I want to write my own definition of success so I can act with integrity in my pursuit of it. (Also, it is often easier to get somewhere when you’ve clarified where you want to go.) I welcome your thoughts, ideas, and critique. I want this definition to evolve with time, experience, and discussion.
Success: My Story of It
To speak the truth; to seek awareness and understanding; and
To compassionately care for the well-being of all living creatures;
To move with grace; to be at peace in the mystery;
To choose discomfort over resentment and
To be vulnerable;
To share the story of my heart and
to care for the hearts of others;
To cultivate a playful, curious, and generous spirit;
To seek beauty and to spend time in the trees;
To embody love;
To find the peace in the present moment,
the laughter in the midst of sorrow,
and the joy in the struggle;
To act with integrity; to stand against injustice, and
To be able to look future generations in the eye and say,
“I took care.”
To live honourably amongst a village.
This is to have succeeded.
Yoga is awesome. I love it. It would be hard to capture all of the positive ways that yoga has impacted my life. Come to think of it, it would be hard to find an aspect of my life that isn’t better as a result of practicing yoga. And, the benefits of my practice continue to unfold. Yoga just seems to get more awesome with time.
And there is science to back that up: I recently read a paper written by my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Lindsay Reoch, in which she mentions a study that “compared experienced yoga practitioners (5 years or more experience) with beginner practitioners (1-5 years experience). [The researchers] found that the experienced practitioners scored significantly higher on mindfulness levels and significantly lower on stress levels than the beginner practitioners, suggesting that the longer one practices yoga, the more benefits will be received.”
A life-changing practice that gets better with time. What to do I do with that?
Hmmm. How about tell everyone I know, “You should do yoga!”
Yoga and your family
It can be frustrating for devoted yoga practitioners when our loved ones are not interested in practicing yoga. We want to share the wealth of the practice; we want our loved ones to feel the ways the practice has helped us to feel. But it often doesn’t go well when we try to convince other people to do yoga. In a course I took with Judith Lasater, she counselled everyone in the room: “Avoid at all costs looking at your loved ones and seeing a lack of yoga.”
But that is not always easy to do when the lack of yoga is so obvious: the back pain, the inflexibility, the anxiety, the stress levels, the chronic pain, the self-criticism, the muscular imbalance, the patterns of compensation, the shallow chest breathing, the catastrophic thinking, the insomnia, and the low levels of body awareness.
How can I see the people I love struggling in these ways without trying to share with them the tools that have helped me?
Be the change
The wisdom of Gandhi does not need rephrasing: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
There is no evangelical component to the practice of yoga. Nowhere in the teachings (that I am aware of, at least) does it say, “Encourage other people to do yoga.” Yoga is about your relationship with yourself, and about how you conduct yourself in the world around you. Classically, yoga was only taught to people who sought to learn it.
I experienced this style of teaching when I was in India studying with Yogi Vishvketu. There were times where he would only speak if people asked him questions. He would not prepare what to teach us in advance or proceed to lecture for a predefined amount of time. He simply spoke about things when people asked about them. If no one asked any questions – if no one asked to learn – he would not teach.
If your loved ones don’t want to do yoga, it is an opportunity for you to do yoga. Ask yourself: what is going on for you when you want other people to do yoga? For me, it is often a combination of love, fear, and frustration.
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I think it would also be fair to say that most of us spend a fair bit of time thinking about how other people should change and less time exploring the possibility of changing ourselves. Instead of pushing someone else to do yoga, my yoga practice is about honouring and attending to the emotions that are inspiring me to push.
I should do yoga
I get excited about yoga. I believe the practice has the ability to bring profound levels of peace and well-being to the world. But I also recognize that there is an absence of yoga in needing other people to do yoga.
So, instead of trying to sell people on the benefits of yoga, I turn to the words of Gandhi. I turn inward, and I do my own work. I try not to ramble with excitement when people ask me about yoga. I try to listen, to ask them questions, and to understand what they are seeking. I remind myself that everyone needs to find their own way, and that by practicing yoga myself, I learn to give them the space to do so.
In addition to this work, I do one more important thing for myself: I make sure I have some good friends who love yoga, because every so often I need to gush about how wonderful it is.
I love spring. One of the wonderful things about spring is that it can bring about a spirit of renewal – a desire to clear away the old and make space for the new. Spring Cleaning is a common renewal practice for many of us – we go through our homes and get rid of unwanted things, clean deeply, reorganize, and make space.
The practice of yoga can be thought of as the Spring Cleaning of our thought patterns and habitual behaviours. According to yogic philosophy, all of our suffering is a result of not being able to see or understand our true nature, and avidya is the Sanskrit word that describes this ignorance of our true nature. In the state of avidya, we don’t see that, as human beings, we are inherently compassionate, generous, and peaceful. Avidya is a result of our patterns and habits and our persistent unwillingness to see and know anything other than what our habits have trained us to see and know. Through the yoga practice, we clear away these patterns and habits so that we can get closer to an understanding our true nature, suffer less, and experience more joy.
How do we clear away habits?
The yamas, the first limb in the classical practice of yoga, are five ethical practices intended to slowly move us away from avidya and closer to an understanding of the inherent beauty and interconnectedness of all life. The yamas are practices of restraint, but they don’t teach us to restrain ourselves because what we’re doing is bad or wrong. Instead, the yamas teach us that restraint is actually a way to gain awareness. Stephen Cope put it eloquently in The Wisdom of Yoga:
“With each moment of restraint, the mind becomes a little more transparent. A little more reflective. A little more still. A little less reactive.”
Before the days of New Year’s resolutions, the yogis already understood that human willpower was not a very effective or long lasting way to change behaviour. To change your habits, you first need to understand and address what is motivating your behaviour. The yogic teachings prescribe restraint as the most effective way to gain this understanding. They assert thatthere is an incredible amount of power in the act of restraint.
Spring cleaning with ahimsa
This spring I encourage you to explore this practice of restraint through the first practice of yoga – ahimsa (non-harming). Ahimsa is the first of the yamas, and the practice is to restrain your harming behaviour so that you can begin to understand the motivations behind it.
Whether it is in the way you speak to yourself or your partner, or in the way you care for your health, your home or your planet, begin to notice moments where you feel inclined to act, speak, or think in a way that may cause harm. Pause in that moment. Compassionately remind yourself that you are a beautiful human being. Remember that the first limb of yoga is ahimsa because everyone struggles to move through the world in a non-harming way. You are not bad or wrong for doing harming things – you are human.
Holding all of this compassionate and understanding, ask yourself, “What am I truly trying to accomplish with this action or these words?”
The answer to this question might be hard to face at first. You might find that you are trying to protect yourself or realize that you are terrified. You might encounter strong emotions that you were completely unaware of.
But the wonderful thing about the power we meet in the moment of restraint is that it has a way of empowering us. In that simple moment of not reacting, we often realize that we don’t need to run, hide, or lash out in the way that we have been habitually doing. We have the strength to face what comes up. There is space for reflectivity and for asking questions, and there is the space to take a deep breath.
Something else that we tend to miss in the state of avidya is our interconnectedness with all of life, and how, as a result, my harming of myself, you, or the planet is harming myself, you, andthe planet. As the yoga practice deepens, so does our appreciation for the fact that we are all in this together. As you begin to slowly clear away your harming habits, you are supporting yourself, this planet and every living creature that resides upon it.
It is this acknowledgement of our deep interconnectedness that is expressed when we say the word Namaste.