This modern life preserves a lot of should’s. I should have finished that yesterday; I shouldn’t be here right now; I should be ___(better, happier, healthier)___.
What’s worse is we think we’ve failed before we’ve even acted on these should’s. Is the word starting to sound funny yet? I hope so, because it is! I hope it loses all meaning for you so that you realize that no should exists outside of your mind.
Turns out, we’re all a little mental. In fact, a lot mental. 100% mental and I’ve got the ancient yogic text to prove it.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is to yoga as The Bible is to Christianity. The book outlines eight steps, called limbs, to tame the restless mind, interact seamlessly with others and ourselves, and enjoy peace — to essentially be yoga, a union of body, mind and spirit.
Eight steps doesn’t sound like much, right? That’s what I thought when my first yoga class introduced me to the limbs. Then I learned that the peace Patanjali wanted me to achieve is this: an undisturbed mind.
How simple the idea, yet how effortful the practice. Can you think of anything more difficult? Not even calculus or organic chemistry compares.
A portrait of the peaceful mind
So, that’s yoga. The asanas, the meditation, the breath work, the self reflection and awareness of how we treat ourselves and others boils down to a mind that doesn’t let time of day or season or circumstance interfere with its contentment.
What does this mindset look like for us today, more than 1800 years after Patanjali penned the sutras?
A modern, undisturbed mind is:
- An end to second-guessing oneself
- Never one step ahead of itself, nor behind
- Self-aware and forgiving of its attachments
- Attentive to grace and God in the every day
- Contrary to popular belief, not just achievable on vacation
If you want to see the poster child of the untamed mind, head to an airport. I was there this week, traveling to and from Los Angeles. These days, everyone’s buried in a screen of some sort, even while walking. No one’s showing up because they’re all eager to be someplace else.
In the not showing up, we lose sight of the threads that hold us together. This moral code happens to be the first of the eight limbs of yoga. Called the yamas, these five things indicate how we should treat others:
- Ahimsa – non-violence toward others and ourselves; flip side: kindness
- Satya – truthfulness or not lying, even to ourselves
- Asteya – not stealing or freedom from desire for others’ possessions (physical, material, mental, etc.)
- Brahmacharya – moderation of indulgence in pleasure, particularly sexual
- Aparigraha – not coveting what’s not ours; flip side: appreciating our own gifts
Lest this turn into a yoga history lesson, I’ll get right to the point: The yamas seem like no-brainers. The Golden Rule, treating others as we’d want to be treated, is also a no-brainer.
Why, then, are these guidelines broken by millions every day? Maybe “no-brainer” is the root of the problem.
When we lose awareness for our actions and how we affect others (as simple as laying claim to an arm rest the entire flight), we’re actually creating ripples in our own mind (I deserve this arm rest more than her — I’m in the center seat!).
Disturb your mind, disturb your peace.
Disturb your peace and you’re not living yoga.
How simple the idea, yet how effortful the practice.
Want the path to peace? Be at peace with others. (worth tweeting!) Start with the five yamas and if you must should yourself, then let it be that you should and deserve to live with an undisturbed mind. And if you fail, remember this:
“If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose; for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” —Mary Pickford, silent film actress
Try it: Hand to Foot Pose or Gorilla Pose, Padahastasana
When we’re mentally stretched to the limits, it’s refreshing to get your head below your heart. This inversion does that safely and can be practiced by the beginner to the expert yogi. Even papillons can do the pose with their tongues sticking out.
Typically, emphasis is placed on stretching the upper back, legs and arms in this pose but I think the sweet spot happens beneath the feet. The pose is excellent for relieving carpal tunnel or tense wrists because it improves joint mobility and encourages good blood flow — two things you’ll need if you want to shake the hands of all the new friends you’ll be making.
- Step your feet hip distance apart and stand in Mountain Pose, Tadasana. Inhale your arms overhead and exhale, bending at the hips to dive toward your toes.
- Bend your knees to create space for the low back and hamstrings. Release the head and neck. Walk one hand and then the other underneath your feet, palms face up. Snug your big toe into the pad beneath each thumb so that your toes line up with your wrists.
- Shift your weight slightly forward to massage the wrists as you widen the elbows out to the sides. Work toward straightened legs by lifting the knee caps. Inhale the belly button and low ribs away from your thighs, then exhale and deepen your forward fold.
- Stay for six deep breaths. Slide your wrists out from under your feet and inhale while rolling up to standing.