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The Practice of Being Content
Quieting the mind. It’s hard to do. We can close our eyes, roll our necks around, bring it back to center...and then, we breathe.
But, there it goes again--our mind wants to be busy. It flashes to what we need to do later, a conversation we had a week ago...it jumps around. A lot.
When I first started meditating, I used a crutch. I counted, in order to keep my mind from wandering. Inhale-one, exhale-two, inhale-three, exhale-four, inhale-five...and then, suddenly my mind would jump. Then I’d bring it back to one. You see, once you bring your mind back...start over at one. It helps to alleviate the ‘contest’---by starting over at one every time you slip into thought and not going past nine each time you successfully reach it before you start at one, again. Just breathe, and count. It’s a crutch, but, we do that. It’s okay. You don’t lose points for using a crutch when you need a crutch. When we need support, we use that crutch. It’s ok. Know that it’s something you will ween yourself from. It’s something to help train the mind and when you notice the mind jumping...bring it back. Bring. It. Back. When we first start sitting, it can be overwhelming to suddenly realize how much the mind jumps around. But after awhile, you discover that you’re just feeling your breath. The counting becomes unnecessary, and we get to put down the crutch. We don’t need it. The mind has become stronger. We can find peace. We can find contentment.
In Yoga, we pay attention to the breath. It’s the glue, really. The yoga sutras written by Patanjali, the first person to write about yoga, are described as an eight limbed path outlining the art and science of Yoga. It is “a process of systematically encountering, examining, and transcending each of the various gross and subtle levels of false identity in the mind field, until the jewel of the true Self comes shining through”.
Sounds pretty important when one puts it that way, yes? When we look at it simplistically, it’s listed as an eight limbed set of awareness to evolve with;
YAMA - Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows.
NIYAMA - Positive duties or observances.
ASANA - Posture. (This is where we Westerners like to dwell...we loooooove asana.)
PRANAYAMA - Breathing techniques.
PRATYAHARA - Sense withdrawal.
DHARANA - Focused concentration.
DHYANA - Meditative absorption.
SAMADHI - Bliss or enlightenment.
The second limb, the Niyamas, are personal practices, rituals and daily activities for wellbeing and spiritual growth. First, there is Soucha, which is the practice of cleanliness--or the commitment to keeping the mind and body clean. It’s about looking at environmental toxins and opting to remove them from our lives. It’s about being aware that cleanliness is more than washing your hands after you use the bathroom. It’s about your mind, too. It’s about what you are thinking. There is Tapas-- the practice of self discipline, and Svadhyaya--the practice of self study. There’s Ishvara Pranidhana which refers to surrendering to the Divine--quite literally, “the divine in me honors the divine in you”. Finally Santosha--meaning contentment. It is this Niyama that I’d like to focus on. This time of year, there is a lot of talk about gratitude. We’re thankful for our family, our pets, our homes. We’re thankful that mom is a great cook and we get to gather between halftime to devour the magic she conjured for us...so very thankful that we’re all together, safe, sound, with a second helping of too-much-already. But, there is more to Santosha than our American perspective of gratitude for abundance. Santosha refers to surrendering the control of our lives in the present moment, and going with the flow.
Santosha doesn’t assume abundance.
When we live our lives this way, we’re much more receptive to opportunities and experiences that present themselves when we keep an open mind. The result of practicing Santosha is experiencing increased love and joy in our own lives. When we’re happy and carefree, we can be of even greater service to others, and positively impact more lives around us. We can
be...better humans, no matter what we have...or don’t have.
When we’re not practicing Santosha, we tend to be discontent and hold onto resentment towards others and toward our situations. When we decide to practice Santosha we surrender to all circumstances-good and bad- that have brought us to any given moment, the result is often a deeper sense of gratitude for the respective paths we’re on. It means that when the weather is “bad”, we breathe. We find pause. We fill ourselves with contentment in the weather, no matter its “badness”.
It’s a struggle in the West to be content. American’s love choices. We don’t just want something to eat to address our hunger. We want the perfect burger. We could get a burger at at least 45 different burger places right here in Missoula. But...really...come on...it’s a cheeseburger. We have too many choices. All these choices confuse us, and then, even when we make a choice, we focus on what we didn’t get to choose. It was a good burger, but, maybe we should have gone to The Top Hat. Maybe it would have been better. It probably would have been. Unless it wasn’t. Because, maybe, it really wasn’t. Damn. Should have made a different choice. We buy a new car, and we find exactly what isn’t perfect about it as soon as we’ve signed the papers. It’s missing something that we could now focus on. Needs a hitch. A rack. Heated seats. Don’t get me wrong. Heated seats are pretty nice. Especially in Montana. Especially after yoga. But...is it worth being unhappy about if you don’t have them? Or, maybe,
you got a new job and are super excited, but...three weeks in...are wishing for the old job, or for a new, new job. This job...you’re not so sure about. And your partner? Well...is he/she really the best option? When you’re listening to them chew, are you wondering if someone else can chew their food in a less annoying way? Can you? Maybe the act of chewing food is just...chewing food. Maybe, it’s time to practice Santosha.
In Santosa, the practice of being content, you find the breath. You find the peace, but there is a fine line wherein you can also find yourself in complacency. You want to find contentment, not complacency. Complacency is giving up. Contentment is finding peace. Tease out the difference. The weather isn’t great. It’s cold. COLD. We Missoulians know cold. But, you know what...we usually have beautiful weather. Even when it’s cold out, it’s really...beautiful. We can work with the cold, knowing it is part of the dynamic whollistic reality of where we live. Our burger filled us up. It was tasty. It did its job. It fed us. Our job, it gives us a paycheck. Its reliable. It’s what we are doing. Maybe it’s a step into the future, but right now, it’s where we are. It’s what we are breathing through, what we are asked to be content in, for our own sake, and the for the sake of those who ears we borrow.
And there it is...the breath. The breath is what we are practicing in the studio, so that when we go out there, we can find contentment in our lives.
Can you find that contentment in pigeon? In Warrior two? Triangle? Can you find your breath in headstand? Can you find that same breath at home when your kids are going ape because you didn’t make the burger the way they like it? Can you teach them about Santosha, too? In this season of bundling up, Look to see where you can find the gratitude...find the places you can choose gratitude. They are there, and they will direct you toward contentment. This time of the year, we can lose track of contentment in favor of stress. But, remember, whatever holiday you align with, ‘Tis the season to be content with where you are, right now. Breathe.