In a culture that is obsessed with transformation I worry that living one’s yoga has become synonymous with some sort of necessary life fix. I for one will continue to practice yoga in this New Year, and in subsequent New Years not because yoga teaches us that we need to be fixed, but because it teaches us that we are already divine inside and out. We already have that hum and thrum within us that resonates in the entirety of creation. All the beauty and wonder that is present in the world is present in each cell of our bodies and we are only maybe a little blinded to it most of the time. Even better, yoga is a practice of compassion and so that’s okay. It’s even okay if we never come to terms with our wholeness, though it might be better for us if we did.
I suggest that as we approach the practice of yoga in 2013 we recognize our wholeness first even if only superficially. It might take a while to really get on board with this idea but practice makes perfect. Whether yoga practice means asana, poses on a mat or a lifestyle there is plenty to work with. In my days as a yoga novice I was totally resistant to the notion that the spiritual component of yoga held any value for me. I was driven to my mat because I needed to exercise, needed to burn some calories, work on some pose that I thought I should be good at, thought my abs could be a little stronger or my butt a little perkier (always). I know I am not alone in the need to correct some personal deficiency through asana or yoga. My students tell me that they need to lose weight, not be so tight, are really weak in their upper body or want to be less “Type A”. I’m so glad that the word is out about how great yoga is for all of these things but unfortunately we are bringing some awfully heavy shit onto our mats with us. What if you sat down on that mat as the perfectly divine human that you are instead of one that was … messed up or broken.
I was recently reading, a little, about the Vedic purusharthas or “ideals of life”. There are 4 of them and they apply to the various stages of life. Each stage is essential and identifies the appropriate goals that are pursued for a person’s specific needs in a certain time. For instance the first 25 years of life are defined by the pursuit of artha or wealth. This is a time for learning, training and consumption. Known as Brahmacharya Ashrama, this stage is all about making one’s way in life, learning a trade and building an economic foundation. The next stage is all about Kama which is which is sort of like a Sanskrit dirty word; it means desire-satisfaction. Let’s face it, people need to procreate and the second 25 years of life, Grihastha Ashrama, are about seeking and finding and mate and passing on your hereditary material. During Vanaprastha Ashrama, at around the age of 50 humans tend to search for deeper meaning in their lives. Their dharma or purpose is the goal of this stage and the exploration of values, ethics and personal character dominates this period. Finally, the last stage of life, Sanyasa Ashrama begins around age of 75 when we’ve had most of the worldly experiences we hope to have and sensory gratification is far less interesting to us. We tend to prioritize ethical and spiritual pursuits and search for moksha or union with the ultimate reality.
I was blown away by these ideas and totally in awe of the compassion profiled in these simple “ideals”. The overlying theme here is “You’re gonna go through some stuff”. It’s okay if your life is characterized by consumption for a while, or if you are fairly obsessed with sex. It’s okay of you get stiff or stuck in your ways, or if you get sick of it all and want more… or less. All of the experiences that you amass over a lifetime will bring you closer to recognizing your innate wholeness. Indeed, each stage and the pitfalls therein contribute to your ability to find and practice your unique dharma. If it’s not revealed right away, no sweat. We all get there in our own time. Some of us may take lifetimes…. Even the little things that bug us on the mat like tight hips or weak arms; all just part of the process. The embarrassment/elation, indignity/accomplishment, failure/success that happen to a person in the course of a lifetime; All part of the process leading us to a greater understanding of ourselves.
If I had to boil it down dear yogis it looks like this: Don’t be so hard on yourself (and others). You are exactly as you need to be. Whole, complete, ready for whatever comes next.
“Om mani padme hum”
It’s gonna take time a whole lotta precious time. It’s gonna take patience and time. To do it to do it. To do it. To do it. To do it. To do it right child” George Harrison
“It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma.” Bhagavad Gita