by Maureen Rae, RN, E-RYT
Underlying the physical postures of yoga (Hatha Yoga) is an ancient Indian philosophy that has been around for approximately 3,000 years. The principles and practices of this way of thought are as applicable in today’s society as they were way back when, at a time people surely faced similar obstacles to happiness.
Yet, today - here in North America - much of the way that yoga is taught is from a purely physical point of view. The ancient and healing teachings are being diminished, overlooked, and even lost. Yes, the postures are strengthening and toning. Yes, the breathwork is physically purifying and energizing. But what’s the point of practicing postures and breath on the mat a couple of times a week while ignoring the more important teachings that can surely lead us to equanimity?
The Yoga Sutra tells us of the nine obstacles to Yoga (keeping in mind that the word ‘Yoga’ does not mean just physical postures!). These nine distractions of our consciousness - ways of thinking that can keep us from reaching a place of contentment - are listed as:
- Langour (mental dullness)
- Doubt (negativity, skepticism)
- Heedlessness (lack of foresight)
- Sloth (laziness - fatigue)
- Dissipation (overindulgence)
- False views (living under illusion - inability to face reality)
- Lack of perseverance (giving up - not finishing what we’ve begun)
- Instability or regression
We could discuss each of the above for a long time, but what is more to the point is..... does Yoga teach us how to overcome these obstacles? And Yes! The answers are there, too!
The Yoga Sutras cite 4 main ways (there are others!) to detour around the obstacles. These are:
In this space over the next few months we shall endeavour to define these 4 ways of being/thinking., and to offer methods of bringing these practices to our lives. For me, the practice that has had a tremendous impact in my own life, is the practice of Mudita - Gladness. So let’s begin there.
Mudita is a virtue. Finding joy in the happiness and success of others. This quality is found in the Buddhist teachings and in the Yoga Tradition (as well as many others.) How easy it is to find joy in one’s own successes - yet how difficult it is to feel the same level of joy when someone else (with or without good reason!) is successful.
To quote Eileen Siiriwardhana "Seeing the good in others and learning to recognize and admire what good there is, is what mudita tacitly implies. Laughter and exhilaration are not characteristics of mudita. Mudita is joy and appreciation flowing quietly out of the core of one's heart towards others like the waters from a spring flowing outwards from the bowels of the earth. Spontaneous and sincere participation in another's glorious hour is possible only when the quality of mudita is developed to its fullest."
How to begin to cultivate this quality? Let’s begin by Noticing. (I’m not sure that there is a Sanskrit word for ‘noticing’ although likely one exists. Yoga has many words to describe feelings. To me, this is the very first instant that I feel a mood change. ) Noticing when envy or jealousy enters our hearts. Let’s ask ourselves the question...Why are we jealous? The answer is likely Because someone possesses something we do not. This is Ego speaking. - the lower self. Follow this up with the question "Do we not already have that which would give us great joy?"
On the mat - either at home with yourself - or at our yoga studio, where we actively encourage noncompetitive practice, we encourage you to acknowledge where you are in your postures, and where others are in their postures, where you are in your life, and where others are in theirs; and to consciously cultivate the healing quality of Gladness - Mudita. Let anger and envy be gone. And....don’t forget to notice how you feel when you engage in this practice. Notice.