by David Simon, M.D: When people hear the word yoga, they usually think of the physical postures or asanas…
which offer so many profound benefits for our body’s flexibility, strength, and balance. Even if yoga only enhanced physical fitness, the time spent in practice would be fully justified, yet yoga offers much more than just a way to exercise the body; it also helps us experience emotional well-being and connect to our essential self.
Yoga is a 5,000-year-old wisdom tradition that helps us move from constriction to expansion, from fear to love, and from separation to unity. At its core, yoga means union – the union of body, mind, and soul; the union of the ego and the spirit; the union of the mundane and the divine.
The intention of consciousness-based yoga practices such as Chopra Yoga is to integrate and balance all the layers of our life so that our body, mind, heart, intellect, and spirit flow in harmony. As we expand our awareness through the practice of yoga, we become more capable of perceiving the richness that life offers.
Over time, yoga becomes something we live, not just something we “practice.” The inevitable pressures of life have less of an impact on us as we respond in a more conscious manner. As we become balanced and harmonious, our interactions with people and situations become more deliberate, calm, and relaxed. We bring union and harmony to every encounter, whether it’s a random meeting on the street, a talk with our child, or a family reunion. When our inner world begins to change, our outer world shifts to reflect our new perspective.
Here are a few suggestions for cultivating mindful, yogic awareness in your life:
1. Daily Yoga Practice
Establish a regular yoga practice. Keep in mind that it is more powerful to practice each day for ten to twenty minutes than to do much longer sessions only once or twice a week. If you’ve never tried yoga, explore a variety of styles and teachers to find one that feels right for your own unique needs.
If you practice at home, create a sacred space for yourself: Find a time when you won’t be interrupted, turn off your phone, and move through your practice, focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of each breath. You may want to explore the practices in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga Guidebook, recently released by Chopra Center Press.
Meditation and yoga are two complementary practices with the same purpose: to experience the union of body, mind, and spirit. Meditation helps you go beyond the mind’s busy thought traffic into the stillness and silence of pure awareness.
At the Chopra Center we offer instruction in a simple yet powerful practice called Primordial Sound Meditation (you can locate a teacher in your area by visiting choprateachers.com. You are also invited to participate in our 21-Day Meditation Challenge. We have already hosted four challenges, which are now available for download here. Each day for 21 days, you will receive a guided meditation, a meditation article, and various tools and techniques you can use to deepen your practice.
You can practice meditation right now by closing your eyes and observing the inflow and outflow of your breath for a few minutes. If thoughts arise, just let them go and return your attention to your breathing. One of the most important things to remember about meditation is that we’re not trying to get rid of thoughts – we’re just becoming aware of them, letting them go, and returning to the silent space beyond. Be gentle with yourself and don’t judge your meditation practice. Try this practice for a few minutes each day, gradually extending the time.
3. Practice Non-Judgment
At the beginning of the day, tell yourself, Today I shall judge nothing that occurs. Throughout the day, remind yourself of this statement whenever you catch yourself judging. Judgment comes from the ego’s need to control and is based on fear. Your true Self is completely free of these things because it recognizes that everyone is the same spirit in different disguises.
4. Finding Compassion on the Road
Driving is an excellent laboratory for self-awareness – and an ideal place to cultivate equanimity and calm. Before you start the car, give your body a good stretch to each side and set your intention for a peaceful, safe journey. As you drive, relax your grip on the steering wheel. Keep your tongue at fire point (the spot on the roof of your mouth just between your two upper front teeth) to keep your jaw relaxed.
Be aware of situations that cause you to become frustrated, such as slow traffic or someone cutting you off. When these situations arise, see if you can focus your attention on your breath and put your awareness in your heart, letting go of the story you’re telling yourself about “the jerk” in the other car. Advanced yogis can practice feeling compassion for the other drivers as well. You can silently repeat, “Just like me, they want to feel happy, peaceful, and loved.”
5. Cultivate Witnessing Awareness
Throughout the day, practice shifting into a witnessing mode of awareness.
Turn your attention to the silent witness within – your soul – and take time to commune with the intelligence in all living things. Listen to the crash of the ocean waves, see the smile of a loved one, or watch a beautiful sunrise. Established in the peace of your inner silence, you will experience joy and reverence for nature and life in all its manifestations.
Any reason for practicing yoga is a good reason. Enhancing mind-body balance and releasing stress are as noble a purpose for performing yoga as the awakening of spirituality. This is the great gift of yoga it serves and nourishes us at every level of our being and spontaneously contributes to greater wellbeing in all domains of life. Yoga will help you discover gifts within yourself that have remained unopened since your childhood – the gifts of peace, harmony, laughter, and love.