Clearing the canvas

Category : Asanas (Postures), General advice, Philosophy 12th October 2020

Inside Yoga 310 (9/10/2020)

Times are tough at present, there is no doubt about it, this pandemic is testing our resolve and ability to cope, many will feel worn down by all the bad news, and others just want to hide until it blows over. We are like jugglers struggling to keep too many balls in the air, with added pressure that random balls keep being added by someone else!

It is times like this when our yoga practice does and can help. Whether it is yoga asanas mixed with seated meditation, or simply seated or reclined meditation, this practice is designed to help us cope with the pressures of life. It gives us the opportunity to turn away from the world and turn within to rejuvenate and refocus, and on a regular basis.

Life has a tendency to fill us up with stuff to deal with, and unrelentingly for many of us, so we need a way of getting rid of what we do not need in our life in terms of our body and mind. We just keep filling up, so we need a way of emptying ourselves, and this is where yoga comes in. Then after practice we will be better able to cope with what is out there for us to deal with.

“Healing ourselves before we heal others”, and other similar messages which ask us to look inside before we look outside, might sound like an overused sayings, but this should not diminish their important point. We need to prepare ourselves for what lies in front of us.

See our yoga practice as a place we go to where we can focus on ourselves, shutting out the external world. There, through practice, we can take off the backpack of burden which we have carried all day or however long we feel we have been weighed down by whatever life is giving us to deal with.

Once we have got rid of the burden, we are then in a better place, physically and emotionally, to re-enter the external world, and deal with the life we live. Situations and problems do not necessarily go away, but our ability to cope fluctuates, and it is the practice we do that helps us to have enough clarity and energy to deal with whatever we face.

“Going off to find yourself?” is a question someone might ask another who is embarked on a journey of self-discovery; and like the “going within” expression, also often used, and frequently misunderstood. The reality is that it is not a journey look for our “self” but a cleansing practice which sheds stuff which our self does not need. Our “self” is not found sitting on top of a mountain or under a tree in the jungle, because it has always been within us, but due our busy, constantly active world, we cannot hear ourselves, and we can feel a thousand miles from who we are, and wonder where our self has gone! We need silence to see and hear our self.

Strip away the rubbish of our mind and the distractions around us, and once there is stillness we will probably notice our “self” more accurately.

This then gives us space to feel free of burden, free to breathe, free to cope with what our life faces. Do not look for a perfect ideal, but focus on ridding our self of the unwanted.

Many of us have heard all this before, and it is something we will understand and feel it makes sense. But what can often be missing is the connection between, the nod of the heard to something which sounds correct and good for us, and the step of taking action to do something about it.

This is why the message is “practice yoga regularly”, as the action of practice starts the engine which will cleanse us of what we do not need. Our practice acts as the safety valve which puts a stop to negative stuff accumulating, and at times it might well be the emergency stop, when we have pushed our ability to cope to the limit. Practice is both a preventative measure and a recovery measure. It is always there for us.

Take for example, all the bad news at present, I do believe we need to know what is happening, I follow the news, so I feel connected and aware of what is going on, but I need to know when to switch it off, and take a break. Besides practice, this can also be a walk, run, or watching something entertaining on TV. But ultimately, the most effective break, let’s call it a “circuit breaker”, is the cultivation of inner silence through our practice. Through silence we can heal and we can gather our strength ready to re-enter what we call the real world.

In the eight limbs of yoga as set out in the yoga sutras there is one part called pratyahara , which can be explained as controlling the senses, or withdrawing of the senses, where we stop the interference of external stimulus to focus within. There are the usual four senses, plus, the fifth in yoga which are our thoughts or mind. Through our practice we strip away the effects of the outside world leaving us in the pure state of just being, where our mind is silent of though yet alert, described as pure conscious awareness.

In other words, like an artist who decides the canvas needs to be wiped clean so he or she can start again, we clear our minds. Presented with a white clear canvas the artist can feel free again to create the art, not cluttered and distracted by unwanted imagery on the canvas. Similarly, we meditate to clear our heads so we can be ready for our next moment.

This is why it is good to withdraw for a period of time, to practice yoga, and not to see it as giving up or wasting time. Clearing the mind and body is healing; and it prepares us for the world we live in.

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