Now’s a time to remember our practice.
For thousands of years yogis, sannyasis (an ascetic who separates from the world to connect within) and monks voluntarily chose self-containment. They would retreat away from the busy world, find forests, caves, huts and streams to sit by where they could remain unperturbed.
They chose this solitary practice because of its advantages in cultivating peace and liberation.
Even when circumstances outside us are completely out of our control, what yoga teaches us is that when we cultivate our inner power, we have a choice about how we respond to circumstances outside ourselves.
Now, let me be real. This is not to deny the absolute heartbreak, terror and grief over a global pandemic and economic instability.
The illusion of control, or maya, that we often walk around with, is breaking down. It causes all kinds of reactions in me - from fear to hope to anxiety. I simply feel what is there in the moment as it comes up.
We can feel all that there is to feel. And there is so much.
And then, moment to moment, we can turn towards the depth the practice holds for us.
Yoga gives us inner power regardless of outer circumstance.
I’ll share one story - and practice with you.
After a long bout of trekking, I arrived in a mountain practice center in the Himalayas. I received food, a place to sleep and teachings. Each day we worked in the fields planting food and sorting crops. Each evening we settled in for teachings. In this practice center where there is no electric light but satsang, or talk, is lit by flickering yak butter lamps. Given some simple instructions, monastics, yogis and lay practitioners spend the rest of the evening in contemplation.
Here, we are guided to visualize an elaborate mandala in exquisite detail. I visualize the colors, textures, shapes, starting in the upper left corner and working my way through the various layers towards the bottom right.
It’s kind of like imagining the office that you aren’t going to - down to exactly where the post-its lie crooked, or the pens sit in the drawer.
Visualization of this kind is a yogic practice of dharana - or focus - down to the most minute elements.
This practice has many benefits - some of which I experienced on that retreat. Clearing of the mind, focusing of my senses, a cultivation of peace.
I returned home and learned through the work of Richard Davidson, a meditator and neuroscientist, who spent time in practice centers much like the one I had been in, that modern neuroscience has proven that when we visualize something areas of the brain light up like it's really happening.
This type of visualization practice has been used for athletes to continue training in “off season” to great success.
The mind is a powerful thing.
When we have a mind tuned by meditation and yoga we are never prisoners of circumstance.
We remember the truth that we are always powerful creators.
I know that this doesn’t solve everything. I too, have deep sorrow for what is happening. And yet I also know the tools that can support me and us during this time.
Would you like to try this together?
Visualize with me. What you most miss.
Here, I am pouring coffee at the work coffee station and talking with a coworker about her weekend.
I am walking towards and hugging my friends at a local cafe.
I am putting change in the toll booth collectors hands.
I see people supported by all that they need to be healthy and well and strong.
I smell popcorn and am surrounded by people in line for a ride, a movie, a game, a concert.
I'm sitting knee to knee in a meditation circle, mat to mat in a yoga class, vibrating the sounds AUM together as it resonates through all of our bones and brain cavities.
It's all here. It's all yours. It's all within you. It's all real.
Yes I miss it all too. And I visualize what I miss every day and spend some time feeling and sensing into it in detail.
This is part of my yoga now.
There is a part of us that, like the yogis under trees and by brooks and streams on the outskirts of society, can remain untouched by the world.
That can watch the storms come and go with equanimity. That can allow the sorrows and heartbreaks to crack open the door to compassion.
This is what I think it might mean to be a yogi in these times, here and now.
I'll share wisdom from the yoga tradition and practices like these every Friday at Noon EST and Monday at 1 EST over zoom.
Join me here Friday at Noon EST.
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