(First written 8/12/2008)
In yoga the word “balance” is often mentioned. It is described in yoga as being a state which we strive for, would like to attain, or perhaps, feel we have but do not want to lose.
The meaning of the word yoga when translated from Sanskrit refers to “union”. Through yoga we can attain union: a balance in health, a balanced mind, a balanced heart.
As this is the season of excess and indulgence, with Christmas and the New Year approaching, I feel it is appropriate to offer you a yogic view of the festive season.
Let’s face it, when it comes to Christmas all caution, for many of us, is thrown to the wind. We fill our stomachs with food and drink, and fill our cupboards with merchandise – presents from others and sometimes from ourselves – for being good that year.
To some yoga is about abstinence, but you will be relieved to know that there is a middle path that one can take, which is much more user friendly in our society, and still a yogic path.
This is the path of balance with awareness.
The root of human emotions can be summed up as being either aversion or desire.
Christmas is a period of extreme desires. All around us there is temptation to consume and accumulate. Lots of meals, loads of shopping to do – so many presents to give and receive.
Christmas also stirs up extreme negative emotions, with some people having aversion to all things festive, causing relationships to split, family arguments and so forth. Not to mention how miserable that Scrooge feels. Someone might have started enjoying the whole festive period, but then it turns sour.
This swing from desire to aversion is a natural human state at any time of the year. We spend most of time going from one to the other, for example, the eating at Christmas starts with desires to eat so many delicious dishes, but after a while this shifts towards feelings of enough, and then to extreme feelings of revulsion – usually if we have eaten too much. This natural pendulum of human nature is more noticeable at this time of year.
For some people, it might swing so much that the whole pendulum creeks and snaps, and then our world tumbles around us.
But before you think the yogic view is shouting “bah! humbug!” there is a way of being yogic at this time, and still enjoying every moment. And you do not need to feel like a yogic expert to do this. One of my teachers in India would often encourage us to enjoy and feel the delight of the world through the practice of yoga; transforming everything into a delightful experience – including Christmas.
There are different ways of finding the balance. This advice might seem rather straight forward, and obvious, but it’s a reminder of something we already know but forget when its needed.
To find this balance at Christmas as regards shopping, presents and eating, cultivating detachment is one useful technique. For example, cultivating the feeling that you neither want, nor not want presents, and should you receive them you feel gratitude and joy with the experience.
And when it comes to eating, if you crave something like a Christmas meal so much that you are feeling wound up and stressed because you are trying not to have it, your stomach will be reacting to this process of craving and this is not healthy. So instead of denying yourself this experience you allow it to happen. You eat the meal, eating with moderation – of course – and then afterwards you return to the diet. Now that it the sort of advice most dieticians give, but the angle I am looking at is how the mind is during this whole process. That we are aware of what is happening and aware of our relationship to this.
A yoga practice is not just something we do on the yoga mat, and not something we switch on and off, to suit the situation. One cultivates this to be continuous.
And from my perspective it means that you can then enjoy every moment of the festive period, by maintaining the balance between aversion and desire.
Avoiding the extremes of aversion, being a Scrooge due to some mistaken thought that yoga forbids festivities and pleasure, or swinging towards desires to the point that even Dionysis says that it was too much.
So that it really is a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.