Living Simply in Complex Times Can it Make You Happy?
A yoga life is meant to be to a simple life, free from attachments and with a mind that can transcend the 5 senses to experience living from the 6th sense of intuition. But yoga in our life, in the mainstream, can be quite complicated. Which type of yoga should I do? Can I afford it? How do I learn it? Who do I learn from? If is is a spiritual practice why do I have to pay for it? Today I got an e-newsletter that have the 10 top yoga clothing designers to choose from. Yikes! Now we have to afford yoga clothes and a “yoga look” as well?
Pahtanjali’s Yoga Sutras give us many insights into what yoga is ii:42 states ” Owing to contentment, there is an unexcelled attainment of happiness” and Yogi Bhajan told us that happiness is our birthright.
The truth is that our lives feel more and more complicated. Maybe this is why so many turn toward yoga. Stress levels are up, people are taking anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills and sleeping medications to cope with their everyday lives. The pressures of these times are reflected in our economy, our healthcare system, our health problems and our lives.
The world is no longer a simple place. The economy is global. We are all made aware of the need to return to a simpler way of living to save our planet- our air, water, food supplies and all the living species. Many yogis are jumping on the bandwagon of the trend but are we really heeding the message in our own lives? Many are, in little ways, and in big efforts. Linda Rowe, the yoga teacher in Houlton, Maine built a home with her husband David that was totally green, using solar and compost toilets. The home is beautiful and built with the help of friends and proof that you don’t need a big budget to be green.
Being on a budget is actually a great way to live more simply. We often create less waste and excess this way. If you do not have the budget for ongoing yoga classes, take a few to get started, see if you can volunteer or barter for some classes. Ask the teacher for a home routine. Purchase a DVD for home practice or take a book or video/DVD out of the library. The best and most basic practice in yoga are sun salutations.(see end of article for description) While it is great fun to challenge yourself to more than this, with a few sun salutations a day you can develop a practice that will give you more flexibility and strength. Adding some pranayam to your practice makes you realize the full potential of the breath to deliver life giving prana to our cells, internal organs and systems. As we breathe deeply we momentatily can free our mind from the attachments to things we think we are missing in our lives, unfulfilled dreams and desires, and just be free in the moment. A yoga practice can be very simple to have profound effects. Slowing the breath, suspending and retaining the breath, can all change patterns in our way of thinking, feeling and being. We may not be able to control certain externals in our lives but with yoga we can learn to control our mind, body, breath and our reactions to things. It all seems a bit simpler in those moments.
In a yogi life we also practice nonharming and being truthful. This truly makes life simpler, living aunthentically, not having to watch your back or remember some lie you told someone! We can carry that from noninjuring ourselves in our physical practice ( who said we have to push ourselves into impossible postures?) to the words we say to others and ourselves. Are we really making our lives more complicated than we need to just by what we say and think? We might sit in silence for a few minutes following the flow of our breath and ask ourselves what we might be able to change to not make life so complicated!
The fact is that human beings are complicated, each and every one of us, but it is how we handle all our components- emotional, physical, mental, psychological, spiritual- that helps us create the physical and mental balance yoga reaches for. We can create rituals to make our practice support a balanced life but also need to allow ourselves to be flexible too. If you feel guilty and angry at yourself for not exercising more or meditating more, or at the exact same time everyday, this will only cause more stress and imbalance.
No matter who we are and how much we practice we live in this world. We have real problems. With yoga we have asana to purify the body. We have tools to help our mind see things more clearly so we can live simply. Yoga is an art and a science. Ultimately yoga is to help us to strive to be more happy. Yoga has become so popular that some teachers are reaching the masses and are real money making machines. Perhaps the teachers who are not reaching the masses, catering to the star system our culture so thrives on, are the ones living more simply like the yogis of old. That is for our hearts to decide, and theirs. Whatever form it takes and whatever speaks to you, yoga is a practice that can lighten your load and make life seem a little easier.
Here is a meditation for inner tension and stress:
The fingers relate to the brain so see if you can do this hand position as specified and keep it through-out.
Place your hands like a lotus flower in front of the middle of your chest.
Let the pinkies and thumbs (tips) meet each other on each hand.
Let the three middle fingers on each hand come together and be straight up. They DO NOT touch the pinkies or thumbs.
Close your eyes down to one tenth open, looking at the tip of your nose (this fixes your mind)
Inhale through the nose
Exhale through the mouth
Inhale through the mouth
Exhale through the nose
Keep concentrating on creating this pattern of breathing for 11 minutes as you keep the hands in the position and the eyes fixed at the tip of the nose the whole time (it is best to use a timer).
At the end inhale through the nose, close the eyes, hold the breath in and then let it out when you need to. Repeat this two more times.
Relax the hands down and take a few moments to sit or lie down and observe the way you feel.
Sun Salutations: There are many variations on these but this is a basic one. All breathing is through the nose.
1-Stand with feet close and parallel, hands by your side, feel the flow of your breath.
2-Bring hands together at the middle of the chest.
3-Inhale bring arms straight up and let palms meet (or not) and drop head back if it is comfortable for your neck.
4-Exhale and fold the body in half, letting the head drop and bringing the hands to the floor (if you can, hands are right beside and outside of your feet)
5-Inhale and step the right foot back, letting the knee be down or up.
6-Left foot is between the hands until you inhale it back to meet the right.
Keep breathing and hold plank (front push up position) for a few moments.
7-Drop the knees to the floor and carefully bring your body to the mat (belly down) on an exhale.
8-Bring hands under shoulders and inhale lift the chest, being careful to keep the shoulders down and back, and lift head slightly if that is OK for your neck (this is cobra).
9-Hold pose for a breath or two and then inhale onto your hands and knees.
10- On the next inhale raise the tail-bone toward the ceiling into down dog, spread fingers wide and press heals of the feet and hands (as well as the fingers) into the floor. (body looks like an inverted V).
Stay here up to 5 long deep breaths through the nose.
11-Inhale bring the right foot forward, exhale. (step or walk the foot forward between the hands).
12-Inhale bring the left foot forward, exhale knees are bent.
13-Inhale lift head, push lower back down and head up, starighten the legs now.
14-Exhale drop head to knees and lengthen spine as much as you can, keep legs straight if you can, bend if you need to (for those less flexible).
15-Inhale lift body and arms up, palms meet overhead (or not).
16-Exhale lower arms by your side.
That is one complete sun salute, Do 2- 3 minimum and up to 5 to begin. Now you have a simple yoga routine and a meditation! Do the sun salutations as a physical warm-up and then the meditation or simple breathing exercises sitting cross legged or in a chair with spine straight.
Donna (Amrita) Davidge has been teaching yoga since 1985 in NY City. In 1997 she opened Sewall House Yoga Retreat in Island Falls, Maine which offers guest an opportunity to learn and practice yoga in small noncompetitive classes, with personalized attention and in her great grandfather’s historic home, which offers an atmosphere of a simpler time with the beautiful antiques and energy of her ancestors. Her husband Kent Bonham is the chef, musician and oversees the work study program at the retreat. [http://www.sewallhouse.com/info]@sewallhouse.com with yoga questions, retreat questions. 888-235-2395.