arises, I instantly cling to what I imagine in my mind to be "better."
But of course that is a mind game! A simple matter of grass is always greener.
The true practice of life is not about controlling one's surroundings to provide a safe environment in which to live, but rather adapting to possibilities and opportunities for practice with which we are presented. Through this practice of life, ultimately we are living out each present moment one at a time.

Thinking about Dying

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In the famous words of the Flaming Lips, "Everyone you know, someday, will die."

This piece of information is nothing new, profound, or shocking, but at the same time it's also pretty easy to avoid thinking about. As humans we are extremely attached to things in general and especially people in our lives. And we're attached to living.
But why? Is it because we don't know what it's like to be dead? Well, believers in reincarnation would say that we do know what it's like to be dead and that's why we want to avoid it. Dying, that is. Because through dying we will make our way to being born again? And doing this all over again?
Does it boil down to a fear of the unknown? Or is it simply that we're extremely into living--the act of being alive is so tangible, so present that we cannot detach ourselves from its grasp?

I don't have any answers as to the particulars of our attachment to life and avoidance of death. But I think that one way to approach this fear is by thinking about it. A lot.
I've started trying to spend a few moments everyday thinking about the fact that I will die. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in fifty years. I don't think it's morbid or scary--I think it's realistic.
And then on top of that, I try think about the fact that "everyone I know, someday, will die."
That includes Mom, Dad, Shannon, Logan, Tim, Colleen, Laura, and on and on...

This mind training can be associated with many of the concepts we work on in the yoga path--impermanence, perspective, attachment/detachment, present moment, mindfulness, fear, suffering--and I like to consider it just another of the useful tools I picked up along the way. If you have a meditation practice, maybe consider using the first moment or two to commit to the idea that you will die. And then that your parents and siblings and children and lovers will all die too.
You could also do it just before you go into Savasana or maybe as you blank out on the tram or when you wake up in the morning.
Maybe by exploring the fear that surrounds your ideas about death you can enjoy a level of peace around death that was never present before. Or maybe not, and then you have something to work toward.

Do You Realize


Saturday, August 21, 2010

I have been talking a lot about perspective in my classes lately.  Because of its versatility, it's a pretty easy topic to apply to yogic philosophy and ideas. You can refer to perspective in terms of the physical practice--for instance, inversions: teachers are often suggesting to change your perspective by turning your world upside down. 

Then there's the perspective gained through meditation--simply taking a moment out of your day to try and quiet your thoughts is a way to gain instant perspective on the state of your mind. Or possibly more specifically, your "monkey mind" a turn-of-phrase which refers to the never-ending chatter that becomes evident the second you try to turn off the mind.

Today I am referring to the perspective gained by attending a new class. After six years of yoga practice, three of those years being very persistent in daily practice, I often feel as though I "have it down." Just writing that made me see how ridiculous it is--yoga takes a lifetime of practice! Nonetheless, the ego is strong-willed and at times I feel quite confident about my yoga asana abilities.

This morning I attended an Anusara Level I class.

After six years, it's pretty easy for me to assume that a Level I class is something I can enjoy with relative ease. This class proved me wrong. It's been years since I've had a teacher so 'on my case' about every pose I performed--Downward Dog, Tadasana, and Bhujangasana to name but a few--I seemed to be doing each and every one of them incorrectly--or less than perfectly is probably a more precise definition. As the class went on and more and more corrections were suggested to me, I started to lose confidence in my knowledge of these beginning level poses--my notions about alignment and energy flow were being greatly shaken.
But I had committed myself, before class even started, to keeping my ego in check and approaching this new style with an open mind. I dutifully performed every correction given (whether or not I felt it was right) and was attentive to the teacher's yogic ideas. 

I can't say for sure that anything about the class changed the way that I'll teach or practice in the future, but I can say that my willingness to change my perspective about the way to teach a yoga class or to take a yoga class is a step forged ahead in my own path. Trying new methods of anything--be it yoga,  breathing, eating,
living!--is bound to form new neural pathways in the brain, making it easier for us to be willing to try out a change in perspective again.

Contentment in Action

Monday, August 16, 2010

After my first post, I was patting myself on the back for my clear demonstration of wisdom. I was doing this while taking a shower and admittedly, lacking mindfulness.
I proceeded to drop the big bottle of Dr. Bronners Peppermint Oil Soap (with the lid open) which hit the floor and emitted a blast of soap (the minty kind), which went directly into my eye.
I openly invite anyone needing work on contentment in the present moment to try it with Dr. Bronner's in their eye.

The Beginning

This blog has begun at the request of my friends and students Pearl and Erika. I had the pleasure of teaching yoga this summer in my hometown Omaha, NE, where I gained the dedication of several students. Now living in Minneapolis, MN, but still loyal to my Omaha roots, I would like to use this blog to post my personal ideas about the path of yoga for the hometown crowd. I intend to post at least one class a week, if not more. All different styles will be represented because that's the way I practice myself. I am open to requests and can offer tutorials as well, based on things I've learned over the years. Please, send your ideas my way!
Oh, I should explain my blog title.
On the path of Raja Yoga,  there are eight achievable limbs before the final step samadhi, which is Self-realization. The second limb is niyamas which is defined as inner observances, or more easily put, individual conduct--the way one should act toward oneself. The second niyama is santosha, or contentment. Contentment with one's situation in life, contentment in this moment, contentment with your Hatha yoga practice--you name it, it's applicable. In her book Bringing Yoga to Life Donna Farhi, an incredible author on the subject of yoga, writes on the subject of santosha " We find that all that we need lies within the content of the moment, even if that moment is difficult (p 31)."
This is a lesson with which I think we all struggle daily--just being "okay" with our current situation. Not striving, not yearning, just being. So, this blog will serve to serve you in your present (contented) moment.

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