There’s this perception that yogis are in a perpetual place of peace. Constantly floating on a chakra-colored cloud of consciousness. SO not true.
Yogis get angry, impatient, fearful, agitated, sad, and sometimes just downright banshee crazy.
Yogis can be unkind. Dishonest. Greedy. Envious. Think the opposite of all those beautiful notions described in the yamas (the yoga ethical guidelines), and you’re at the opposite end of peace. In other words, you’re a human being.
In a former life, as a business exec in the demanding high-tech industry, I welcomed yoga as a release from stress and a return to sanity. My husband welcomed my yoga practice even more—for his own sanity. When your beloved tells you, “Umm, I think it’s time you went to yoga”, you know you’re behaving more Banshee than Buddha.
From the start, yoga transformed the way I felt, gave me glimpses of bliss. And when that peace disappeared (sometimes it didn’t even last much beyond the yoga studio parking lot), I realized that I could find it again and again, by simply returning to the yoga mat. And the more I returned, the more peaceful I started to feel.
If it Weren’t for Yoga . . .
We are wired to respond to life in certain ways—a result of genetics and cultural influences. Some behaviors can be modified or softened over time, but others remain unchangeable.
Thousands of Oms later, yoga hasn’t really changed the way I’m wired. I’m still me. I am Not the Dalai Lama.
There are still evenings when I come home, ranting about some idiot driver on the motorway. I am capable of a heated and colorful conversation that would make a sailor blush. I’m inherently impatient. And there are also days when I look at the state of the world and I feel great depths of despair and sadness, the antithesis of peace; and I think all the yoga in the world is never going to help any of us.
Here’s the difference: Pre-yoga, I would tend to respond automatically to life, responding without thinking, as my habitual thought patterns dictated my reactions to things around me. Not all automatic responses are useful, healthy, or necessary. Some are.
The difference is, with a regular yoga and meditation practice, a lot of the time (not always) I’m able to insert a pause before I react.
- Something happens (idiot swerves dangerously in front of me on the motorway).
- I notice my habitual reaction beginning to form (anger begins to percolate).
- Pause button helps me to decide which reaction I am going to have (decide to take a deep breath, relax my iron grip on the steering wheel, unclamp my jaw, take another deep breath).
- Result: I continue my day with more ease, blood pressure is normal, anxiety level is low.
On a saintly day, I’m also able to put myself in said idiot driver’s shoes and think of the kind of day they might be having. Maybe there’s an emergency, maybe their life is particularly difficult today, maybe they’re going through something hideous that has upset them. Most of the time though, I’m thinking maybe they just drive like an idiot, but I’ll choose a peaceful reaction, because why should I join them in that idiot space, creating more anger or frustration or impatience.
This all happens in a millisecond, deciding if I’m going to react in a way that is least harmful to me, and to others. These are powerful skills for navigating through life, beyond the rectangular strip of the yoga mat, and beyond an annoying driver on the motorway.
Yoga and meditation provide techniques to help me become aware of how I live my life, and how I interact with others. Pausing to observe my emotions and thoughts, and then consciously choosing thoughts, words, or actions that are least harmful. Or not. Sometimes I know what a more peaceful outcome would be, but I’m defiant and I choose the opposite, and then I notice the consequences of my choice, and I learn from that.
Yogis may not always be in a bubble of bliss, but through yoga we learn how to choose a more joyful response to life, so that we can land more often on that chakra-colored cloud of consciousness, however long it lasts.