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We live in a culture that values progress. We love to figure out new ways to make everything around us look, sound, feel, taste and work better. We ourselves are no exception to this. We’ve all spent hours scrutinizing ourselves in the mirror, checking for wrinkles, sucking in, fantasizing about a nip here or a tuck there. We make resolutions to eat better, act better, always driving ourselves to do and be more. For us, efficiency and results reign supreme. We have learned to look for ways to derive the greatest possible benefit from the least possible effort, whether it means taking a pill to relieve an ache or having a pizza delivered in under half an hour. While this attitude has lead to tremendous advances that have improved the quality of our lives, it has also ingrained in us a belief and an expectation that all of our problems can and should be solved immediately with minimal effort.
We often feel that there should be something equivalent to a pill that we could take to solve our relationship troubles, fix our finances and sustain our health. When these solutions don’t present themselves, we often feel depressed, hopeless and defeated. What we seem to have lost sight of is the fact that our lives are an ever-evolving journey, an ongoing process that requires our constant attention, participation and presence. This desire for a quick fix has turned many of us into spiritual junkies, addicted more to the process of searching for the newest, most improved self-help trend rather than committing to a single process that involves time, challenging work and a deep sense of self-acceptance.
With its recent meteoric rise in popularity, the practice of yoga has been a growing focus for this quick fix mentality. There is a lot of selling going on in the yoga community these days and it is often focused on the uninformed consumer who has seen a blurb on a talk show or a picture in a magazine of a young person with a sculpted body and expression of blissful peace. They see yoga as the new cure-all. Sometimes people come to yoga with the belief that if they practice yoga daily all their problems will magically disappear. It is important to understand that yoga postures in and of themselves are great, but there is also a need for patience and persistence when it comes to using yoga as a catalytic agent for change.
When examined from a wider perspective, yoga, which has been around for over 5,000 years, was here long before our problems existed and will be here long after we have solved them. Putting that in perspective can create room for us to acknowledge and address the challenges of our experiences without becoming so deeply attached to them.
We can begin to make these changes on a deeper level by uncovering old mental patterns and using yoga as a tool to chisel away at outmoded ways of thinking. The physical practice of yoga is a powerful way to begin this process. When we do the physical practice of yoga, the body experience an automatic energetic release no matter what, because the poses are pure medicine. However, the use of asana practice can only take us so far.
There is a deeper level of commitment and time that is required to attain what lies at the core of most of our desires, which is to find peace and happiness. The steps to achieving this are found in the precarious act of balancing body, mind and spirit. The path of yoga teaches us to remain present as we balance the various aspects of life, while maintaining equanimity towards the ups and downs of daily experience. A sound financial life is great, but if you’re sick, your finances cannot help you. Conversely, you may have great health, but if you can’t pay your bills and enjoy a certain quality of life, that’s not such a great thing either. Balance allows us to make sense of the forces impacting our lives.
One of the most powerful lessons yoga has to teach us about achieving balance is cultivating the ability to let go. The process of discovery that yoga offers provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to redefine our identity as individuals and how we perceive our place in the world. The experiences of the late Lester Levenson, a pioneer in the personal growth and development movement, exemplified this process. Levenson, also a physicist and successful entrepreneur, discovered that he was terminally ill at age 42, with doctors telling him he didn’t have much time to live. Levenson, who always appreciated a challenge, simply said, “I don’t have much time left anyway, so I might as well experiment on myself. I believe I can be free of these diseases if I let everything go, especially my illnesses and my inner limitations. I’m just going to let it all go and see what happens.”
He embarked on a deep and at times painful personal journey of self examination, identifying the aspects of himself that were not serving him and relinquishing them. Through this process of releasing, Levenson made a great discovery. When he let it all go, his problems, his worries, his sickness, and even his inner limitations, left. And instead of getting sicker, he began to heal. This process of releasing unconscious compulsions became the key to a deep sense of joy and peace. By discovering our own sense of purpose without the constraints of ego and expectation, an awareness of the power of living fully in the moment develops.
This process can be facilitated through the practice of yoga in all its forms to assist in releasing belief systems that no longer serve us. Asana practice can relieve tension in the body that can be related to stuck emotions and past incidents of trauma. The only reason we hold on is that we don’t think that there’s going to be enough. Or we’re afraid that what we do have will be taken away from us. But there’s only abundance in the Universe. And with that bounty comes the freedom of knowing that everything is available to us, whenever or not we choose to let it in. How do we let it in? We have to let go of our fear-based need so that all that what we truly desire can come to us. Our attachments often cause us to lose the very things we are trying to hold on to. The more we’re willing to let go, the more we can receive.
For most people, there are five distinct areas of life that bring up the greatest number of challenges but can also benefit dramatically from positive release. Through release of attachment, yoga provides us with the ability to view these aspects of our lives not as challenges, but as opportunities. They are abundance, health, relationship, personal purpose, and spirituality. Challenges with abundance are common to everyone and they are not confined solely to financial abundance, but relate to our basic sense of trust that there is plenty of whatever it is we want in the Universe. The tug of war between what we want and what we need causes us to live from a perspective of scarcity. This feeling of scarcity creates an undercurrent of fear that can block our ability to open up to possibility and abundance.
Issues of health have a strong influence on our daily experience, which finds us looking for the next quick-fix miracle cure. But trusting the long and steady road of yoga can open up unimagined possibilities for keeping the mind, body and spirit strong. The preventive benefits of yoga instill trust in our bodies and allow us to maintain a healthy physical being for a longer period.
A third area of opportunity is our relationships, not just coupling but also our interactions with others from day to day. There is often a great fear of interacting with emotional honesty in the world and this can create a veil of separation that interferes with the building of relationships. Cultivating a sense of comfort with our own identity and allowing openness to dictate our interactions can lead to uplifting and beneficial connections with others.
The absence of a defined personal purpose, often accompanied by feelings of restlessness or dissatisfaction, is a challenge that has become so familiar to many of us that we are often unaware of its detrimental effect on our experience of life. A lack of purpose opens us up to a damaging stream of negative thoughts and beliefs that can weaken our ability to see our lives and ourselves clearly. We then live through the stories that we have created for ourselves rather than being present and able to respond consciously and effectively to the events in our lives.
The final area of opportunity has to do with our spiritual selves. Our spiritual identity is often one of the last things that we discover about ourselves. There are many prescribed pathways to spirituality including religion, but finding the spiritual form that best fits our own life path requires trust in a deep sense of self and the willingness to trust in not knowing. The yogic path can encourage discovery and build a connection with our spiritual selves, regardless of the form it takes, and realize our connection to the divine.
A constant theme in addressing these opportunities is the ability to trust on a level that is deeper than that with which most of us are comfortable. As we use the practice of yoga there is an opening that we can take advantage of to access this sense of trust, as well as let go of all of the expectations that become our baggage as we live our lives. Asana practice can be one of the paths and all you really need is a yoga mat to get started. A practice combining eight specific and mental and physical actions can be incorporated into any yoga practice, encouraging these doorways to open. They are simple in their approach but have the ability to inspire profound transformation.
Identify the opportunity
As you unroll your mat and prepare to start asana practice identify an issue that concerns you right now. Ask yourself this question as you’re sitting on your yoga mat preparing to take that first breath: “What is it that I am willing to be open to learn?” Perhaps start with a simple issue to get used to the idea, but as you progress take a chance and step up to more personal challenges.
Identify the feeling
The next step is to identify the way you feel about the issue. Is there fear, embarrassment, disempowerment, anger? What are the core emotions that rise up when you identify what the issue is. This can present its own set of challenges, since many people do not have a wide variety of emotions that they can easily identify. Rather than settling for sad, mad, glad, happy, look for a more complete description of the feelings you are having toward the issue.
Bring Up the Picture
Once you identify the issue, and how you feel about it, open up to any images that develop when you experience those feelings. The mind thinks in pictures, and when we identify the feelings associated with an issue we will develop some kind of picture in our heads. It’s important to examine the images that arise, because these pictures help to identify the programs that are running our lives. These programs are often built on a foundation of faulty assumptions and can adversely affect the manner in which we present ourselves in the world. If our faulty programming assumes that we don’t deserve or are not worthy, no matter how much work we put forth, the peace and comfort we desire will not manifest.
Pull Up the Self-Talk
What is the internal dialogue that you maintain about these issues? The words that we repeat to ourselves have great power and we often create an ongoing dialogue that is not productive towards our sense of self. Telling ourselves that something is too big or overwhelming to take on can cause us to develop a sense of weakness and helplessness, crippling our potential for movement and change. By bringing awareness to that internal dialogue, we can choose to stop it and lessen the power of these destructive words.
Check Your Energy
Ask yourself what kinds of effects your words, mental pictures and feelings have on your energy. Do they make you feel light and airy or do they weigh you down? Do you feel as if you’re about to panic, or are you automatically going into fear? Breathe deeply as you connect with your energy centers or chakras.
Strike a Pose
Select a pose that represents the opposite of what you’re currently feeling. This pose can be used as an anchor to free you from your inner limitations and help you reference your power when you’re off the mat. This kinesthetic component (the feeling nature) will help you release stagnant energy resulting from emotional energy being stuck in the musculature and cell tissue of the body. It also gives you an opportunity to exprience yourself as an unlimited being.
Start From the Top
Once you’ve struck a pose, you’re ready to answer the questions in steps two, three, four and five again. This time, notice how different you feel when you answer these questions. These are the feelings you want to remember so that you can make positive changes in your life. Notice changes in attitude and power that can assist in developing your instincts and self-awareness.
Release Into Peace
Once you’ve identified these positive and more empowering feelings, energies and attitudes it’s time to consciously release deeper into them. Ask yourself if you could release deeper into this newfound strength. Or, ask your higher self if you could let this feeling into the very core of your spirit. Get completely associated with the feelings you’re experiencing right now. Close your eyes, connect to your deep ujjayi breath, feel your lungs expanding as you inhale, feel your shoulders relaxing as you exhale. As you breathe into this new empowered state, ask yourself these questions: Could I let myself relax deeper into this feeling? Would I allow this feeling to go deeper into my cell tissue? Is it okay if I do it right now? Take another deep ujjayi breath and allow yourself to settle into this feeling. Begin to ask these same questions for two more rounds until you feel light and more at ease. Would you be willing to let yourself release into this feeling of greater empowerment? If so, when? The answers don’t matter. Just continue asking the questions, and, if you practice this daily, your life will change.
The good news about this particular line of questioning is that you can do it anytime, anywhere and have immediate results. Working in this way gives you the freedom to become more connected to your desired outcome. And with continued practice, on and off the mat, you may begin seeing tremendous shifts in all areas of your life, not just in the area of your initial concern.
You may find that if your initial inquiry was about a health issue, as awareness develops around that question, you acquire a greater sense of purpose.
Then a better association with abundance occurs and bit-by-bit your original curiosity about a single issue expands into a more trusting attitude towards all aspects of your being.
As one piece of the jigsaw puzzle falls into place, it becomes easier to complete the rest of the picture. As the ability to let go develops, the ease of living blossoms.