Fondly reminiscing about my departed father yesterday brought back images of how he was with his five boys. Dad was warm and expressive in his affection and loved to just to spend time with the mob. He was also a product of his generation in his values with a strong work ethic and sense of personal worth derived from the level of success he achieved in the world. Expressions like “genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” and “when the going gets tough the tough get going” extolled the virtues of hard work and continuous application for overcoming life’s obstacles.
Well, in a certain way, he was right. Without some serious ongoing effort things don’t get done and progress eludes us. Or so the old narrative goes. But great wisdom books like the Bhagavad Gita have a radical take on what constitutes right effort and attainment. Yes, the Gita says in one of its descriptions of yoga that “Yoga is skill in action.” That would have had Dad onside. But how to go about doing what we do is deeply considered and discussed at length. And the Gita’s recommendations are unconventional. In light of today’s highly driven aspirational approach to getting ahead, the clear and unwavering guidelines given seem illogical and certainly impractical:
“The ideal is to be intensely active (so far so good)
And at the same time have no selfish motives,
no thoughts of personal gain or loss.
Action free of desire leads to inner peacefulness
and increased effectiveness.
This is the secret of living a life
of real achievement.”
In other words a life fraught with anxiety about “achieving” (the Gita’s choice of word) performance benchmarks and incessantly worrying about getting the best deal out of every situation produces the very result we seek to escape- the internal strife and suffering that is the only possible outcome from misplaced effort. Here the secret for success is to do the very thing that would seem to undermine attaining the desired result. The Gita also says that “peace follows renunciation” which doesn’t mean stop trying or not having things, rather give up the psychological noose of desire itself. The formula is simple: do the best you possibly can in every situation but don’t be attached to the outcome of the effort. Instead offer the results of the action performed to the welfare of all, the common good the Higher Self. Action conducted with attachment reinforces our sense of separation and ego. “ But, but if I don’t look after me, who will? It’s a cold hard dog eat dog world out there” is the mindset that has become so deeply entrenched. Again, the Gita answers:
“The small self sense is the major stumbling
block to real attainment and happiness.
Ego derives its power from the many
likes and dislikes imprinted in the mind.
This deeply embedded, largely unconscious
system of likes and dislikes is what gives rise
to one’s thoughts, desires and tendencies.”
Where there is the deep feeling of separation there is fear and desire which leads to greed. To be governed by these tendencies is to live a life that is unfulfilling and doomed to a pervasive sense of ultimate failure. Desire or attachment clouds our inner light, as a flame covered in smoke or a mirror covered with dust. The right effort or the skill in action then becomes “how can I do what needs to be done” with passion, dignity and a sense of joyfulness. I think Dad would have been content with these achievements.
My first exposure to “Yoga” was joining in on a Wednesday night class at my gym. My intention for this was simply to gain more flexibility and a little bit of stillness in my life.
At the time I thought ‘doing’ yoga would naturally bring me closer to what I thought yoga was all about.
My first class it was not a pretty sight trying to get into the majority of postures. There was so much tension and holding in my whole body.
I finished my first class frustrated by my lack of mobility and I decided to practice the postures more regularly.
Slowly but surely my body started to open and I started to enjoy my yoga practice more and more but still I felt as though something was missing.
At the time I had come to believe that “yoga” was something I needed to “do” to become more at peace.
However the more I practiced the more it seemed like this idealistic sense of peace was eluding me.
Coming from an elite personal training background my new found yoga approach was very active, often be forcing the body to get into certain postures to look like it did in the book. Pushing to gain that little bit extra was how things were done in the fitness modality. But the whole time all this did was create a mind that was busy and frustrated.
This went on for quite a while until I decided to undertake a yoga teachers training at Shantarasa’s school of Yoga and Meditation.
From day one everything changed.
This course was so much more than learning poses.
Truly it was a lesson in how to live ones life. A journey to rediscover the real Self.
With decades of experience and wisdom, Shantarasa’s two principal teachers (Sadhana and Keval) teach an authentic and traditional style which you often can’t find in the western world.
Both these individuals have beenon the path of Yoga for most of their adult livesand have a deep wisdom that only comes from learned firsthand experience.
To be honest, it’s much more thana Yoga Teachers Training Course.
It’s more of a total transformational course.
We started by learning Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga.
It didn’t take long for me to realise the yoga poses I had been “doing” was only but one the classical eight limbs.
This system was a detailed map to this deep inner peace I had been desiring.
The moment that shifted my awareness to truly practicing yoga however was discovering the last two limbs of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga
Dhyana (state of meditation) and
Samadhi (state of oneness);
Both of these last two limbs are said not to be something you do but rather something that happens to you when you allow yourself to cultivate a deeper state of awareness and practice yoga in each moment.
I saw the way I had been going about my practice was not yoga at all. It was simply exercise!
I began to cultivate a deeper state of awareness in relation to the mind, body and even environment.
Until studying Yoga Teachers Training with Shantarasa, a lot of emphasis had been on the “doing”to achieve a certain postures, rather than simply releasing tension and opening into the flow of movement and stillness with ease and trust.
I found that same attitude could be translated into living from that balance in my everyday life.
I discovered that yoga is not something you “do” on a mat but rather is lived out in each moment.
“Being yoga” is an ongoing expanding of ones awareness that unravels layers of unnecessary complexity.
No longer do I feel like life is happening to me, but rather life is happening for and through me.
Now I have the ability to be more present in any given moment, and the power to wisely choose appropriate responses rather than just reacting.
My life today is naturally more simple yet immeasurably richer in every aspect.
I finally discovered the sense of peace I had been searching for.
I now know that to live from this connection every day is to truly to be “living” Yoga.