Yoga is a spiritual discipline, a union of the body with the mind and the quietening of the mind. I like Tara Fraser’s definition ‘Yoga treats the whole of you as one interconnected mechanism and therefore prescribes exercises for your eyes, your mental focus, your breathing systems and your emotional state as well as your muscles and digestive system.’
The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali outline the principles and basic teachings of yoga. It’s studied by yogis all over the world as it is considered a key philosophical writing within the yoga tradition. Patanjali explains how regular practice is essential to work towards a quiet mind. By regularly practicing yoga it will become part of the student and in turn you can tune inwards more easily.
One of the five Yamas, described in the Yoga Sutras, teaches us to be non-grasping (Aparigraha) whether it is material items or holding on to a former self. It’s about self-observation and being aware of when our ego is taking hold.
In chapter two, Patanjali tells us to cultivate opposites to help us with our practice. So when a negative feeling consumes or restricts us, the opposite should be cultivated. When you’re feeling frustrated, taking a few breaths to create calmness which can help overcome the frustration. It’s hard to control our emotions and feeling but acknowledging them is the first step.
In the children’s classes I teach I encourage them to use affirmations and this can counteract feelings of anxiety, worry or self-doubt. Cultivating an opposite to overcome a negative feeling. This can be a great game to play with children in the car or round the kitchen table during dinner. One person calls out a feeling and the others playing have to say the opposite. Happy / sad, self doubt / confident, failure / success, weak / strong. You can take it further by discussing situations that have made them sad over the last week and then asking them to remember times that have made them happy. Tying the two together and encouraging them to remember the happy when they feel sad will serve them as useful tool throughout their childhood.
As adults it is harder. It can be a colleague, friend, family member, parent or stranger that says or does something that upsets us or allows a strong negative feeling to manifest. Letting go of this and evoking aparigraha is difficult. The first step is trying to remove your mind from the situation. You are in control of you mind and where it wanders to.
Social media plays a huge part in our frustration, anger, self doubt and sadness. You may read something on Facebook and believe it’s true or it may upset you. It could be an image that illustrates a perfect life or family, a comment that irritates or something you know to be a lie. However acknowledging that it is just that and then taking a step back allows you to see the image or statement more clearly. Maybe it has come from misconception or it could be a false response to a situation. Not engaging may be a helpful initial step.
Alistair Shearer’s interpretation of a sutra in chapter explains ‘Imagination is thought based on an image conjured up by words, and is without substance’. Something that happens or is said can be misconstrued and we can imagine all sorts of connotations and the issue can grow arms and legs before we’ve actually analysed the truth. Being in tune with our senses, thinking about how we interpret through our senses, enables us to resolve inner obstacles and in turn obstacles outwith ourselves.
This week try sitting just for 5-10 minutes on a chair with your feet firmly on the ground and your hands comfortably in your lap. Close your eyes and breath through your nose. Once your mind has stopped racing and you feel a little more settled think of something that has happened in the last few days to make you feel sad, angry, disappointed or frustrated. Then conjure up the opposite, so a time that has made you feel happy, content, pleased or calm. By practising this little exercise more and more you will find when negative feelings arise you are more able to tune into your senses and use an opposite to counteract it.
This does not come easily, like all things in yoga, it’s a lifelong journey and practice. In Swami Chetanananda’s words ‘there is one thing that nobody can ever take away from you – the growth you attain through your own search for Self-knowledge.’
P.S. Little Yogi Illustration is obviously by the awesome Alison Soye!
P.P.S. Barefoot shoes for beach exploration are available from Vivobarefoot.