Enriching your Yoga Practice

Everest from TengbocheCreative Commons License photo credit: SWolfeNI8W

Several years ago – almost a lifetime it seems, I made my way to Tibet after four long years traveling the back roads of twenty countries.  I wasn’t a tourist, please understand – but instead a man searching for spiritual truth and a REASON for this life.  I travelled a route similar to the Dalai Lama’s when he escaped Tibet, with the exception that I started in Kathmandu and stayed high in the mountains on foot.

Foolishly, I had assumed it would be relatively easy to avoid Indian, Nepalese and Chinese patrols…not so.  I had also made the mistake of not giving the Himalayas the respect they demand – mountains as old and wise as the Himalayas are much like the ocean; Either one will kill you in a heartbeat if they think you are not giving them the respect they deserve.

Almost dead

I’m going to sum the rest up, as it is not the point of this article…twenty six days later I awoke after a six day coma/fever and nearly losing half of my left leg to frostbite.  The weathered face that greeted me when my eyes opened cracked into a grin at my return from the other side – only later did I find out that for the last day or so he and the other monk who had found me had begun prayers from the Tibetan Book of the Dead in preparation for my passing on.

The month I stayed with the two monks who had saved my life taught me more about meditation than anything I had learned in the past.  In western culture, the whole concept has become so commercialized – it never ceases to amaze me to hear how one technique is so much better than the other, or how this technique or that technique will achieve ‘spiritual bliss.’  In all my travels I have learned one secret about meditation; there is no better technique than your own.

Trust in the Spirit Within

Okay, by this point if you are reading this you are probably wondering how this relates to enriching your Yoga practice.  Please be patient, one must learn to ‘feel’ a story versus simply reading one – words themselves have no power, it is the thoughts and emotions behind the words that will convey the true message.

It does not matter WHY you chose to take up Yoga, or whether you happen to believe that at your core you are a spiritual being – your practice is working for you to bring your mind, body AND spirit into a state of harmony.  Aside from the physical benefits, there is something else happening to you; your ability to focus your awareness is growing, as is the general day to day state of your awareness.  Any practice that contributes towards building these deeper, less material aspects of your Yoga is a good thing – and it works both ways.

You already know how to meditate

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “meditate” as follows:  “To reflect deeply on a subject,” or “to think intently and at length.”  I disagree.  Meditation is anything that brings about a complete lack of thought, plain and simple.  Let me explain.  Have you ever done something where you were either so frightened or so full of adrenaline that the rules of time seemed to disappear?  If you think about that moment, you will realize you heard yourself talking inside your head (thinking) before and after, but not during.  You may also find this occurring in your Yoga practice already, at first sporadically, but growing in depth as time progresses.  There are many other examples I could list, but I ask you to take it on faith instead of boring you with endless details.

This lack of thought is an ‘awakening moment’ when you become truly human, if only for a moment.  You stop being a human-doing and a human-thinking and become a human-BE-ING, feeling the world around you, even defying the laws of time and space in the process.  A moment can seem to last a lifetime, a day may disappear in a heartbeat.

What I would like you to try

Fifteen minutes before your regular Yoga practice, find a comfortable place to sit, either in a straight-backed chair, on a stool with your back straight, or in Sukasana, Vajrasana, Siddhasana or the Lotus Pose.  Whichever position you choose, let it be one where your back is straight and you are comfortable.  Drop your eyes so that you are looking down the plane of your nose, but do not go cross-eyed in the attempt, let it come naturally.

Breathe with your belly, do not attempt to control your breathing, your body knows how to breathe better than you do.  Instead, simply allow yourself to ‘step back’ in your mind and watch as thoughts arise and fall.  If you find yourself pulled into daydreaming, or following a thought, do not be upset with yourself, do not push.  Instead, acknowledge the thought and let it go, returning to watching your thoughts rise and fall.  Try this for one week every day prior to your Yoga practice and see the results.  Remember, that as with when you first began your Yoga practice, you only have yourself to contend with, there are no mistakes, only learning…

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