Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
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Sunday, 22 December 2013

Get Over Your Self: Some Thoughts on Avoiding Trouble in Yoga

Scandals are rocking the yoga world these days.  Bikram Choudhury stares at us from the cover of Vanity Fair magazine; he faces five rape charges, directly related to his practice, among other accusations of corruption, deceit and appalling behaviour.  Colin posted a link to a commentary on the scandal, this one by Carol Horton.  In it, Horton writes of her reaction to the Bikram mess-among other things, she began to doubt her asana practice and wondered if, instead, she should take up a practice of "sitting meditation combined with some alternative physical workout."

That statement caught my attention.  Although Horton makes many good points in her article, she misses the mark here, because meditation is no guarantee of escaping the dark side of yoga practice.  In a full yoga practice, meditation and asana are linked, two sides of the same coin.  If you think meditation will save you from bad behaviour, I am here to tell you that it will not.  Meditation practice can help bring more clarity to your actions, help you to remain present in the moment, to act rather than react.  What it won't do is magically shift lifetime habits into new, "better" behaviours.  That, my dears, is up to each one of us and it requires long, difficult, devoted practice, conscious effort and a desire to change. Meditation is one way to change, but I promise, it will not protect you from ugliness, in the yoga world or elsewhere.

Yoga and meditation focus on the Self/self.  We use our bodies to move into poses which challenge us and focus our attention.  Meditation works in similar fashion.  Meditation can shift our bodies into physical stillness (and don't forget that asana can and should be used as meditation practice) and allow our minds to settle.  Both practices move us inward, which is simultaneously a blessing and a danger.  Although, ideally, we can use our practice to move outward into the world, and to develop empathy and compassion for all beings, our current culture promotes self-indulgence, something yoga/meditation practice can feed if we mistake our self (this human form and mind) for the larger Self, whatever that may mean to you.  

You see it everywhere: endless "selfies" of yoga practitioners doing complex poses, yogis posting pictures of the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the mats they use for practice. While I don't believe that posting a few photos now and again does any harm-who doesn't want to celebrate a first or a well-aligned headstand or tell someone of a potentially helpful discovery?-getting into the habit of snapping pictures every time one stands in Tadasana can lead to the kind of thinking that will get us into trouble.  If you start to believe that your asana or other habits are important to the larger world, it's very easy to move into the mindset of "It is all about Me!" That's a dangerous path; no good can come of it.  Sooner or later, it won't be about Me and that fall off the mountain to the valley is a tough one.

One way to avoid sliding into self-indulgence in our practice is to throw a bit of karma yoga into the mix.  Move your mind and your practice outward.  Do a little good in the world. Don't just give to charitable organizations (although that's a good idea); personalize your action. Give that street person the money she asks for; give her a little more than you think is reasonable and do it without judgement or assumptions as to how she might use it. Do a small favour for a friend or a stranger.  Shovel a sidewalk, just because it needs shovelling. Knit a few extra hats and pairs of mittens and give them away, without wondering whether your gift is appreciated or scorned. Start with one small thing per day-pick up a piece of trash in the park and carry it until you find a bin.  If that's all you do, you are still making a difference.

Do good things just because and do them quietly, without fuss, without drawing attention to the deed.  As soon as you publicize a good deed it moves into self promotion.  We all like to be acknowledged for a job well done; remaining quiet about your actions is the hardest part of karma practice and the most important component of it. (Trust me, I am the living example of the difficulty in remaining quiet about anything!) What you may discover is that, like everything else, the more you practice karma yoga, the easier it becomes.  

Now is the perfect time to spice up your practice with karma yoga.  The Winter Solstice and our practice of welcoming back the slow return of the Light is the season for new beginnings.  We acknowledge that by giving more to others, by making New Year's resolutions.  Resolve to bring some Karma/Action into your yoga.  Start today and keep going.  You may discover that it's good for what ails you.  If it's good for us, it just might be a small part of the remedy for what ails the larger yoga world.

Happy Holidays to Family, Friends, All My Fellow Yoga Practitioners, Fibre Artists and Sentient Beings.  May you be happy.  May you be well.


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