Tag Archives: Patanjali

It doesn’t have to be difficult!

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Sometimes we set such high standards for ourselves.  We want to be the best, to achieve great things, in an impossibly short space of time.  Whilst it can be good to aim high, we need to practice patience and acceptance of where we are now.

So if we start something new, let’s try not to think we can perfect it straight away.  If we take up a new activity – a sport, say – we will usually improve slowly, remembering that we are meant to be enjoying the process, not just the end result.  If we have never run before, we won’t be running marathons in the first few weeks or months, and some of us never will. If we take up tennis, we hopefully will have a lot of fun, but most of us won’t end up as world-class athletes.

The same thing applies when you start yoga.  Sometimes people have said to me that they would not be able to ‘do’ yoga, as they are inflexible, or they can’t relax.  They feel that if they can’t yet relax or touch the floor, then there is no point  in attending a class.  Of course, yoga is partly about flexibility and relaxation, but these are not requirements for starting a class. They are more something to work towards, while we notice the small improvements and are kind to ourselves as we slowly move towards the things that seem out of reach.  What is more important than where we start is our enthusiasm and our desire to learn.  If we put off starting yoga until we are more flexible, or until we are more relaxed, we  may never start.

Nobody would suggest that you could not attend university if you did not already have a degree, or that you could not write a book unless you already had a book deal.  Once you have those things, you have proof that you can study or write  a book, but if you waited for that proof, you would never start.  So sometimes we just have to act on our own desire to change, our own belief that we can achieve our dreams.  Patanjali uses the word samvega, meaning the urge, the desire to achieve enlightenment, and suggests that it is this, rather than the difficulty of the practice we assume to get there, which is the most important determinant of success (Pada 1, Sutra 21 -22; Saraswati’s ‘Four Chapters on Freedom’).  So we needn’t wait until we can achieve a complicated asana or meditation.  We can start with something easy and comfortable, and the end result will be the same if we truly apply ourselves.  In Jin Shin Jyutsu, one of the attitudes is that of ‘trying too hard’, when everything seems too much of an effort.  We all have those times in life, where we need to  learn to slow down, take it easy and let go with our breath.  Yoga and meditation is the means by which we learn to accept where we are right now.  It should not be another source of stress, another area of our lives in which we push ourselves to achieve too quickly.  We relax and enjoy the process – each sequence, each asana, each breath.

Loving-kindness

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In Buddhism, as well as in yoga philosophy, there is a term maitri, which means loving-kindness or friendliness.  Imagine someone you hold most dear:  a partner, a parent, a child.  Feel that very simple and uncomplicated love –  an unconditional love which means you love them despite any of their faults;  you want only the best for them;  you talk and act in kindness to them.  This is maitri.

Now try to apply that kind of loving to yourself.  Can you be that kind, that uncritical, that forgiving, that accepting of who you are?  This is something a lot of us find hard to do.  What kind of language do you use when you talk to yourself?  Do you call yourself names, do you criticise yourself and laugh at your own dreams?  There are plenty of others who will do that for you.

Now think about someone in your life who is difficult, someone who is tricky to get along with.  Can you apply this  loving-kindness to them?  Hard, isn’t it?!  And yet this is something we all need to try to become a more loving, caring and peaceful society.

Buddhists practise meditations in which they expand their ability to love, from their most dearly loved, through to themselves, their friends and neighbours, to those they have no strong feelings about either way – they don’t love them but they have no negative feelings about them either. Only when this feels easier do they start to expand their circle of loving-kindness even wider – to those truly difficult people in life, and to those they have never met.

To apply this practice in our own lives, we start with ourselves , or with our loved ones, and work outwards in ever-increasing circles of love and kindness. We start to see more clearly that others are not so very different from ourselves, and we see the ways in which we make them different – the ways in which we use our attitudes and our beliefs to put a wall around ourselves.  Working gently with ourselves can help us to show more compassion to others as well.   Talking more positively to ourselves, switching off the negative mind-chatter through meditation or yoga practice, can enable us to grow into our true potential.  Cultivating maitri towards ourselves and others is one of the ways that Patanjali recommends for creating a calm and peaceful mind, alongside compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity (Samadhi Pada, Sutra 33).