Category Archives: Yoga Theory

Resiliency

What was 2020, if not a test of resiliency. After I started writing this post, Ontario announced another lockdown. Here we are again – another test! This pandemic has thrust us into some of the biggest changes and challenges of our lives and despite our many differences, we are contending with many of the same fears and hurdles. What has helped you through this time? 

Through my greatly narrowed window to the outside world, I have marvelled at the fortitude and ingenious ways we have continued to find joy and support. Resiliency is a term that can be defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”. We practice yoga to increase the resiliency and adaptability of our body and mind. This work helps us determine what is useful and to discard what is not helpful.

Uncertain times test our perseverance and resiliency. We see individuals donate to the food banks, and those who never needed food assistance before, now use the food bank. We have theatre online, work and school online, grocery online, doctors online, and community groups online and socially distanced. More people took to camping and spending time in nature. We made nests of our homes and we continue to find brilliant and creative ways to adapt. Many like me found support in nature, in family, and online. I Skyped, Facetimed and Zoomed to keep connected. I enjoy solitude but I needed to see my family, my friends, clients and students. Humans need contact. Pandemic or not, life will always be a rollercoaster of joys and sorrows and the practice of resiliency is vital to ride the highs and lows.

During times of hardship, we often will put our head down and barrel through the tough times until we feel our circumstances change. We ignore how we are truly feeling. Listening and respecting how we feel, both good and bad, is a part of resiliency. Without respecting and listening the entire breadth of our feelings and experience, we are not whole or resilient. We are denying and there is no way to move from our current situation and we risk being further entrenched and stagnant. The experts have many different ways to explore adaption and resiliency. Yoga too has many concepts. Here are a few to ponder. 

            Brahmacharya: Broadly, Brahmacharya can be considered “wise use of energy”. It is a Yama, or a restraint as detailed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Wise use of energy – what does that look like for you? Take a moment to consider the direction of thought energy and physical energy. Is it serving you? How is it helpful and can it make of greater use of the mind and body elsewhere? 

            Vairagya: Vairagya translates to dispassion. It is doing everything that needs to be done (think best practices) and not concerning ourselves solely with the results of the outcome. Think about a marathon runner concerned more about winning a race than determining the proper training and engaging in the appropriate practice to achieve their best in the race. Logically, we know that planning and training is key. It is being in the moment and letting go of expectation. Vairagya or dispassion allows us to concentrate on the productive practice and release the worry and grasping of the results. Here we can enjoy the process and each small moment, and we can apply this to all the aspects of our life. 

Kama: Kama is desire, wish, love, pleasure or affection. When hardship comes our way, it is easy to forget and forego the joys and desires of life. For example, we forget that going for a walk in the moonlight makes us feel joyful. Kama is considered one of the four aims of life known as the Purusartha. Find time to spend focused on Kama, our wishes and our loves. We must ponder our deepest desires. Consider the senses, and what would pleasure them. Think smells, sights, touch, hearing, and taste. Think dance, music, tasty food, touch and affection, working with wood or wool, joyous smells, inspiring and awe making views and vistas. It could be painting, hiking and smelling pine trees, cooking, companionship, reading a story and noticing how old paper smells. Find small joys and experience glimmers of light and even make that light ourselves when we are burdened with a sea of darkness. Remain open to joy.

The practice of yoga allows space for us to be aware of the uncomfortable feelings and sensations and to also encourage change and the open the door to experience small joys. In our journey, may we continue to ask for help and give help. May we find space for our feelings and notice where we feel most comfortable and take time there. May we rest in resiliency in our deepest driving desires. 

 

           

       

The way too serious ego

The ego takes life very seriously. It says, “How am I perceived, and can I look better, be better, and do better than someone else”. The ego is a ladder climber even if it has you climbing a ladder you really have no true interest in climbing. You then ask, “How did I get here?” That is the ego in a nutshell. The ego is a big topic, and this is a small ponder. It is worth the short consideration, so here we go. 

Most of us spend a good portion of our days living from our ego and our unconscious patterns or habits. We see “successful” and “popular” individuals as happy, which they may, or may might not be. The grass is always greener is the ego talking to us. I feel like many of us at some point have experienced being at the top of our family/work/social life however we still experienced unhappiness and discontent. That means there is something else, something deeper. It isn’t the good job, the spouse, the raise, and the praise that makes us happy. This makes me so curious. How do we increase happiness and where does it come from? 

Yoga teaches us that we are not our ego and that seeking recognition (conscious and unconscious) is unhelpful to live joyfully. The ego is not our truest self, even though it feels that way. The ego is always on the ready even if we feel we are ego free we just might be moving from old patterns formed by the ego. The ego can be controlling and powerful. I am always curious when I feel, or I see others need to be recognized and validated and how we consciously or unconsciously invalidate others? The ego is strong with us humans. Why do I care if my family recognizes that I cleaned the floor? This is a complex, layered concept to navigate. 

There have been scholarly non yoga books written on this very subject where we learn many stories of finding purpose and joy. One researcher relayed that he learned that the happiness of his subjects was attached to acting with innermost purpose and drives and not from recognition. For example, one successful executive he interviewed found happiness when they followed a deep interest to help people declutter and never looked back! That is one fantastic and brave leap to greater happiness.

In part, The Bhavagad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra speak to where we can focus our attention. There is a seed and fruit analogy used in yoga. I have simplified it below and it can be a useful framework to help us make choices. It helps fine tune where we have control and where we can act. There are three broad groups listed in the texts. 

  • Dormant seeds waiting to be sprouted. They might not ever sprout, and they are currently hidden. Think both positive and negative.
  • Seeds that have sprouted. These are actions already in play. Think of your current physical experience, mental experience. This moment cannot be changed. 
  • Seeds we are planting. We can plant positive or negative seeds. This is the only place where we can make change to our lived experience. 

Each moment we can plant a new seed and take a new direction. We have a choice on seeds we are planting and which direction we are going. The texts say we can make our decision:

  • Without attachment to the benefits of the action
  • From the ego mind
  • With dullness of mind and without moral consequences

To stay focused our side of the grass, non-attachment is vital. If we are attached, we are in the ego mind.  If we are in the ego mind and are looking at our neighbour’s grass. Non-attachment is where we experience greater satisfaction and happiness.

If the exploration into the ego and your happiness interests you, decern small seeds (actions) to plant. Plants seeds that highlight your innermost joys. You will know it is right because it will be more effortless. Listen to the deepest parts of your heart. Finding more quiet time to establish a relaxed state for the nervous system and the mind will help set the stage for you to listen deeply and plant incredible seeds.  

Act from a place of wonder, peace and curiosity. Giving our amazing gifts without strings can make one feel less confined and it will allow for feelings of happiness and openness to arise. Still, the grass will seem greener on the other side at times. That is part of the fluctuations of the forces of our nature. These forces (guna) are always in flux. We can be moving toward stability, toward inertia/stagnation or moving for the sake of moving. Keep up the effort and continue to turn your boat to ride the waves toward stability. This is where my efforts lie.

Dig deep to uncover those innermost desires and let your joy sing out loud. Kindness and attentiveness for yourself and others. Have fun! We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously…that is the egos job. 

A practice of Patience

Take a moment. Consider how patience feels in your body. Now consider how impatience feels. The difference is incredible. What does too much patience feels like. A little stagnant for sure. The question is how do we move toward balance. This also begs the question that when we feel passion or want to act against injustice, can this be done from a place of patience. One might think that patience means a lack of urgency or importance. Could patience allow for the perseverance to move toward righting injustice?

Patience is defined in the Webster dictionary as “to manifest forbearance under provocation or strain: not hasty or impetuous: steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity, and bearing pains or trial calmly or without complaint.”

I struggle with some of this definition but the term that resonates with me is steadfast. Patience certainly is not a practice of non engagement or being passive. One can be in control and steadfast, with purpose and stay in the present moment. Perhaps it would look like taking the time to listen and consider the thoughts and ideas of others, taking the time to express your ideas and wonders and taking the long game towards relationships, personal goals and societal injustices.

More often than not, my mind moves beyond the current moment and it recalls and interprets both consciously and unconsciously the past or forecasts the future. In other words, my mind gets in the way. Consider, when we feel like we have something figured out or we dismiss what we don’t understand. Active listening can be tenuous when patience is out of balance in either direction. When I become quiet and present, I understand that my current abundance or lack of patience comes from several well honed drives and reinforced behaviours. Like a mountain appearing before me, making the changes I desire seems more arduous and multi fasciated. This climb is not without reward.

In yoga, we have a concept called the kleshas and it is defined as an obstacle or an affliction.  Firstly, we have the hurdle that yogis would call incorrect understanding or comprehension. How often do we know for certain that we have reasoned correctly and our perception is without error. We might also feel all other interpretations are flawed at worst or not fully formed at best. One could think of our understanding as illusion. Consider too the ego mind and the many past experiences that have provided each of us with deep patterns of expectation and automatic reaction felt emotionally and physically. Finally, consider that we are unconsciously making decisions toward experiences of pleasure and we are repelled by suffering and unpleasantness.

How do we look to remove these unconscious obstacles? In yoga, we have the practice of focusing the mind. This practice could be meditation and it could also be the active practice active listening, and mindful movement to name a few. Here we learn the skill of being present and that the feelings both good and bad always come and always go.

Only practice leads to new skills. The skills of being present are simple to practice however it does take steadfastness and constant practice to develop patience. Practicing patience to increase patience. Curious isn’t it! Well not so much.

Being present is being patient. Can one be patient and act in the world? It would be the most steadfast, respectful, productive, and self honouring way to do so. This is the mountain and I have some thinking and climbing to do.

The Yoga of Being

 We spend our days doing, doing and well, doing some more.  We are champs at achievement and of accomplishment. We give ourselves permission and reward others for blind effort and society rewards us for breakneck speed and achievement regardless of the costs. In yoga, we often hear that we are human “beings” not human “doings”. This is where the concepts of yoga brilliantly provides us with perspective.

In yoga, there is the concept of Abhyasa. This translates to practice or effort. This term is seen in the sutra texts of Patanjali starting at Sutra 1.12.  Patanjali further defines the qualities of practice where the practice must be sustained for a long time with devotion, or the appreciation of the benefit. Sound reasonable? If you are looking for change this is the way to do it. Where then is the balance to check the rajasic striving, the do anything beyond all costs type of effort which most of us subscribe to or perhaps the only way we know? Patanjali couples Abhyasa with the concept of Vairagya. Vairagya is a practice of non-attachment.

Practice and non-attachment are a marriage of sorts; a beautiful balancing of effort and release.  The union and juxtaposition of these concepts will forever intrigue me. It has a push and pull, a tension that makes me curious and at the same time both comfortable and ill at ease. After being introduced, studying and practicing the concepts of Abhyasa and Vairagya, my competitive athlete brain was utterly mystified by the concept of non-attachment in the face of effort and striving with any kind of success. And after years of practice, I have experienced the benefits. I find comfort in Vairagya, yet there are many times, I confess, when the finer details of non-attachment elude me.

The working title of this article was originally The Yoga of Doing Nothing, since most people believe that non-attachment is the opposite of doing something.  I thought it was catchy, but it was also wholly inaccurate as non-attachment is a very active practice. So I ditched it. While most agree that non-attachment is yogic and also a “good thing”, as Martha Stewart would say, we are inundated and encouraged with the opposite. We are attached to our outcomes and our successes, and we are especially attached to failure and the possibility of failure. So much so that we might not even begin the “practice”. Perhaps cultivating non-attachment would also help us tear down the walls of our perceived abilities.

I recall watching Olympic coverage on television where the U.S. ski athletes were talking about how they trusted in their ski training program. They added that they had faith that practice would bring them to their peak performance. They also noted how trust in their training plan allowed them to enjoy the experience. More importantly, they felt they were at their best when they did not be worry about the results. The U.S. ski team had a very yogic thinking approach to their coaching. Perhaps that is why they were so successful. This is the practice of Abyhasa and Vairagya. I recall my joy for the athletes experience, considering how hard it is to compete at that level.

When you look at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, etc. we see posts that encourage achievement. Even in yoga, we see individuals pictured in social media, in crazy poses, with retweets and accolades that come from the awe of these achievements. We all get swept up in the hype and begin to find ourselves competing with others both on and off the yoga mat. We relish the praise we receive for the number of hours we worked, the fact that we did a 15 minute headstand. This is not unlike the praise we receive when we proudly say we can work with little sleep.

This only encourages further one dimensional striving and less awareness. For those who engage in seemingly inhuman yoga poses, we cannot tell if their life is happier for achieving this feat, or even if they were injured doing this. I, for one, would love to see more experiences of “being” in the yoga world and media, but this doesn’t seem to capture the public as a whole. I am open to finding ways to do this and will support all means to this end.

Imagine, the brilliance of the experience, whether it is a yoga pose, a meditation, making dinner or doing volunteer work with greater awareness of journey and the non-attachment of the outcomes. The gem is being unattached to the accolades and being of aware of our inner life. What would happen if we did the work but were unattached to the outcome, praise, and criticism associated with the goal?

I have a disclaimer that practicing non-attachment is not for the faint of heart, and this introduction is intended only to let your toe dip into the big pool of the concept of Vairagya. Vairagya has many layers. A good place to start to explore this concept is in savasana. The side benefit of exploring in savasana is the restorative and healing benefits that comes from this active adventure in non-attachment.

Savasana as an opportunity to explore non-attachment

For 20 minutes each day find time to practice letting go, and explore the concept of non-attachment. Position yourself lying comfortably on your back. Ensure you are well supported, warm and place your head shoulders and hips on the same level. Lessen any physical discomfort with the use of props, such as blankets and rolls. It is important that you feel well supported.

Once comfortable, close your eyes. As you move from seeing to not seeing, notice your awareness changing. One of the senses now is withdrawn. Let the mind rest within the body and breath. This is where we look to be the “human being” and not the “human doing”. Take a few minutes to allow your body to settle. You can actively be aware of tight areas and take the time to let them settle into the support you have provided yourself.

Next take your attention back to your breath. You may notice that you want to change the breath. Be curious. You may feel the need to adjust, or even feel emotionally uncomfortable with the breath. That need to judge and to change is in each of us. This is where we begin our practice of non-attachment.

At this point, we often automatically look to control the breath, to force it to what we think is correct. We consider making it longer, employing the belly breath, or the 3 part breath, grasping to remember what the last yoga teacher said. We want to control the breath and the body to what we perceive as correct or right. Here is your turning point. Consider doing less. Consider not being attached to a technique. Consider just being.

Become an explorer, as curious watcher of the body and breath. You have no stakes in the results; you are unattached to what you need or expect. With each need to change or judgement of your experience that comes up, you let go of it and again you bring the mind back to becoming a humble witness.

As we practice non-attachment and letting go, we slowly become aware of all the layers of fluctuations. We are cognizant of all the holding in the body, mind and breath.  Some of these sensations might be familiar or foreign to us. Continue not to change or attach judgement to the awareness. Continue to come back to being, not doing or judging.

The beginning practice in Vairagya is powerful. Permit yourself to take some time each day to not be attached to the sensations or thoughts, or the outcomes of the practice. Enjoy!

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Kimberly Mantas lives and works out of Ottawa, Canada. She is a Yoga Therapist, Meditation and Hatha Yoga Teacher with Mantas Yoga and loves to hang out at Blue Bamboo Yoga and Beyond Yoga and her health partners. She thinks yoga therapy rocks and is an always curious sort – ever excited when people get to know their bodies and minds better.