Otherwise known as internal conflict, breathing, and appreciating…
The Thanksgiving That Lasts
It was October 3, 1863, following a grim visit to Gettyburg’s vast graveyard, that President Abraham Lincoln announced that November 26th would be a day of national thanksgiving and that henceforth, the country (though divided at the time) would celebrate the appreciation of life and liberty on the last Thursday of every November as a federal holiday. Thanksgiving Day became a break from the normal routine in spite of, and especially because of, the severity and magnitude of the Civil War.
Now, 152 Thanksgiving holidays later, Thanksgiving celebrations themselves have become small battlefields. We battle to make the meal perfect. We struggle through airports, traffic jams and long lines. We spend enormous amounts of energy to save a few dollars. The meaning of Thanksgiving has gradually shifted away from appreciating blue skies, plowed fields and the simplicity of life to watching lavish Thanksgiving-Day parades, planning black-Friday shopping deals, and hosting a giant (and perfect) meal. Instead of slowing down to appreicate the small joys, Thanksgiving is about making more happen more perfectly. For some, it has inadvertantly turned into a zone of stress and striving. Aside from the stress of it all, material joys simply don’t endure. If we want gratitude to last beyond the last Thursday of November, let’s source our gratitude from a calm mind. How? Even on the yoga mat, I watch students on mats next to me forcing their body into poses. Maybe they think intensity makes yoga better. Maybe they think they have to do it all, all the time. I’m not sure that we have to do everything offered. I’m also not sure that louder music, a hotter room and a higher heart rate makes our yoga more effective. It can be fun, but sometimes less is more. Allowing has its place as does yielding and surrender. Appreciation and joy don’t usually arrive in the midst of conflict, stress and intensity. The attitude of gratitude has a few ingredients that promotes its accessibility in your heart and mind.
Is Your Yoga a Civil War?
Like the holidays, sometimes we inadvertantly make our yoga-asana practice a battlefield — a civil war. “Civil” is a word with two meanings. On one hand it means pertaining to something home-related whether “home” is of a domestic nature or of a country or national government. . So “Civil War” means that there is conflict. It’s about being at odds, or at such cross-purposes that a resolution cannot occur in an amiable way. Secondarily, “civil” means to be polite, friendly or easy-going Given the second meaning of the word “civil”, “civil war” is an oxymoron. It’s impossible to be civil when at war. Whether the phrase “civil war” conjures up thoughts of Confederates vs. Unionists or of polite disagreement vs. a no-holds-barred battle, any conflict is terrible. It robs those engaged in the battle of their resources, of kindness, and of feeling connected. No matter whether a battle is between countries, ideologies or in the heart-mind field, fighting creates stress, tension and poverty on all levels. Yoga as a union of the body, heart, mind and energy, should create abundance.
Whether your war is waged on a foreign battlefield, or on your yoga mat, there are a few lessons to be learned from doing battle. Gratitude As a Habit, Not an Event The purpose of yoga is to slow down in the name of connection. It’s about having an internal experience and most definitely not about creating something on the outside. I know it seems like an external practice because the body is the vehicle through which we are learning. However, the lessons come by making it internal. Making the on-the-mat practice about the external appearance leaves the door open for conflict in the homeland – your mind.
Yoga practice as an internal quest to uncover what is truly precious, creates the proper perspective from which gratitude arises naturally. Slowing down increases appreciation of the body. Breathing deeply unwinds the mind. Tension eases. The heart correspondingly softens. Joy expands. Expectations drop. You get easier with life after yoga. Creating the right circumstances on the mat will assure your thanksgiving to be a habit and not just a holiday:
1) Yoga should be a civil process so be easy-going and friendly with your body. You don’t want to be in conflict with your body, nor your mind or heart. It is a civil matter — a matter of your own homeland, the body being the dwelling place, the home of the soul. Yoga means union and the purpose of the asana practice is gain connectivity. Breath anchors your soul to your body. It is through breathing that you make yourself whole. So, breathing is holy — whole-making — sacred. If you breathe deeply, you make friends with all the internal processes and parts so that they can be harmonized.
2) Yoga is the experience on the inside, not the performance on the outside. Asana is training ground for the mind. Just as we may have learned over time to think negatively about our body, to under appreciate our breath and to react with aversion to challenges of strength and flexibity, we must take time to train ourselves to be postive. Part of asana is to be the composed, yet enthusiastic cheerleader of your own develoopment. Yoga asana is an internal practice cleverly disguised as a physical workout. As your attention dives inward, you begin to observe the reactivity of the mind during the circumstances (the asanas) of the body. Don’t hate the pose, the sequence, or the teacher. Banish such thoughts! Dismiss the negativity. It will slowly free you of reactivity. By being positive you will gain resiliance. You will be adaptable to any circumstance, both on and off the mat.
3) Generosity of your breath will banish any poverty of the body. To feel that your flexibility or strength is scarce or in short supply is to be impoverished. Prana rides breath and gives vitality, life-force to whatever you do. Where your mind goes, prana goes. When you breathe behind your heart, and really focus on allowing the space there to expand, your entire system shifts. Heart expansion gives a feeling of fullness to the central nervous system. Fullness equates to abundance. Breathing makes you inwardly rich. It’s a unique wealth — to be calm, focused, and easy with anything that comes your way. It’s a wealth that compounds itself by spending. The more calm, focused and easy you are with life, the more life seems easy to handle. When you are no longer under duress and when all is quiet on the homefront (in the heart and mind field), appreciation and gratitude are a daily habit not a once-a-year event.
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