Experience, not mixed with wisdom, is a thin thing. ~ Unknown
The Dalai Llama suggests that we do something new every year at the very least. My first spiritual teacher, a fierce Buddhist nun of German heritage, reflected on a life of exploration and taught that our spirits are nurtured by experiencing this beautiful planet as fully as we can. Shirley Daventry French, the yoga teacher who more than any other established the study and practice of Iyengar yoga in Western Canada, talks about ‘newness’; newness, according to Shirley, is the felt experience in the body-mind-breath-spirit that comes when we make connections to ourselves that life had previously deadened.
All yoga is experiential. Simply put it is a practice which one must do in order to know. In recessionary times such as these, people continue to come to class and practice at home because the experience is more valuable than some other purchase with the same money.
How does that work?
Research tells us that we become jaded with a new purchase after six to eight weeks or at the outermost limits by three months. The object we bought elicited positive feelings initially. But familiarity breeds contempt, as the old saying goes, and we become so familiar with the new car or electronic gizmo that it no longer holds the flush of pleasure.
On the other hand, a shared yoga class offers several lasting satisfactions. Social connection is a basic human need. Humans are pack animals and the group or clan is essential for our sense of belonging. In a yoga class, we become very aware of our own body-mind-breath-spirit. And as we assist each other we bond as fellow yogis in a mostly non-verbal but quite intimate process of discovery. In this setting the collective experience is in itself a source of pleasure. Often yoga students will comment that they do not get the same sort of depth in their personal practice of yoga at home as they do in class. Part of what is missing is the contribution of others to one’s effort and focus. The shared nature of the practice holds value.
As with holiday memories or other significant moments in life, our recollection grows more positive on reflection. Sharing with others offers staying power unlike the example of a purchase which does not hold personal happiness value over time. Ryan Howell, assistant professor at San Francisco State University, presented a study in March 2012 at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. He had studied 154 students whose average age was 25. The respondents stated that they felt a greater sense of vitality and being alive after shared experiences as contrasted with a favourite object purchased previously. Howell said, “As nice as your new computer is, it is not going to make you feel more alive.”
The distinction between owning something new and giving oneself meaningful experiences is a process of sorting values. Shall I remodel my kitchen or take a sabbatical and travel or study? Shall I burden myself with debt and wage slavery or shall I discover who I am in a discipline that takes me inward and produces feelings of quiet joy?
In the practice and study of yoga, you will find aliveness, vitality and strength such that you can no longer be easily recruited to the lure of buying things which have no lasting value while you accumulate a wealth of self knowledge that deepens your capacity to care about your community.
Kelly Murphy is owner of a yoga studio in Nanaimo.