When you practice yoga regularly, and you pay attention, you will notice its effect on you. Sometimes it is hard to see because we are so close to it. It is like my garden after I was gone for two weeks. Prior to being gone, I didn’t notice how much it had grown, but when I returned it seemed to have exploded. Sometimes we have to step back and/or look more closely to see the change. And with your life, the changes may be both subtle and gross.
On the gross level, you may notice that when you practice yoga postures (asana) your body simply feels better: you can breathe more deeply, some ache has abated, or you have more energy. Or more subtly, maybe your mood is lifted. Or subtler yet, you may change your habitual thought patterns, or perhaps you may even change the world!
Those of you who attend my classes regularly know that in addition to teaching you good physical alignment, I also invite you to use the practice as an opportunity to explore other dimensions of our being by providing a contemplation or suggestion of focus (which you are welcome to embrace or ignore as you wish). Often these come from yoga philosophy, like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the root text of Classical Yoga. In that text, Patanjali offers many suggestions of qualities to bring into our lives and our practice. For example, ahimsa, translated as non-harming or respect for life, is one we have recently worked with in class.
Over the months and years of a yoga practice, we slowly cultivate a centered place in of awareness. Into that field of awareness, we can place whatever quality we wish to cultivate. We just allow it to be there. We don’t need to manipulate it, we simply keep some part of our awareness with it and slowly nurture it. As we move through the yoga postures, our attention inevitably goes to the details of our practice, noticing our bodies as we must. Then we pause, soften, listen, and remember that quality. How are we feeling? What is coming up? Is there some insight, resistance, or other information about how we might work with that quality?
In our example of ahimsa, we might first notice on a physical level that we are pushing in an aggressive way that might be injurious to our body. On a subtle level, we might notice that we start having negative thoughts about our bodies, or our lack of focus, or someone else in the class. Then we have the opportunity to pause, back off, drop those thoughts and come back to our breath. We allow the breath to remind us of this quality of ahimsa. In this way, we choose which thought patterns to reinforce and start shifting the internal dynamics of our being.
Then we take it off the mat., which requires practice, just like our asana practice. In our everyday lives, we can begin to cultivate this quality and that moment of pause to watch our habits. We begin to see the many unconscious patterns that automatically reel off in our lives. We pause and observe, then choose. What quality do we want to cultivate? What quality do you want to bring into the world?
Here is where it gets really interesting. Patanjali indicates that cultivating these qualities can not only affect our own awareness to a profound degree, and thereby shifts in our lives, but beyond that it can begin to shift the field around us. There are several aphorisms in the Yoga Sutras suggesting such effects. For example, he says that in the presence of one established in ahimsa, hostility vanishes. Thus your practice of yoga can change your world.
Don’t take my word (or Patanjali’s) on any of this. Observe for yourself whether or how the energetic qualities that you and others cultivate on a regular basis manifest in those lives and the surrounding environment. You may have already experienced how particular people, places, or art have distinct vibrational fields around them. I invite you to try it out for yourself: choose some quality to explore for a week or more and observe the results of placing it in your awareness, pausing periodically to remember, watch your thoughts, emotions, behavior around it, and see what effect it has on your life.
I think of cultivating such qualities like planting seeds in my garden. It requires intention, awareness, nurturing and perseverance. And the effectiveness of these seeds we place depends on the quality of the field into which they are placed. The more we practice and clarify that field, the more effective this work will be. And the effects may not be immediately obvious. The roots have to grow first before the plant can grow. But ultimately the fruits borne of this work have the potential to change your world.