Thursday, March 4, 2010

Working the Austerities

We have been WORKING it in yoga with Laura since before the end of 2009, focused on keeping the fire of our new year's intentions stoked and burning bright. In January, we started working our way through the austerities, one every week or so, each one building on the last, a tidy little structure of yogic discipline.

The timing couldn't be better, since I really want this to be The Year that I realize a major transformation. As I wrote in my pitch for a blogger contest recently, "This year, my Year of Intention, I’ll be using yoga deliberately to stay committed to my vision and to jump out in a new direction, and documenting how a devoted practice is deeply transformative, on and off the mat." The emphasis on the austerities is so helpful in this regard, keeping me on the straight-and-narrow, bringing me back when I forget.

The austerities are described in the Bhagavad-Gita, 17:16, which reads:
manah-prasadah saumyatvam
maunam atma-vinigrahah
bhava-samsuddhir ity etat
tapo manasam ucyate
which means:
Peace of mind, gentleness,
silence, self-restraint,
and purity of consciousness
are the austerities of the mind.
So January 30th, we started with manah-prasadah, peace of mind. The big lesson I took away from this was using the body to calm the mind. During saumya week, we practiced gentleness, using only as much strength as necessary, backing off, being sweet in the poses. Mauna: we practiced without talking, listening to each other. Atma-vinigraha: self-restraint translated into muscle energy, pulling in to the core, in every pose cultivating a solid center. Finally, this week -- bhava-samsuddhi -- the cleansing of consciousness, letting go of negative thinking, seeing with Shiva drishti.

Like the universal principles of alignment, the trick is to eventually incorporate all 5 of the austerities simultaneously without having to think about it, so that it's just normal behavior. It's pretty easy to stay focused, to remember, when you're just doing 1 for an hour and a half in class. So as my own personal challenge, now that we've cycled through the 5 in class, is to roll out each one in a concerted way for a whole week at work, which seriously is the biggest area of challenge in my life right now. I sometimes pause and ask myself, before I speak at work, "What if my teacher could see me now? Would she be pleased?" I could do a lot better.

This transformation I'm about this year is not just external, not just wanting to break free of the job I'm in and be more creative day-to-day. It's not just creating the small urban farm I'm dreaming about, and making space for chickens in my life. It's really about whether I can, in a disciplined manner, use the tools that yoga provides, to make a happier life right now, not just when I've accomplished those goals. Right Now, every day, every moment.

And the only way to get there is through the austerities, through a disciplined commitment to my own self, to my own desires, to the unfolding of my own vision. This year is going to be great!

Thanks for reading!

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