April 13, 2011

Yoga for Everyday People: Yoga Tips + Pema Chodron On Staying Zen Off the Mat

There’s a story Pema Chodron tells in her book Start Where You Are, about a hermit living in cave for twenty years. It goes something like this:

“An unconventional teacher named Patrul Rinpche showed up at the cage, and the hermit humbly and sweetly welcomed him in. Patrul Rinpoche said, “Tell me, what have you been doing in here?” “I’ve been practicing the perfection of patience,” the hermit answered. Putting his face very close to the hermit’s face, Patrul Rinpoche said, “But a pair of old scoundrels like us, we don’t care anything about patience really. We only do this to get everyone’s admiration, right? We just do this to get people to think we’re big shots, don’t we?” And the hermit started getting irritated. But Patrul Rinpoche wouldn’t stop. He just kept laughing and patting him on the back and saying, “Yeah, we sure know how to dupe people, don’t we?”

Eventually the hermit’s had it. He stands up and screams at Patrul Rinpoche to go away and leave him in peace. And Rinpoche says something along the lines of, “So where is your patience now?”

When I read that recently I had one of those ‘ah ha!’ moments. All last year I struggled to settle into a work-related situation where I was continually being challenged by someone who’s naturally inclined to anger-based outbursts–very natural for a Pitta-based constitution. Very hard for a super sensitive Vata-based constitution to handle. My neighbour and friend–who just happens to have spent time at Pema Chodron’s Buddhist monastery, Gampo Abbey, is dating a man who spent 15 years as Patrul Rinpoche’s student, and is big into Buddhism herself would say to me, “I think this person has come into your life for a reason.”

I think I’ve figured it out: I’m the hermit. He’s my Patrul Rinpoche. I have a habit of seeking harmony and avoiding dissonance. I don’t like to be uncomfortable–unless it’s on my yoga mat. I’m in heaven at a 4 am Kundalini Sadhana where we stick our arms in the air for 30 minutes straight while kinda panting like dogs and hurling out mantras with our minds screaming with resistance and our bodies sweating and shaking. Yeah, let me have it! But get me in a situation outside the studio where those kind of reactions come up and I just wanna vamoose.

I don’t want to be that way anymore. I want to maintain my patience, my zen, my yoga-hapy-bliss and open heart as much as I can–on and off the mat. And I think the universe knows it. Because everytime I thought about leaving that work situation that little-big voice that comes into my heart sometimes said ‘Don’t. You are here for a reason.’ So I’m here. I get it. I’m grateful. And here’s what I’m practicing to help me stay and grow.

5 Zen-Yoga Tips for Challenges We’re Stuck With

1. Remembering people come into our lives for a reason. This understanding alone helps me to take a step back from my auto-reaction. It’s like a check-point on a roadway I’m about to go speeding down. Hang on a second, if people come into our lives for a reason, maybe this person’s got something to teach me, whether I like it or not. Maybe I should pause and feel this out a bit before my barriers go up.

2. Remembering our breath. Yogis go back to their breath a lot. How’s my breath doing? Stuck in my upper chest? Maybe even in my throat? Can I deepen my inhales so the arrive in my belly and rise all the way up to the roof of my mouth, and lengthen my exhales so they release all the way back down again? Ah, that’s better.

3. Remembering our bodies. We hold tension in our bodies. Holding patterns that have protected us and kept us closed off from what we might not want to feel. We can’t let go if we’re hanging on so tight. We can’t let things pass through us if we’re closed off. So we do something as simple as a little shake. Maybe we stand up and just wiggle our shoulders and hips a bit, give our hair a shake. Bigger is better, but this works when you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.

4. Remembering it’s not personal. However that other person is acting 99% of the time has nothing to do with us. We’re triggering their junk, just like they’re triggering ours. Swap yourself out of the sitatution and the person you’re interacting with will likely still respond the same way.

5. Remembering to stay open and heart-centered. David Deida teaches that no matter what emotions we’re feeling–anger, frustration, fear, hurt–we can stay open and heart-centered. We can take our intention and our attention to that heart-space and notice if it feels tight and closed. We can continue to feel and express what we’re feeling without closing down. And we can keep connecting to others from that space, so they can continue connecting to it themselves.

But, and this is important, NOBODY teaches to stick around if a situation gets abusive. There’s no love or benefit to anybody in that.

I’m gonna keep on practicing this. Because our yoga practice is life practice.



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