Heritage of Yoga
Bhagavad Gita: Do thy work in the peace of Yoga, and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or in failure. Yoga is evenness of mind – a peace that is ever the same.
This passage from the Gita speaks to me of cultivating equanimity. To not hold success as the measure of my life nor be defeated by my failures. To nurture an evenness of spirit in the face of all my experience. This is a tricky path to follow. It seems as narrow as a thread where all my actions illuminate my lack of skill and, at the same moment, as wide as my eyes can see if I hold all my thoughts and deeds as grist for the mill.
Many years ago after a week long meditation retreat I had the insight that I had spent most of my adult life trying to go under life by being in despair or over life by seeking bliss in meditation practice. I had never been willing to just be in life. My experience was driven by events I held as outside myself. As life took its ups and downs so I followed. In this scenario I had little responsibility. I was at the whim of the world. So I had to ask, what does it mean to just be in life? To work with this insight I took the metaphor of riding a bike. Bike riding is a continual experience of balance and unbalance. If the adjustments are quick there is the perception of steadiness. In this idea I saw that steadiness or balance wasn’t the ability to hold life on an even keel but a continuous process of letting life in, making adjustments, and going on. This was the beginning of my exploration of equanimity. How to find a sense of balance in my life, when my circumstances, my thoughts and emotions, are in continual change.
Certain events help me remember and find a center again when I think I have lost my way. I remember the time when I was so angry with my son. I felt the red hot flash of anger move through my body but I did nothing. I experienced my anger. This is worlds away from reacting to anger. I think of other times when I have had such a deep sense of happiness that actions on the part of others which I might have found irritating washed over me. My own joy could not be shaken. In this state of connection or being grounded I allowed the other person to have their experience without hooking in.
These experiences and countless others remind me that I can hold equanimity in the face of a fluctuating world. I can experience the ups and downs of life but I don’t have to go with it. I can hold an inner calm while life washes through me.
Without knowing it I have taken this passage from the Gita and carried it deeply into my yoga teaching and practice. Each term I read a quote to my students from Yoga, The Iyengar Way (1) that is based on this passage. My wish is to remind all of us that it is perseverance and sincerity of practice that brings our goal near. If we hold our yoga practice as merely physical forms to accomplish we will only have the measure of our successes and failures and miss the heart of yoga: to cultivate a quiet mind in the midst of activity.
So my yoga practice is a crucible in which I distill my understanding. I stand in Vrksasana and gather my scattered thoughts. I feel the rhythm of bone and muscle in Trikonasana, strength in Virabhadrasana III. Ardha Chandrasana brings a sense of harmony and balance. In Urdhva Dhanurasana there is effort and power. JanuSirshasana is sweet surrender. Yoga is my mirror. It is a place small enough to offer introspection and large enough to hold my whole life. It is a place to go out from and a place to come back to. It is my yoga which supports me in just going through life and finding: “evenness of mind – a peace that is ever the same“.
(1) “Correct effort, without over attachment to the goal, leads to mastery in Yoga. This demands perseverance and sincerity in practice. They bring the goal near. Through nonattachment the mind is undisturbed by dejection resulting from failure or by the pride of achievement. When the means are right, the fruit comes by itself.”