International Yoga Day 2017: Yoga is the key to living life with fullness
The goal of yoga is to achieve a state of no mind, a mind that is still and clear
We live in an environment that is by its very nature volatile, uncertain and impermanent. Yet interestingly enough, us humans, desperately seek peace, certainty and permanence from this very environment that is in constant flux. We all want to live meaningful lives and to be happy. And the Yoga Sutras, (the essential philosophy behind the life practice of yoga), teaches us that the only way to do this is by changing the way we think and interact with our physical environment, living with greater wisdom and awareness.
The truth is, we experience our entire lives through our minds — all our experiences of pain and pleasure, satisfaction and dissatisfaction stem from right here. If we are to live life being happy, peaceful and satisfied, then we must do what is needed to bring order to our minds and make it a fit instrument with which we experience this world. We cannot change the nature of the world that we live in, but we can certainly change the way we respond to all of life’s circumstances, living in a manner that supports our well-being and growth.
Our thoughts give rise to our emotions, which in turn influence how we speak and act. Through our actions and our speech, we impact our well-being and also all of our life experiences. And thus, to be happy, to live life strong and fearless, we must be willing to go to the root cause, to our mind. The ultimate goal of yoga as stated in the Yoga Sutra 1.2 is: yogah cittavrtti nirodhah. Which basically means, the goal of yoga is to achieve a state of no mind, a mind that is still and clear.
The true nature of the mind is vast, pure, wise, highly intelligent and creative. However, to experience the mind’s true nature, we must first train the mind to be still and clear, devoid of all its chaotic thinking. Our incessant mental activity causes the mind to become dull, which then leads to undisciplined thinking, which becomes the root cause of all our anxieties, fears and unhappiness.
Training the mind involves a process that takes discipline, focus and perseverance. Just like we need discipline to train our bodies so we can look good and be healthy, we must also be willing to put in the time and effort to train our minds to be a healthy place to live and operate from. How we perceive the world is by far the single most important element in living a life with fullness.
Training the mind is a process that can be broken down into four simple steps, known as the pre-meditative practices or samata.
Awareness is a critical first step. Most people do not even realise that incessant and chaotic mental activity actually hurts our well-being and prevents us from achieving our full human potential. It is precisely this incessant mental activity that diminishes our ability to access our vast and pure nature. In this state, we operate at a very superficial layer of consciousness, one in which we are complete slaves to our minds. Once we come into this awareness, the process to relax, tame and focus the mind begins. We do this through the breath.
Being able to focus the mind for long periods of time is a learned art. First we must learn not to let the mind come in and sweep us away into a deluded and imaginary world, where through wrong perception and our wild imaginations, we create a false reality and one that is mostly filled with stress and anxiety. It is this world that prevents us from staying still and being fully present to what is happening around us and within us. The practice of focusing the mind to be still and present, hones our ability to see life for what it is, so that we can approach our challenges with confidence and clarity, solving all our problems in a manner that is supportive of our wellbeing and growth into more expansive beings.
The final step, emptiness, is a result of being able to focus the mind for long periods of time. A mind that is empty and free of all its clutter and distractions is a mind that is the master, in full control. As we begin to awaken, we learn how to remain deeply rooted in our selves, strong, alert and lucid. More importantly, we start accessing far greater levels of consciousness, intelligence, wisdom and clarity, unconcerned with the ever changing, impermanent and volatile environment. We live with freedom and fluidity, celebrating life, and overcoming our challenges with confidence and mastery.
Simple Yogic Breath Meditation
Through this practice, you will learn how to relax your mind, and begin the process of becoming more a much more alert, aware and peaceful human being.
1. Sit up straight in a comfortable crossed-legged position, (or on a chair), with your shoulders rolled back and down. Feel the natural lift of your entire spine, keeping your chin parallel to the ground.
2. Focus on the inhalation and exhalation of your breath, as you slowly begin to disconnect from the outside world. Keep our eyes closed throughout this practice. Use your inhalations to draw your senses inwards and your exhalations to release all your thoughts and emotions—positive or negative.
3. Take a few moments to settle your mind.
4. Now drop your attention to the navel and very slowly inhale for four counts using your abdominal and spinal muscles. As you begin to inhale, mentally say "inhale—2, 3, 4", drawing the breath up your spine in a very gentle manner, extending the breath to the upper palette of the mouth. Do not create any stress in the chest as you breathe. Become aware of your expanding lungs, and extend your stomach outwards like a balloon, until your lungs are full. If you gently place two fingers on your relaxed abdominal (muscles), you will feel your hand being pushed outwards as you inhale deeply. Pause for a moment.
5. Then exhale for four counts, mentally saying,"exhale—2, 3, 4" as you gently release the breath back down the spine and through the navel, emptying out your lungs completely. As you begin the exhalation process, slowly draw the navel into the spine. To understand this movement better, place two fingers into your relaxed belly, and as you exhale deeply, you will feel the abdominal move away from the fingers and towards the spine.
6. The length of the inhalation should equal the length of the exhalation. Each inhalation and exhalation makes one round.
7. Complete five to 10 rounds then continue to sit quietly with your eyes shut and let your breath come back to normal.
8. Continue to breathe very slowly, and make an effort to breathe consciously and feel each breath. This allows you to stay focused and present.
9. Every time the mind wanders, you should be able alert enough to recognise this and come back to your breath. Don’t worry about the fact that you have thoughts in your mind, but be alert and do not let yourself get swept away by them. Focusing on and feeling the breath enables you to stay present, and builds your awareness to what is occurring within and around you, without allowing your mind to get clouded or disturbed.
10. Spend a minimum of 10 minutes daily and then increase the time as you get better at the practice.
Radhika Vachani is the founder of Yogacara Healing Arts and the author of Just Breathe
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