So you go to your yoga class every week and get your dose of calm and balance, then something challenging happens in your life and wait… what? Where did all that calm and balance go?
Throughout all my years practicing yoga, I’ve come to understand more and more that yoga is a way of life. We learn so much about ourselves in class, but everything becomes even more inspiring when we take yoga out of the studio and into our daily life.
I’ve been going through some very challenging times lately – a period of transition, after being refused a migration visa to Australia and having to leave the country, not currently having a home, and facing a romantic relationship which didn’t work out. My life turned upside down overnight, and a great deal of emotions and feelings surfaced because of it – one after the other, hitting me in the face. Nothing else to say – life has now asked me to dive deeply within. And there’s no doubt that yoga – in its many forms – is a tool which has helped me throughout this process. I’ll be eternally grateful to all my teachers who’ve taught me the different aspects of yoga, enabling me today to quickly go back to that place where I’m grounded, present and observing thoughts and emotions, instead of engaging with them, as well as to channel my energy thoughtfully.
Grounding asanas bring the body to the here and now, stimulating the mind to follow. I preferentially like seated or kneeling asanas, in which my legs/feet or the base mūlādhāra chakra has a connection to the earth. I’ve been doing some of the poses of the Pawanmuktasana 1 (PMA 1) series, working the joints from a half lotus position. I find that unblocking prana (energy) from the joints has an effect on how I feel open yet grounded, plus the seated posture helps to improve that solid aspect of myself. Shashankasana (child’s pose) brings me home to myself and gives away any kind of anxiety. I’ve found that chakki chalanasana (churning the mill) has also been very beneficial, providing a great energy connection to the earth from the base chakra, plus a lot of core strengthening to help keep that groundedness in. Similarly, namaskarasana (salutation pose), not only plants the feet on the floor and allows for that mūlādhāra chakra-earth connection, but also opens the heart for what may come. As for standing poses, I’ve been practicing tadasana (palm tree pose) – the feet planted on the floor helps with the groundedness, while the arms moving and the spine stretching remind me that I can be flexible and grounded at the same time. Finally, I’ve also practiced some kashtha takshanasana (chopping wood) in the forest (can it get more appropriate?). This has helped me with the anger that sometimes comes up – a nice asana to channel that angry energy, instead of letting it out inharmoniously or keeping it in, overwhelming the body and mind. (Go to Health & Harmony’s Facebook page or to the Instagram page for a video of me ‘chopping wood’!)
A great teacher once said that fifteen minutes of ajapa japa meditation everyday could change the meditator’s life. That inspired me to go back to practicing it – something I had done a lot of in the past.
Swami Satyananda has said:
Ajapa japa meditation helps one to withdraw the senses and awaken self-awareness. It removes the impurities of the mind. A burning lamp cannot give full illumination if its glass is covered in smoke. Only when the glass is cleaned will the lamp shine fully. Similarly, the light or the power of the atman is within us, but it does not manifest itself in our daily life because of the hindrances of the thought process, the vagaries, dissipations and distractions of the mind.
Combining meditation, pranayama (breathing practices), mudra (energy circuits) and mental repetition of a mantra, ajapa japa has helped me regain self-awareness and a subtler, harmonious mind, stopping the inner distractions. The teacher was right – things have started to shift for me!
Yamas and Niyamas
Going a bit off the practical side of yoga, the yamas and niyamas – the ‘codes of living’, so to speak – have also been of help. Firstly, by practicing the yama ahiṁsā (non-violence) towards myself. When we act with this yama in mind, we respect our own body, mind and thoughts. We don’t push ourselves to the point of harm physically or mentally. At times, I’ve felt pushed beyond my limits. However, looking back, I can see I’ve also looked after myself with care. As with everyone else, I’m still learning and maturing, so part of the process has included being compassionate towards myself, knowing that I’ve been doing my best.
As for the niyamas, I’ve been practicing svādhyāya, which in broad terms means self-study and having a commitment to or making an effort towards studying about the self. Well, I’m currently at a Vedanta retreat as I write this post, so yes, clearly studying about the self 😉 Beyond that, I’ve increasingly been reflecting and contemplating on the emotions and thoughts that have come up, trying to understand my true essence behind all of this.
Mantras offer such a great support to my mind. I’ve particularly chanted to the goddess Durgā, invoking the 32 qualities of this fierce goddess. According to Swami Satyananda, these 32 qualities are recited for inner peace and to overcome difficulties. And I can see why – because Durgā is the mother (or the aspects of the mother figure that exists within us all) that takes the pain away, that has all the powers and weapons to destroy all of that which we don’t want, that cuts through ignorance and points us to the goal. And being a mother figure, she nurtures us, she holds us in her arms, taking away all the fear. What an excellent support to have – when I chant to Durgā, I feel like I’m mothering myself, bringing out in me all the support and strength I need.
Here’s a recording of me chanting to Durga.
Now, does that mean that you have to follow exactly these practices above when facing challenging times? No! There is no prescription or formula, no one right way. What is important is to become aware of your body and mind, noticing what practices you learn in class which will work for you also out of the yoga studio. Thus, make the most out of your yoga classes, so you can apply what you practice there to your daily life in challenging times too.
Om tat sat