For many, these are difficult and dim days. Literally speaking, the eastern seaboard has been awash in rain and endlessly grey skies for weeks. The Boston Globe reports that June is currently making a run for the Dimmest Month on Record in my fine city, with no sign of the sun since June 5. An estimable honor no doubt, less so for those who live here. Meanwhile, the nation’s economy continues to falter, with unemployment rates climbing upward, and consumer confidence remaining dormant. Certainly the news abroad, clamoring to frightening levels of unrest, only adds to the maelstrom of collective stress. So, it’s no wonder that you’ve wandered over to this corner of the blogosphere where top priority is given to your sanity and well-being.
Ideally, yoga and meditation serve as outlets of healing, peace, and clarity during times of uncertainty and sorrow- or, perhaps more accurately, when the proverbial sh*t is hitting the fan. Yet, for some, attending (and paying) for yoga classes isn’t possible right now, and sitting down to meditate, even for those with the best intentions, proves too challenging. If so, it’s important to integrate yoga into your life in other, smaller ways throughout the day.
The Sanskrit word yoga translates to mean “to yoke or harness,” “to join,” or, simply put, “union.” *Early on, the word was applied to suggest a “spiritual endeavor,” specifically the control of the mind (manas) and senses (indriya). This usage is first found in the Upanishads, which date back to the second millennium BCE. While yogis in the U.S. largely think of yoga as a physical practice, made up of various poses or “asanas,” the poses are simply one route to reeling in a wayward mind and calming an anxious spirit. One can make the case that the benefits of yoga are accessible through any number of other spiritual endeavors as long as they unite our bodies, minds, and spirits in a state of balance. This is good news, suggesting that yoga can happen anywhere, anytime, within the world- not just on a yoga mat, tucked away in a serene studio. In other words, it’s an inside job, and you should feel at liberty to create your own small rituals and daily practices to harness your personal power and inner peace.
On days when getting to class isn’t feasible or physical asanas aren’t enough to dissolve the inordinate levels of stress, which you may be feeling of late, try incorporating smaller doses of Zen throughout your day. Here are 3 suggestions (no yoga mat necessary):
Share: Karma yoga is perhaps the easiest and most accessible form of yoga for any of us to practice. It simply requires that we be of service to others. Yogi icons such as Gandhi and Mother Theresa made this practice a way of life. However, the “yoga of doing good deeds” doesn’t need to be all-consuming. Small gestures, such as offering to babysit a friend’s child, sending an unexpected note expressing gratitude, cooking dinner for someone, or volunteering to help those less fortunate than you, are all within our karmic reach. No matter how busy, overwhelmed, or cash-strapped we are, there are countless ways to put yoga practice to good use within the world. The best thing about karma yoga is that the benefits are compounded; you benefit as well as the person whom you serve. On your mat, in a conventional asana practice, the benefits are more insular. Off your mat, your yogic reach is limitless.
Learn: Fewer things are more healing than engaging your mind in a new venture that brings you joy or a piece of wisdom that brings you comfort. On a daily basis, actively seek knowledge from sources that rejuvenate you. Be present as you do this, and you’ll be more apt to view this part of your day as meaningful enrichment rather than aimless information overload. Recently, I needed a lift of sorts, so I dug up the following excerpt about Joy and Sorrow in Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your
laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your
And how else can it be?
The deeper the sorrow carves into your
being, the more joy you can contain . . .
When you are joyous, look deep into
your heart and you shall find it is only that
which has given you sorrow that is giving
When you are sorrowful look again in
your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than
sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits
alone with you at your board, remember
the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like the scales between
your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced . . .
Savor Silence: Speaking of being standstill and balanced, another easy way to take a reprieve from the onslaught of stress with which you might be faced is to take a few conscious minutes of total and complete silence each day. No cell phone, no iPod, no computer, no TV. . .You get the idea. This morning, I turned off the radio in the car en route to work; I stowed my cell phone away, and I drove to work in silence. It sounds simple and unremarkable, but it felt wonderful, even on a grey morning, preceded by a record-breaking amount of similarly grey mornings.
*Source: The Shambala Encyclopedia of Yoga, George Feuerstein, PH.D