..love is concerned
that the beating of your heart
should kill no one.
– Alice Walker
People come to yoga for many reasons. Often new students express a deep desire for refreshment and enjoyment in the body. In most beginner classes, little mention is made of the under-layers of spiritual richness that is integral to a yoga practice. Yoga, as it is currently portrayed in North America, has split off mind, feeling, and spirit and focuses exclusively on the body.
What does yoga offer that connects ourselves to Self? How is it a loving practice with the
power to transform?
Yoga offers precepts, called the Yamas and Niyamas, according to Patanjali, which remind us that consideration of others and self are fundamental to self respect. These guidelines are the first of the eight limbs of yoga, preceding asanas or pose work.
There is an elegant chain of spiritual evolution originating with self respect which arises when we restrain ourselves from harmful behaviour. Practising kindness is self perpetuating. We can appreciate our essential goodness and we are not disheartened when we confront difficulties on and off the yoga mat. As we strengthen resolve and appreciation for self and others what Sharon Saltzberg calls "gladdening” arises.
Think of gladdening as the state of mind that comes when you do something that reduces the suffering of others. It may be as simple as catching a spider in the bathtub and releasing it to safety, rather than drowning it. Paying attention to the moment the tiny insect is freed we may notice a shift in our own feelings. It is known as quiet joy. Hold that moment of awareness as sacred. It is a taste of awakening to compassionate action, to love.
On your yoga mat, offer a difficult pose to some part of you that is asking for wholeness, or to someone or some place on our planet desiring peace. Notice the body’s response and the gentle swelling of your heart. Or notice if you are comparing yourself unfavourably to another yogi and offer them your silent joy. For a more difficult practice of gladdening, extend your well wishes to someone with whom you have some difficulty. Notice your "compassion muscles” becoming more supple.
Happiness such as this is not going to break down when people do not behave as we might wish. Each time we exercise our restraint in the service of others and our better selves, we underpin integrity. From gladdening and quiet joy comes interior peace. And with a quiet mind we can see more clearly what we must do, based on the accuracy of our vision.
Each of us, according to Patanjali, is assailed by kleshas or obstacles to spiritual awakening. Anger, greed, hatred and lust separate us from ourselves and others. In contradistinction, opening to the universal call to support life, erodes the old habits which obstruct our liberation and we need no longer fear them.
This sequence, morality, restraint, gladdening, happiness, peacefulness and fading away of harmful thoughts and actions, says Saltzberg, "is as natural as the movement of the wind.”
Kelly Murphy is owner of Bend Over Backwards Yoga Studio in Nanaimo. Visit her website at: www.iyengaryogananaimo.com