Yoga, Right Action & Kicking Your Sh*t to the Curb.

Via Amy Jirsa
on Jul 31, 2013
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We talk a lot about “right action” in yoga, but it took me a long time to really get what it means.

I mean, is it making the moral choice? The sacrificial choice? The dogmatic choice? And moral for whom? And by what code? Do we abide by the tenant of being kind and doing what we like as long as we aren’t hurting anyone? And by whose authority?

And how is this related to being in the moment? We also talk about that in the yoga community. A lot.

Now, anyone who’s tried mindfulness knows how hard it is to maintain. Well, maybe not for everyone, but I’ll speak for myself when I say that I am a relentless addict of patterns, routine and, though I like adventure, I find drastic change to be as difficult as it can be exciting.

But here’s the thing I’ve just realized. I’m speaking in these huge generalities here—even when I talk about my own life and my own habits. That, right there, is what gets in the way of mindfulness and of knowing what we mean by ‘right action.’

To explain: When overcoming an addiction (for example), the only way to handle it (arguably) is to understand how to take the right action for right now. Anyone who’s dealt with irresistible urges—whether it’s for alcohol, sex, food, drugs, an unwise phone call/relationship, procrastination, unfair judgment, whatever—knows that these cravings are impulses. And impulses can only affect us in the moment.

So, ironically, it’s easiest to be in the moment when we least want to be. (Of course, there’s the broader and deeper topic of what we’re masking or avoiding with these impulses but, meh, one thing at a time).

Anyway, to the point. There is action we can take in these moments. We get so obsessed with the impulse, the craving, that we can’t see a moment beyond it. That’s not mindfulness, that’s imprisonment. And though it seems impossible, we really can make another choice.

What makes that other choice difficult is looking forward and wondering how we’ll ever make the “right” choice again and again and again. Well, that’s where being in moment actually works for us. Because you don’t have to make the right choice again and again. It’s overwhelming. Until, of course, you realize that you only have to make that right choice right now.

And that’s a huge relief, right? I don’t have to figure out my whole life in this second. After all, there is only this second. And if I spend this second not drinking or not over-indulging or not smoking or not giving up/in or whatever, then the next second happens all on its own. They add up and, eventually, the not-choosing becomes the default choice.

Okay—so what the hell does this have to do with yoga? Well, everything, I think. This is where the practice of yoga meets us in the real world. We have to deal with potential unpleasantness every moment of our lives. It’s a choice we make, whether we let ourselves down or lift ourselves up, no matter what our circumstances.

Yoga teaches us how to make the right choice for right now. Think of it as life training. Take that pose that challenges you, for example. Do you stay in it longer than you want to? Every second you make the choice to stay, you’re teaching yourself that you do have the strength, the focus, and the will to be in the moment, to take your individual right action.

And let me tell you, when you witness yourself, day in and day out, making the hard choice, the “right” choice, that in itself becomes a reason to keep going. Surprising yourself again and again, replacing that familiar feeling of constantly disappointing yourself, becomes a (healthy) addiction all on its own.

Learning to honor our own “right” impulses (and, when you’re honest with yourself, you know what these are; they feel very different from the self-destructive ones) makes you stop caring so much about everyone else’s. That in itself is freeing. It allows us to live by example rather than by self-righteousness (which is as exhausting as it is disturbingly prevalent).

Trust me, you’ll influence more people through your own ease and confidence than you ever will through the tension of constant trying (and failing) to change yourself.

No excuses. Be you. Honestly you.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Amy Jirsa

Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, yoga instructor and master herbalist. She makes her home at her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, in Lincoln, Nebraska and on her blog. And if that’s not enough, you can also find her at Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or on Facebook (Quiet Earth Yoga). She'll be releasing a book on yoga and natural health, to be released in 2015. Stay tuned!


4 Responses to “Yoga, Right Action & Kicking Your Sh*t to the Curb.”

  1. Beth says:

    I like this piece a lot. I’ve had moments lately that I’ve gotten caught up in “how do I know I’m on the right path” and other over-thinking traps…and I like the idea of “right choice for right now” as it is so less overwhelming. Thank you for your sharing your perspective!

  2. ardha chandra says:

    Yes to right choice in the moment, defined, I think, by compassion. It is not compassionate to take the action that is almost certain to lead you into a personal hell; it is not compassionate to stay too long in the pose just to gratify the ego. There's a fine listening and a deep listening that gives rise to and accompanies, the "right" choice.

  3. There are many translations of the Gita, which discusses this at length. There's a theme in Vedic literature called "purification of the path". It comes up over and over in the 36 branches; the principle is that through practice of asana, pranayam and meditation, one naturally moves toward right action. The word "effortless" is used. In translations of the Gita and Yoga Sutras, the word control is unfortunately used a lot in certain translations, but some Vedic pandits from India will tell you that "to bring into coherence" or "to bring into orderliness" is actually a better translation as the word "control" doesn't work going from Sanskrit to English. So when it comes to "spontaneous" right action, we want to notice those times that are effortless, when right action descends and we find ourselves drawn to an earlier bedtime, a healthier meal, or maybe an organic root beer instead of beer. I've become one to notice a desire and give it a minute. Is this a desire, or a need based on a deeper issue…nope, this is a true desire! And I go for it. I've "sinned" like a champ, but after the last three years of a dedicated practice, I am much more "self-referral" (drawing on my own essential nature I create again and again…) and I make easy choices. I still do things that are considered unhealthy, but I do them mindfully, not in excess, and I consider the amount of detox after a retox. But usually, I'm only drawn to what's good, and it's natural. When I went from control to just being and I meditated twice daily without fail, I found all my bullshit just fell away, effortlessly and I didn't actually "do" anything. Purification of the Path is a very important Vedic principle and I wish more yoga teachers would talk about these essential principles as students search for the depth behind "yoga". So thank you.

  4. Joe Sparks says:

    Very Good! In my perspective, an urge is an insistent feeling, usually rationalized and defended, of a past recording of hurt playing itself in the present, as the human intelligence is shut-down, the old recording's is taking over the human, who then acts as its puppet. We are addicted to whatever messages got in and were not resolved.