In Yoga, the traditional techniques and practices are oriented to an inward journey of self-discovery. As we travel this path of continuous learning we develop our ability to notice and observe the feedback that emerges as a response to all of our actions. By developing our sensitivity to feedback, we can fine tune the quality of our connection to the world around us so that we can notice that every single action generates a reaction. However, many times our actions are habitual or automatic, and thus less than mindful. In those cases, we might fail to recognize that the feedback we receive is a direct response to our actions. For instance, let’s say that we need to drive somewhere when we don’t feel well rested. Let’s say we choose to drive, in spite of the subtle feedback from our body indicating that we need to rest. As we are driving, we may notice our eyes feeling a bit tired, but we decide to override this feedback by continuing to drive. In response, the self-adjusting feedback mechanism will automatically create a stronger message to draw our attention to what we are doing. As we continue driving we might feel that we are unable to focus our eyes clearly. Ignoring the feedback does not make it go away; instead it increases the strength of the message. So, as we continue driving our eyes may close for a brief moment. If we decide to stay on the road we may doze off and perhaps wake up as our car swerves slightly or abruptly. Choosing to ignore the feedback we receive can result in being forced to pause so that we can consider the effects of our actions.
The feedback itself is not necessarily good or bad, it is just the effect of our previous actions. That is, the feedback we receive is not passing judgment on our past actions, it only communicates to us the effects of those past actions. The objective of feedback is to get us to pay attention to our actions so that we can choose our actions intelligently. In our Yoga practice, asana, pranayama, concentration and meditation, we learn to listen with undivided attention to physical, mental, psychological and emotional feedback because it provides important guidance in our personal journey as well as in our interactions with others and with the world around us.
Forced to Pause
The feedback process operates at personal, interpersonal, societal and global levels. At this moment, in my opinion, we are witnessing feedback in the form of turbulence and turmoil at many levels throughout the world. Again, it seems important to emphasize that the feedback is neutral; it is not good or bad per se. What is important is to understand that the feedback is giving us an opportunity to observe our actions clearly and to notice their effects so that we can act mindfully and intelligently. As the year begins, my suggestion is to take advantage of this transition, first to gladly accept the opportunity to pause and second to use this opportunity to gain clarity about our circumstances and our options.
Yogic practices are oriented to help us gain clarity by immersing ourselves into the present moment and connecting with our essence. Our essence is our true substance, that which is truly constitutive of our selves. Everything that is not our essence is temporary, accidental, impermanent, not necessary. According to the Yoga Sutras we tend to confuse what is essential and what is not. Wisdom is learning to distinguish between the two. In my opinion, when we take actions that honor our essence, the feedback we receive increases our clarity, well-being, peace and joy. I also believe, that life affirming actions benefit all who are involved.
Setting our Intention
As you might be aware, the path of Yoga is experiential. Here is a practice that can be helpful in gaining clarity so that we can direct our attention and energy toward life affirming actions at all levels.
The idea of simplicity as it was so eloquently and beautifully said by Paramahansa Yogananda can provide inspiration and guidance along the way:
“Simplicity means to be free of desires and attachments, and supremely happy within…It entails neither hardship nor deprivation, but the wisdom to work for and be content with what you truly need.”
With simplicity in mind and heart:
- Sit comfortably with your spine erect and your chin level.
- Close your eyes
- Reflect on your past actions
- Honestly look at your actions in the past year and ask yourself:
- What actions took me out of balance?
- What actions made me feel confused, angry, upset?
- What actions brought peace, joy, balance and meaning into my life?
- Breathe calmly with long, soft exhalations
- Each time you exhale let go of a previous actions that took you out of balance or made you feel confused, angry or upset
- Be grateful
- Breathe calmly with long, soft exhalations
- Continue breathing softly with long inhalations and exhalations
- Each time you inhale ask yourself what am I grateful for?
- Each time you exhale, give thanks from your heart
- Set your intention
- Continue breathing with long, soft inhalations and exhalations
- Each time you inhale set your intention to honor your essence by performing actions that bring peace, joy, balance and meaning into your life this coming year
- Keep your eyes closed, continue sitting and observe how you feel so that you can remember to keep this connection to your essence alive and strong throughout the year
I hope that your New Year is filled with joy, love, happiness, meaning and excellent health.