Thursday, 19 April 2012


It is the case that sometimes we cry when we practice.  We cry for sadness, sometimes old sadnesses that have lain within us for years, sometimes for sadnesses that are current in our lives.  Sometimes the tears rise in us and we are not sure what they are for or what they are about - they seem to arrive unbidden, without any of the concomitant emotion that we are used to experiencing at the same time as we cry... the tears seem to come as a kind of uplifting within us, not sadness, not grief, but a simple ascendance of life, of feeling, of love.  This is what my teacher Mukunda calls ojas, the essential sap of life.  As unused as we  may be to weeping, as vulnerable as it might make us feel to cry in class, as little as we might understand it, we should hope not to be afraid of it, or embarrassed by it, or to try to swallow it back down.  It is a beautiful thing, this experience of spirit. 

Here is what Elizabeth Lesser says about it:

"Feelings also rise during meditation.  They often rush into the empty space created when we slow down and sit still.  At every retreat that I have participated in there are times when crying can be hard in the room.  To an outsider it would appear strange to see a room full of people sitting in meditation on the floor or in chairs, some upright, some bent over, crying softly.  A strange sight, indeed.  But a beautiful one also.  There is something so noble about the pure expression of feelings.  When drama or sentimentality is absent, tears are like a healing river moving freely through us."

We don't need to seek out these feelings, but when they do rise we might try to recognise them as a gift, a sign of our humanity, something to take notice of and be grateful for, something quite wonderful and intrinsically part of our yoga practice.


Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, tells us that avidya is wrong thinking; avidya is believing that we are in control, believing that we are separate, believing that we are imperfect.  The practice of yoga is intended to help us to overcome wrong-thinking, that we might be able to live life in perfect tune with who we really are, making choices which serve the purpose of our soul and which positively serve the world and ourselves.

Yoga practice doesn't bring us anything that we do not already have, it doesn't create anything new in us; yoga practice simply helps us to strip away the barriers that are in the way of our true selves, that which obstructs our essence and which stands between us and peace.  In this sense, yoga practice can be likened to the peeling of an onion, we work to strip away the layers of stress, pressure, imagination, ideas of who we are meant to be and how life would be things were different and nothing went wrong.

A successful yoga practice is one that sees us take off the heavy overcoat of avidya, of thinking too much, of struggling.  This is what we do when we are on our mats.  We remember who we are; we remember that we are a perfect part of the universe, perfect as we are because there is no other way to be than who we are.  Our practice continues beyond our mat when we seek to leave the overcoat on the hanger for as long as possible.  It is so easy to begin again... trying to work everything out, attempting to second guess what might be coming, what might happen next, seeking to protect ourselves against uncertainty, putting the overcoat back on, with its heaviness and its creation of a barrier between us and the world.

Try living without the overcoat for as long as you can between practice; try to notice when you begin the shrug the overcoat across your shoulders; try to remember that nobody, ever, has been able to predict the future or to work everything out in advance.  To leave that overcoat on a hanger in a cupboard in the hall is to surrender to the fact that we do not know; to resist putting it back on is to yield to the wonderful, terrible, joyful, didactic chaos of life; to walk through life without that overcoat is to acknowledge that we cannot know what is coming, we cannot work everything out, that we must trust in life and in ourselves.

You can tell how hard it is to do this by how few people you know who are able to do it.  The challenges that yoga presents us with is part of its charm!  Human beings have always sought to control the uncontrollable - making sacrifices in the hope of good harvests, making intricate plans that never come to fruition - the aim of yoga is not to have us behave irresponsibly, only for today, with no plans, but it is to have us stop battling quite so much, to recognise that it doesn't work, to allow ourselves to move forward in a fluid, open-hearted, open-minded way and to ensure that the way we live is congruent with the way we feel.  It is challenging to live this way, but it is energising, it is invigorating, it is enlivening.  It is what yoga is all about.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Why Meditate? Part 3

Meditation helps me to see what's really going on; it helps me to find forgiveness for myself and for others; it helps me to head off pain.  I still feel pain, for sure, if anything I feel my emotions more and am more aware of what is going on within myself, but I don't seem to get swamped by those emotions if I meditate; I am more able to observe them, come to understand them and learn from them.  Everything that we feel has something to teach us: I choose feeling over being numb and I choose knowing over wandering blindly through life wondering why nothing seems to feel right and why my soul is not happy.  I know, deep in my heart, that if I stay with this practice everything will be fine; no doubt there will be sadness and pain alongside the happiness, but still, everything will be fine.  Meditation is a gentle meeting with the divinity inside myself: it touches me, and I touch it.  And if it's in me, then it's in everyone.

I think of my teachers often and with love and gratitude.  I know that they already know all of this and more, but that they are not going to make me hurry; they'll just love and smile at me as I stumble along finding my own way; they know that their own teachers offered them this same benevolent patience, gave them this same loving kindness as they too found their own unique path - the only path you can ever take, for nobody else's will do.

You only have to ask what you are here for; you only have to keep asking; you only have to be awake; you only have to meet yourself, in honesty, every day.  That's all you do.  And it all comes to you in its own good time and it comes in beauty.


'It did not really matter what we expected from life,
but rather what life expected from us.'
Victor Frankl