1. Physical posture is a reflection of emotional posture.
Our physical postures and positions are largely subconscious. Most of us do not think much about how we arch toward our laptops, tilt our hips sitting in traffic, or stand taller when someone we love walks into the room. Since I am very petite, I was "trained" by my parents to stand very straight, a way to metaphysically take up the space I was incapable of taking up by my stature alone. One of my favorite comments to say about yoga is that "your body cannot lie to you in a yoga class." Whatever we may think of how we physically go through our days, the yoga class reveals both our strengths and weaknesses. Although I may tell myself that I'm "pretty active" though the day, my tight hips, inflexible hamstrings and crackling shoulders remind me of the time I spend at my desk or long commute. More importantly, after I have suffered trauma, although my mouth would say things like "I'm fine," my body's pursuit of protective poses (e.g. child's pose, forward bends) would reveal the truth of my sense of vulnerability (e.g. a primitive desire to protect one's abdomen as though under attack). By tuning into how willing or unwilling my body is to enter into certain positions, I can find a barometer for my emotional and mental well being.
2. The purpose of movement is to quiet the mind.
We live in a modern society that can go to great lengths to try us emotionally and intellectually. Many of us attempt to quiet our minds by harnessing our minds, though everything from commiserating, ruminating, meditating or visualizing, generally to varying degrees of success. We often forget that we do not have to solve problems by walking through the same door through which the problem entered. Although the challenge may be present in our minds, we do not have to greet it there. Instead, rhythmic, intentional or sequenced movement can still the mind quickly where almost all other methods fail to do so. In the same way that an hour of raking leaves, skating on ice or tending a garden clears the mind, so can yoga.
3. All is impermanent, but nothing more so than emotions.
Most of us love to indulge our emotions, almost without regard to whether they are positive or negative. On social media, the strongest responses are reserved for posts regarding the most joyful and the most tragic of events. This seems to be human nature, to indulge our emotions and feed them through our attention and that of others. However, science (and most yogic practices) reaffirm our tendency toward baselines levels of happiness and disregard the importance of circumstances in this equation. We are as happy as we generally ARE, not as happy as circumstances permit us to be. Even in the midst of the saddest of times, we are capable of being immediately lifted into laughter and light by a comment from a loved one. Even in the midst of the happiest of times, we are capable of being immediately plunged into sadness by an errant insult. Our emotions undulate like the sea, and like the sea, we do best to navigate if we do not expect everything to remain still and unchanged.
4. All stems from the concept of ahimsa.
Certainly, there are yogic masters and perhaps even theologians who would have a great deal more insight than I do into what I am about to say, but for me: ahimsa is the heart of everything. When all actions stem from a place of desiring to cause no harm to other people, to animals, to the world itself, we are acting from a place of right intention. There is a non-violent way to accomplish almost everything, and where there is not, there is a less-violent way. This principle keeps kindness and integrity in the middle of the toughest negotiations, the most heated exchanges and the most challenging ethical questions.
5. All living things are sacred, both despite and including you.
The most commonly uttered phrase in any yoga class (well, besides a few that we may say under our breath in plank pose) is "Namaste." It is usually easy to recognize the light, uniqueness and even holiness of another person when they've guided you through a yoga class or other spiritual exercise. It is less easy to recognize it when the other person has been unkind, misplaced your keys, showed up late, passed you up for a promotion or otherwise failed to live up to your expectations for their behavior. It can be hard to see light through the darkness that shrouds others, such as politicians who spout hateful rhetoric. It can be hard to see light through the darkness that shrouds ourselves, when we make a mistake or fail to achieve a worthy goal. Yoga helps to remind us that both our own divine nature and that of others has nothing to do with our perception. It isn't there only when we see it. It doesn't disappear when we do not. Having compassion and empathy as we go through life does not create or destroy our divine nature or others, it only opens our eyes to commonalities and the truth that we exist as a wholly intertwined organism on one single Earth.
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