The work is always there.
Where there’s life there’s action. The Bhagavad Gita says that how we do the action ties us down or sets us free. Do it with love, devotion and without attachment and we are involved in yoga.
As I was writing this article I was scrambling to finish last-minute items before acquiring the space for our new yoga centre. I had four days to find an insurance company that would insure a 100-year-old brick building, find an architect to stamp building permit drawings and work out an access agreement with a neighbour so we could repair our wall. Now, time has passed and we actually have the place and different work appears – renovating, program planning, networking, publicizing, deciding, celebrating!
Knowing that work can set me free can change my attitude. Often I am not free in the moment. I am caught in my mental-emotional states. I am learning about my procrastination/impatience duality—where I demand results immediately on the one hand and put off my work until the last minute on the other. You’d think a swami would be more liberated! Yet being a swami doesn’t mean being there. It means a desire for liberation and a commitment to change. It’s not that the work ends …
So in this liberation issue (of ascent magazine), I’m writing not about a high flying bird pose or a fierce and ready Warrior pose, but about a tool. The plough— a tool of work, the tool of digging in and seeing what’s really there. The tool of preparing the ground for the future.
I recently heard an interview on CBC Radio with a man who won the prize for the best ploughing. Keeping the lines straight is not so easy.
The Plough requires discrimination, both in the implementation of the pose and also in actually using the tool. At the Ashram we don’t plough our garden as much as we used to; rather we build up the raised beds, layering. But still in the spring we do have to loosen those beds. And sometimes there is new ground to be turned over and helped along with some nutritious compost, and whatever elements it needs—sand, clay—getting it to a good consistency. In the fall we plough in winter rye to feed the soil, thinking ahead to next year, nourishing for the future.
So it’s about sustainability. When you do the Plough, make it sustainable for your own body. It’s okay to adjust, to listen, to find your special place with this pose. But there will be some pressure, no matter what. That is the way with the pose and that is the way with work. How can pressure be a positive, healthy force? Without work we could easily imagine we were enlightened already. But given a deadline to meet, what happens? Everything that comes forward is valuable learning – seeing what exists in the mind under pressure.
What is it to be a tool? There is the idea: I’m a tool of the Divine. Use me! And then there is the reality: But I didn’t mean like this! So what is this practice of receptivity, of being led, of being used by a higher power? How do I know when it is my will or Thy will?
Here is the field of my work at this moment—a special beginning time of preparing a space in Vancouver. The inner work and the outer work go together like two oxen pulling the plough.
Milarepa ploughed the hard field and didn’t stop until it was all done. His guru Marpa understood this as a message that he would complete the work and find liberation in one lifetime. We can do it, too. It means going to the hard areas and loosening them up. Preparing the ground of the mind by willingness to put in the effort. ॐ
1 Lie on your back with your knees bent. Roll your shoulders down away from your ears, and lengthen the back of the neck.
2 Lift your legs and raise your hips off the floor and roll up onto your shoulders. Support your back with your hands. Lower your legs over your head until the feet touch the floor, or find the place that works for you.
3 Place your arms on the mat and clasp your hands together behind your back to shift the weight onto the shoulders, then relax your arms. Lengthen through the front and back of the torso, extending up through the sitting bones. Hold the pose as long as is right for you.
4 To come out of the pose, lift the legs back over your head and slowly lower your spine down to the floor. Keep your head and neck on the floor if possible, using your hands to support you. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor.
5 Follow up with the Fish pose or a lying twist, bringing your knees to the floor on one side while turning your head to the other side. Do the twist in both directions.
1 Ask yourself: What am I ploughing through in my life? What are the hard lumps I must break up?
2 Think about ploughing your mind to make it open and receptive. What seeds do you want to plant in this ground? What hidden treasures turn up?
Please note: The Plough is not recommended for people with high blood pressure or neck injuries. Also, as with other inverted poses, you may want to choose to refrain during menstruation.
Swami Lalitananda is a teacher and author of two books, including The Inner Life of Asanas. For five years, she was the Director of Radha Yoga & Eatery in Vancouver, a space that embraces art, culture, yoga and community. She lived and studied with Swami Radha for over 20 years. Swami Lalitananda took sanyas in 1996 and is dedicated to making yoga accessible and significant in everyday life.
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Editor: Kate Bartolotta