Photo shopping our Life

A loose working definition of mindfulness is paying attention, in the moment, on purpose. There is a fourth ‘rule’ which can be the most difficult and that is without judgment. So in order to do our yoga practice or live our life if we are to be truly mindful we will live without judgment on ourselves or those around us. This is often when we come unstuck, we judge everything in accordance to our preferences.

Throughout our lives we develop preferences for the way things should be. These are our likes. We usually also collect a lifetime of opinion on the things we don’t fancy or can’t abide, these are our dislikes. Through conditioning and habit these thoughts become part of our existence either consciously or subconsciously and they guide how we see the world which is basically into these two groups, like, want, desire, must have and don’t like, hate, reject, don’t agree with. Our behavior, then, is shaped by obtaining as much as we can from the first category and rejecting as much as we can from the second. This can be as simple as the food we choose to eat, to the more complex topics of our emotions and how we feel. In my yoga practice I am always doing the poses  I like because they feel good, are easy and obtainable and I spend a good deal of time avoiding classes or teachers that have the poses I don’t like. However sometimes I might just end up in class that I have been trying to avoid. This is when we can practice mindfulness.

It a difficult task not to judge. All our life we have been taught what is good or bad, what we should be doing or not doing, and how to seek out what pleases us and turn away from any little difficulty. But what if we could approach our life through a different lens? What if we could learn that what we have or are presented with at any given moment is neither good nor bad? What if we could experience life through a neutral lens? This is the true core of mindfulness, we see or feel something and we don’t attach any label to it, other than ‘ it is what it is’. When we do this we encourage more equanimity into our life. We accept life as it is presented to us. We learn that somethings, even though we don’t want them, may be just what we need. We take the shutters off our eyes and see life as it really is, just life, happening, neither good or bad, neither something to push away or yearn for.

Practice for this week. Try to neutralize your opinion on life. What someone says or  does you may not like or agree with but is this just your blinkered way of viewing the world? What you are given or not given is neither good nor bad. What you want or don’t want should not be a cause for more stress or tension as you struggle to push out of your life the undesirable parts. We  can’t photo shop our life into perfection so for this week just say to yourself ‘that’s just the way it is’.

The Obstacles in Our Way

There are many excuses we can make not to do yoga. The most common one I hear is ‘I’m not flexible enough’. This is similar to saying ‘I’m too dirty to take a bath’ or ‘I’m too hungry to eat or too tired to sleep’. The obstacle (the excuse/the problem) is also the answer, the way through. In Indian mythology the elephant-headed boy Ganesha is the symbol of these two states, both the obstacle and also the way through the obstacle. He is the road block as he protects his mother but also the path as we must go around to enter the castle. As we practice yoga we are presented with many obstacles on the path. We may find that we are tired, ill, feel lazy or tight. We may not want to practice or may feel uninspired. Patanjali lists the hurdles we must overcome on the way to our goal. They are;

  1. Vyadhi – illness
  2. Samsaya – doubt 
  3. Pramada – haste or impatience
  4. Alasya – resignation or Styana Tamas – fatigue
  5. Avirati – distraction
  6. Bhrantidarsana – ignorance or arrogance 
  7. Alabdhumikatva – the inability to take a new step 
  8. Anavasthitatvani – loss of confidence.

Anytime we encounter a hurdle such as the above it is like we are being poked by the tusk of Ganesha. We are being prompted with the question, ‘How much do you really want this thing?’ Each of the obstacles is a test of our determination, perseverance and willingness. Sometimes we overcome one hurdle only to be presented with another. Sometimes we invent our own obstacles. However they are presented to us they can all be seen as a gift. A gentle nudging to find a new way around or through to your goal like water sweeping around a rock as it flows down a river.

Practice for this week : What is it that you are trying to accomplish in your yoga practice, in your life? What obstacles are in your path? Are they real obstacles or ones that you have erected yourself? What is it that is really standing in your way of becoming the best version of yourself? List the impediments on your path and try to find a way through or round them.

Yoga pose to practice overcoming obstacles: The yin pose dragon splits ( hanumanasana) is a good test of building our resolve and finding a way to go through whatever is in your way. Hanuman was the little monkey who had to overcome self doubt so he could jump between Lanka and India in a single bound. This helps you to learn to stand in your own fire and help you remember who you really are without the obstacles. Picture credit yoga journal HP_212_Hanumanasana_248 Link to Yin Yoga about the dragons