The most fascinating truth I learned while at yoga school in India was that we westerners had it all wrong. More than postures, breath and mantra, beyond meditation and devotion, the epiphany hit me one sweltering afternoon walking back to the dorms from seva. So many of us had come from countries where our yoga classes centered around holding postures and breathing deeply or powering through the heat and sweat as we sat deep into chair pose and drank in the ujjai. But yoga was not these things at all, or not mainly these things. Yoga was simpler and more accessible than I was ever led to believe, closer to me than I had ever realized.
In yoga school, the swamis made sure we spent plenty of hours scrubbing toilets, cleaning floors and windows with toothbrushes and sweeping buildings that could never truly come clean. We pulled weeds in fields made up of weeds alone and peeled mountains of okra and potatoes at the crack of dawn. I never knew that you could wash windows with only water and newspapers until I went to yoga school in the northern state of Bihar, India. The students had no qualms about resisting such seemingly tedious tasks -- “This is not yoga,” so many would repeat (often including myself).
Seva is the Sanskrit term that refers to selfless service, or service that does not seek to be acknowledged or reap any benefits, but is done just for the sake of serving alone. It has often been called karma yoga because selfless service helps to erase negative karmas by canceling them out. Karma yoga is one of the main paths of yoga along with Bhakti (devotion), Jnana (self-knowledge), Raja (king of yoga – often practiced as the 8-fold path), Hatha yoga (use of cleansing postures and poses), Mantra yoga (chants and tones) and Laya yoga (often understood as Kundalini yoga – or the exploration of the various lokas/realms through inner visualization).
The thread that ties these various paths together may not seem obvious at first. To me, I guessed “to each his own” - that depending on what type of person you are, you would choose the yoga path that best fit. To an extent, this is true, but one jewel of wisdom was missing from my thesis, and that was the brilliant insight that flashed on my way from editing school books in the publishing building, listening to the sea of post-seva struggles which included hushed grumpy words from passing students.
Maybe I had burned enough karma that day or perhaps my early morning mantra and postures had done the trick, but something allowed me, in that fateful moment, to access a larger picture on the whole yoga scene than I had ever touched before.
Equanimity – the word hit my third eye center with great force. It's not dirty or clean. Detachment from pleasure and pain...lack of judgment – no more “right” vs. “wrong.”
YOGA IS A STATE OF MIND!
Until I accepted every chore and every schedule, each personality and prospect with the same eyes... Until I could fully be in downward dog, bow pose, cobra or hours or seated pose with both detachment and acceptance...Until I was able to observe myself in deed and word and stay impersonal enough to allow the process to occur and not truly, ever fully be pulled down – I would never be a yogi!
Yoga is a state of mind. It is the state of mind that allows you to watch yourself eat every morsel of food on your plate, taste every lick of it, smell the aromas and feel the textures without losing such presence. It is the awareness that allows listening to fully occur without the suggestions or urge to respond creeping into the dialogue prematurely.
Yoga is the feel of the hands on the dishes while washing and the soap bubbles tickling your wrists. It is that subtle sensation of the breath moving in and out while traffic piles up and the ability to notice the shrub growing on the side of the road, just beyond the exhaust of the neighboring big rig, without so much as a grunt or displeasurable thought.
Yoga, when truly lived and practiced, changes everything. It rules every encounter and every move, every thought and every choice. Yoga, as a qualitative lifestyle perspective, gives you the opportunity to see every person at both face value and as their highest version of self, to see the bigger meaning in whatever is occurring and to stay away from the drama which inevitably inflames through emotional attachment – while at the same time being IN what is occurring full board.
How can you live a yogic lifestyle now?
1- Step back and observe your life without reaction or judgment – and be it, taste it
2- Choose to notice the qualities expressing in the present moment
3- Free yourself from the need to label things as “right/wrong” or “good/bad”
4- Take a conscious breath
5- Allow mundane tasks to become a meditation
6- Engage in one selfless act of service right now
7- Find the humor
8- Surrender to what is and think “how is this perfect for me right now?”
By grounding into the present moment and releasing the need to be pleased or disgusted, attracted or repulsed, or liked versus disliked, you have the power to access a yogic lifestyle right now. Yogic lifestyle comes from thinking and responding like a yogi – or one who sees the interconnectedness of all things. There is nothing that is not okay – simply because it is happening. By detaching from the need for things to be a different way and by being with “what is,” an entirely new reality opens. You become a yogi, not by going to yoga school in New York, L.A. or India, or by practicing difficult asanas every morning at 5am, but by dropping into the observer consciousness and truly seeing without desire (though yoga school and postures can help open up this ability).
All of this doesn't mean you can't have preferences or things you would rather not do/have, but it allows for when these things show up or don't show up – that they don’t ruin your vibe.
Catch my drift?
Be a yogi by being cool with what is, seeing the greater purpose of it all and by releasing the need for a specific outcome to the universe. In this way, you too can live a yogic lifestyle right now.