‘A thousand little freedoms that we accomplish each day’

Why do yoga? For the health benefits? To try to achieve a particular physique? To escape our daily stresses?

Eddie Stern, who is an author and the director of Ashtanga Yoga New York, wrote this piece last year in the Huffington Post:

While in America there are certainly are many practicing yoga with profound sincerity, it seems as though they are dwarfed by a multi-billion dollar industry that is largely focused on, well, selling stuff that we don’t really need to practice yoga.

Anyway, let it be. That spirit of commercialism and consumerism has helped to make yoga a household word, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. I believe that increased accessibility to yoga is a positive result of yoga’s modernization.

Why do I believe this? Because everyone experiences suffering. Suffering is undiscriminating and it comes to all who live on this planet. Yoga affirms, though, that there is a way to deal with it: by practicing yoga poses, by breathing consciously for a few minutes each day, and by being attentive, thoughtful human beings, we can mitigate the mental torments we all experience.

What I loved about this post in the Huffington Post — one of the most influential blogs out there right now — is that Stern cuts to the chase about what yoga is about to an audience not necessarily primed for it.

During the week-long training I took with David Swenson in 2009, someone asked him what his elevator pitch for Ashtanga yoga is. I thought then and I still think now that it was a good question — because there are inevitably times when talking to someone who is curious about yoga when you can say the right thing to pique their interest enough that they commit to at least try it once.

Yoga as a system is designed to do nothing less than liberate us. By connecting breaths to movement, yoga helps us to focus on our breath and free us from the relentless invasion of thoughts and worries that invade our mind-space — even if that freedom lasts for a few seconds or for a few minutes while we are practicing on our mat.

Moksha is the Sanskrit word for liberation. The entry for “moksha” in B.K.S. Iyengar’s gorgeous, must-read book Light on Life says, “See freedom.”

I love what Iyengar writes in the chapter “Living in Freedom”:

I have suggested that moksha is a thousand little freedoms that we accomplish each day — the ice cream returned to the freezer or the bitter retort left unsaid.

He also later reiterates that moksha is “training in detaching ourselves from the sufferings of everyday life, in a thousand ways.”

I really like that. Maybe I should make that my elevator pitch for what yoga is and why it’s worth practicing.

I have so much more I would say but I am writing blog post on my iPhone while relaxing at the beach. Moksha indeed.

Hope you find your own little freedom on this Independence Day — and every day.

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(Photo credit: By Evaporation Blues)

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Not living life through the rearview mirror

An abandoned baseball

Armando Galarraga was traded today from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks. If you’re a baseball fan, I don’t need to include a boilerplate. But the journalist in me will provide one anyway: On June 2, 2010, Galarraga would have become the 21st pitcher in history to pitch a perfect game had it not been for an umpire’s lousy — and it was truly lousy — call.

I wrote a blog post about it at the time. I was angry. I still am — though more than anything else, my disgust is more directed toward Bud Selig refusing to overturn the call.

In a USA Today story, Galarraga is quoted as saying:

Everybody knows what happened. Sometimes, I want to be myself. I want it to be over. Nobody’s perfect. Let’s turn the page.

Even as he’s being traded, Galarraga is showing his yogic sensibilities.

Moving on — that’s a hard thing, and something that consistent yoga practice can help us achieve. It’s hard to forge ahead when you can’t take your eyes off the rearview mirror. Whether it’s a memory, a past relationship, or a regret, I’ve found that trying to brute force that process of letting go rarely ever works. And I know I’m not alone. Most of us have a tape that plays in our head — a tape that we wish we could turn off, or at the very least quiet down.

So how does coming to the mat day after day help us let go? In yoga, we use the body to get beyond the body, as I often say. During a yoga practice, we are seeking to open and expand — on the level of the body, the mind and the spirit. Linking breath to movement through yoga postures can, when the frequency is right, make us emotionally accessible enough to let something fall away. Or, if that thought or memory or feeling is lodged in pretty deep, the difficult work of a yoga practice can at least loosen that something.

B.K.S. Iyenger writes in his gorgeous book Light on Life:

Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, chose to make the workings of mind and consciousness, both in success and in failure, the central theme of yoga philosophy and practice. In fact, from the yogi’s point of view, practice and philosophy are inseparable. Patanjali’s first sutra says, ‘Now I’m going to present the disciplined code of ethical conduct, which is yoga.’ In other words, yoga is something you do. So what do you do? The second sutra tells us, ‘Yoga is the process of stilling the movements and fluctuations of the mind that disturb our consciousness.’ Everything we do in yoga is concerned with achieving this incredibly difficult task (p. 108).

“Incredibly difficult” — talk about an understatement. But that’s what it takes to start the long journey of separating from a memory or a script that we’ve written for ourselves.

Galarraga’s right once again to say that it’s time to move on and keep the focus on the road ahead, not the one left behind in the dust.

Good luck in Arizona, Armando. Thanks for being such a good sport.

(Photo credit: Marcus McCurdy)