Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Feed your flame

     
Much of the yoga practiced in the west is heavily focused on asana - the physical postures.  Students often come to yoga with broken bodies and broken spirits with the hopes it might reduce their lower back pain and maybe one day they will be able to touch their toes, which often happens dramatically fast.  The physical aspects of yoga are most often what initially lure aspirants to a mat, but somewhere along the way we start to notice a difference in our mood, our outlook on life, and our increased abilities to handle stressful situations with a sense of equanimity.  
     I have participated in many fitness activities over the years, and just prior to yoga was a six day a week swimmer putting in an average of 2500 meters a day in the pool. After time, like many things we do repetitively, I developed a nagging shoulder injury that made my daily slog in the lap pool a chore.  It also mentally affected me with frustration leading to stress and anxiety.  The way I typically went about injuries was to just take some Motrin, maybe ice it from time to time, but to just push through it.  Yoga has taught me that I need to listen more closely to my body, for the pain we often suffer is an indication of something deeper.  For instance, if someone is struggling with feelings of self worth it can often express itself in the way they physically carry their bodies. Shoulders and neck may droop forward, which affects the breath and physiological structure of the body.  Sore shoulders and back, weak abdominals, and decreased lung function can result. I mean, who wants that mess?!  
     One of the messages of this post is to serve as a reminder to receive guidance from the inner wisdom of our divine Self.  That Self, purusha, is the divine unchanging presence within us all.  It is our inner wisdom, and it is sacred.  I'm not a religious person, but my studies into yoga have helped me come to terms with what god means to me.  I believe there is a god within us all, and that god is that divine and wise Self. It is in this sense we are all connected as human beings. One of my teachers often says something in class which I'll paraphrase.  "We are not human beings who have spiritual experiences. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."  Simple. Profound.
Photo by Mei Ling, one of my classmates,
a nurse who left her home in Taiwan to attend the Yoga Therapy
masters program in the US for two years. 
    This past weekend in yoga grad school, "Yoga College" I like to call it, we all performed simple version of Puja, which is "the act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs, and rituals." (Learn more about puja here.  We each sat facing the wall in front of  our little makeshift altars constructed of two yoga blocks stacked with a mirror on top. In front of us there were placed several items, including incense, flower petals, uncooked rice, water, a tangerine, and a candle.  We offered each item in a little ceremony, first holding it in front of our hearts and taking in the wisdom of what the object represented to us, then sending it out towards the little altar and back to our hearts three times in a circular motion.  It's a simple yet powerful practice to try. 
     In closing I'll share this thought that came to mind during the puja. The act of holding a flame close to the heart reminded me of the inner light within me, within you...that purusha I mentioned.  Sending it out in circles to the altar and then back towards the heart sent me a powerful message, and that message is that a flame gives so much. It gives light to see, heat to warm our bodies and cook with, enables us to create glass and metal, and even nature uses it to purify and renew the land.  But for fire to exist is must receive oxygen, otherwise it would cease to be fire.  Just like that fire, we as people need to remember to allow ourselves to receive loving kindness and compassion, to listen to our body when it's trying to send us a message that change is needed. It's often harder to receive than it is to give, but remember, you will quickly extinguish the flame within you if you do not allow this to happen.  So keep sharing your light with the world, but do remember to allow others to share their light with you, and most importantly to share your own light with yourself.  It is in this sense we all feed the flame of collective divine Self, which is something the world desperately needs today. 
My little home altar