Another New Year has arrived, offering all of us the opportunity to set new intentions for 2013.
My intention for the New Year is to live with more awareness—the greatest agent for change in our lives.
The most profound influence on how I live and teach yoga this past year has been The Bhagavad Gita—the most significant text in the history of yoga. Most people who teach yoga have read it, although finding the true meaning behind all the language, ambiguity and metaphor is challenging. For example, when we think of the word “yoga” we typically think of the physical practice, although you won’t find that aspect so easily in the Gita. The physical body is hidden in the metaphor of the chariot that our hero, Arjuna, rides in with his charioteer, Krishna.
When Krishna and Arjuna are shown in the chariot, the symbology is that of the supreme soul. Krishna, as the charioteer, guides the awakened ego of the devotee, Arjuna. Krishna teaches Arjuna the proper way to use discriminative intelligence and awareness to control the senses, represented by the five white horses pulling the chariot.
A student of yoga should have a healthy body (chariot), well behaved senses (horses) conditioned by self-control (reins), strong mental capacity (driver), and discriminative intelligence to guide them (wisely chosen path).
The chariot can then navigate the straight and narrow path of right action to its destination.
You see, it’s complicated. It’s not just Arjuna and Krishna sitting in the chariot on the battlefield; there’s a lot more to it.
How I teach and practice yoga is beyond the chariot, the physical practice. I’m also interested in the horses, the reins, the driver, the path and the destination.
Arjuna and Krishna in the middle of the battlefield with two armies facing each other, about to go to war, is also a metaphor. The side Arjuna and Krishna are fighting for is the Pandu army, which is the spiritual side, the side of being. The opposing side is the Kuru army, the material side, the side of doing.
The root of the Sanskrit word “Kuru” is “Kri,” which means work or material action. The battlefield is man’s body, the physical aspect, and the war represents a dysfunctional ego, insanity or loss of control. Arjuna represents self-control, patience, determination and awareness. Krishna signifies Divine Intelligence, our intuition; guiding us down the road we call life. Arjuna is only able to hear Krishna because he is in a state of being; his mind is quiet and still. The entire Bhagavad Gita is Arjuna in deep meditation, listening to Krishna through his intuition.
When you step on to your yoga mat, your state of awareness should be the primary factor; what you do on the mat is secondary. How you do what you do is determined by your awareness. It’s not what you do on the mat that matters, but how you do what you do on the mat that matters. Your awareness is what determines quality.
By being fully present to whatever you are doing, you will enjoy any activity that is not just a means to an end. What you are enjoying is not really the outward action, (doing) but the inner dimension of awareness (being) that flows into the action. The joy of being becomes what you are doing.
This contrast of inward vs. outward is reflected in the Gita. The Kuru army is facing west, signifying ignorance and turning outward and the Pandu army is facing east, signifying wisdom and turning inward.
Your presence on the mat requires care and attention, which comes from awareness. We become present with breath, and through conscious breathing we stop the mental chatter and come into being. You cannot think and be aware of your breathing at the same time. As long as you are unaware of being, you will only be in the dimension of doing, and the Kuru army will have defeated you. Awareness of body and breath not only grounds you in the present moment of being; it’s the way out of doing.
We become powerful in whatever we do if the action is performed for its own sake, rather than as a means to project, enhance or conform to a false identity of who we think we are.
When the basis of our actions is inner alignment with the present moment, our actions become empowered by the intelligence of life itself. In Chapter two, verse 48 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, “Perform dutifully all your actions without being attached to the outcome, whether of success or failure. This mental evenness is yoga.” As long as you think “I am the doing this, I am the doer of my actions,” your actions lose all their power. When the ego has been controlled (the Kuru army defeated) and all doership surrendered, every action you perform has power.
I frequently tell my students that yoga is a work in (being), not a work out (doing). All of the alignment and actions I teach are intended to keep students present on the mat. One of my main objectives in my classes is to distort time. When you distort time, you come out of doing and into being, where all life happens. Krishnamurti defines time as “the interval between thought and action.” If you stop your thoughts (doing), you will have distorted time and come fully into being.
Your state of awareness determines how you act in the world and interact with others. The practice of yoga is a practice to remove any confusion about who you think you are, to who you truly are.
In seeing who you are not, the reality of who you are begins to emerge. As your true self begins to awaken through awareness, not only do you begin to end the suffering and drama for yourself, but also for other people in your life. The war represented in the Bhagavad Gita is the war between the ego (Kurus) and the present moment (Pandus).
The ego’s greatest enemy is the present moment; the two cannot coexist.
People new to yoga will find this conflict played out every time they step onto their mat. The fuel the ego feeds on is reactivity. Through awareness, you start to see the ego for exactly what it is and it becomes much easier to remain nonreactive in life, which also makes yoga on the mat much more enjoyable.
This is transformation and empowerment through awareness. We can choose to lose ourselves in the doing or find ourselves in the being. Awareness will always offer us that choice; the choice to be ruled by Kurus, our desires and our senses, or to be like Arjuna, self-controlled, patient and one with life.
Ted Cox is a Certified Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga teacher in Oklahoma City where he owns Spirit House Yoga Center along with his wife, Martha McQuaid. In addition to teaching yoga, Ted is a long time professional musician with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. www.spirithouseyoga.com
Ed: Olivia Gray & Brianna Bemel
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