Last week, I took a yoga class. As we prepared to begin and settled ourselves on our mats, the teacher announced, “Today we’ll focus on strengthening our arms.”
Inwardly, I groaned. The internal monologue began: Arms! Why do we have to do arms? All day I’ve been dying for some nice stretchy hip openers, and now I’ll probably have to do a million Chaturangas?! This is not fair.
After I’d whined to myself a bit longer, the teacher said it was time to set our intentions for our practice. As I closed my eyes and searched for my intention, I realized how ensnarled in judgment and negativity I had become in just a few short moments. How quickly that happens! Just three simple words—“strengthening our arms”—had set off a litany of gripes, grumbles and groans in my head. I could easily have been sucked into this downward spiral for the entire class or even the rest of the day.
I decided to use vairagya (non-attachment) as my intention.
It is the human condition to cling to what we like and push away what we don’t like. We all want to feel as good as possible for as long as possible. While this is human nature, it is also the root of most of our suffering. Strive as we may to cling to comfort and get rid of discomfort, there inevitably comes a time when we have to deal with the stuff we don’t like. And when we get what we do like, no matter how hard we hold on, it will eventually slip away.
In our yoga practice, we learn to deal with these habits of grasping and aversion by noticing our immediate reactions, our clinging and our pushing away. We take a step back to just watch, unattached, observant, still and silent, without judgment. Then we let these feelings go.
This is the practice of vairagya that Patanjali refers to in Yoga Sutra 1.12: Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah (identification with the fluctuations of the mind is stopped by practice and non-attachment). By resisting attachment to our reactions and feelings, we realize that we are so much more than these fleeting, transitory emotions and thoughts. By letting go of grasping and aversion, we open ourselves to a complete and authentic experience of the present.
In the grand scheme of things, the fact that I had to do some push-ups when I really wanted to do pigeon pose is not a big deal.
Worse things have happened. But by cultivating and practicing an attitude of non-attachment towards a small disturbance such as this, I prepare myself for those moments when life hits me hard. Through yoga, we practice being present without judgment towards the minor annoyances and inconveniences of everyday life so that, in times of greater adversity, we cultivate an inner strength and have a way to deal with our problems.
The next time you catch yourself getting wrapped up in judgment, try to pause, take a deep breath and tap into your core. Not your physical core, but your spiritual core, a.k.a. the soul, spirit, essential nature, authentic self, atman. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the place deep down inside that is eternal, timeless, unchanging, everlasting. This core is not your thoughts, not your feelings, not your emotions. It is beyond attachments, likes, dislikes and opinions. It is vast, limitless and free.
Notice when you start to judge; when you come up against reluctance, discomfort, hostility, or—on the flip side—pleasure, comfort, bliss. Tap into your core and just watch these feelings as they come, then watch them as they go. Allow yourself to rest calmly within your core, free from grasping, free from aversion. Let go in order to open fully to the here and now in all its vivid detail: splendor, pain, delight, despair.
Christine Malossi is honored to be teaching yoga and to have the opportunity to pass on to others the joy and freedom that she has found in her own practice. Based in NYC, she offers creative, alignment-focused Vinyasa classes in a calm, open-minded, judgment-free environment where students can discover a sense of balance, peace and serenity. Find her at www.christinemalossi.com, on Twitter, or Facebook.
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Assistant Ed: Dejah Beauchamp/Ed: Kate Bartolotta