Monday, May 21, 2012

True Health

Every practitioner, hands down, if you asked her would tell you there is one reason why she practices yoga. Its simple, really, the reason we all practice yoga is the same. Whether it is Ashtanga, Yin, Iyengar, Bikram or any other style, we are all in it for one reason; it makes us feel good. Every person on Earth, on some level or another, wants to feel good. Whether the sense of well-being is derived from getting out of physical pain, from having a clear mind, from improved relationships or even from a toned and fit-looking body, we all want to feel good. Pan back a bit and this idea of feeling good sits in a bigger context, that of health. According to the World Health Organization health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

So how does yoga help us improve this sense of well-being and live a happier, healthier life? My pondering on this started, of course, when I wasn’t feeling healthy at all—coughing my brains out in bed with bronchitis—and wanted to get healthy again. It was then that I stumbled across the sanskrit word swastha. Swa meaning self and Stha meaning to be established or steady. So, yogically speaking, true health is to be established in your self.

What the yogis mean is to be established in the part of ourselves that is unwavering, steady and stable. This is the part of us that can observe what is happening in our lives. The part that can witness our feelings, emotions, reactions, relationships and so on, without getting caught up in the roller coaster ride of their wild pendulum swings.

All of these experiences and our ensuing emotions are constantly in flux. One thing is for certain, what you experience and feel today will definitely be different tomorrow. We gain weight, we change jobs, get married, have babies, move to a new town. This churning whirlpool of change is like a shell, an outer layer, but underneath, there is a stable part of each of us that never changes. To identify with those changing and shifting parts of ourselves as the only thing we are is to live in samsara or endless suffering, trapped in the spinning whirlpool, as it were.

We need our minds to survive in this world, to know hot vs. cold or empty streets vs. those full of speeding cars. But the mind wants to keep things the same and resists the changes we must endure if we are to live in a human body. This causes a friction, an internal battle which, if left to rage, will turn first to agitation, then to discomfort, then sickness and finally to dis-ease.

Yoga to the rescue. On the yoga mat we move and stretch, we heat our bodies and our minds begin to relax. We breathe deeply and evenly in the victorious ujjayi breath and a miraculous thing happens; we feel good! We return to the seat of the witness. We watch our minds, our reactions, our feelings and practice embracing them fully, even if they are terrible and uncomfortable and ugly. And we learn that we are NOT our minds or those uncomfortable feelings we are watching and experiencing. Instead, we establish a seat inside all of the change. We push our bodies and practice staying present to our breath and noticing the emotional reactions to things like balancing on our hands in the middle of the room or dropping over backwards from standing into a full back bend. When we learn to stay calm despite the intensity, when we stay established in the unwavering part of ourselves no matter the circumstance, then we take a seat in true health.

Remember that regular practice is a type of housecleaning. If we clean a little every day its easy to keep up with, but if we wait weeks to clean, the dust piles up and more effort is needed to get in there and make it shine. To truly shine, we must be established in ourselves. Regular and consistent practice over an extended period of time and we become a little more familiar with the inner, unchanging landscape. The more time we spend there the more established we become and the easier it is to engage in the world while still being internally rooted.

Get to your mat and practice. Practice taking the stance of the witness. Breathe deeply and watch your breathing, especially when its challenging. Watch your mind’s reactions, notice your emotions and know that you are much more than them. They are a valuable part of you and your time here, but you extend well beyond the whirlpool of change. You are a naturally vibrant and healthy being, go and be established in your self.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Paisley. I appreciate your clear and thoughtful writing. Such a great reminder to practice, and then wake up and do it again (and again.)

    - Amie