Very often I notice that changing weather patterns are on our minds because some of the variations we are experiencing seem to be difficult to ignore. It makes sense to pay attention to the fluctuations in the weather so that we can plan, even something as simple as taking an umbrella along as we leave our home. For me it is also interesting to observe how the weather outside can help us notice some of our internal filters. For instance, it is not unusual to hear somebody saying something like: “Wow! What a beautiful day today, how can a person not be absolutely happy today?” Most of us would probably agree that when the weather outside agrees with our preferences or plans we may be more likely to feel happy, or at least in a good mood. Of course, it is easier to feel happy when everything is going according to our liking. However, when the weather turns, does that make our mood turn as well? Is the person who finds today’s weather lovely the same person that complains because it is too hot, too humid, too cold, too windy or too rainy?
Something that draws my attention is how a simple weather event like rain can generate two quite distinct reactions in the same person. For example, if I am working in my garden and I just finished putting seeds in the ground, I may be quite happy when it starts raining. On the other hand, if I have plans to meet my friends for a picnic, I may feel frustrated or upset for having to change or cancel my plans when it rains. When I allow the changing weather patterns influence how I feel, am I abdicating my agency? Am I relinquishing my capacity to choose how to respond to what is happening outside? Allowing my mood to be at the mercy of external phenomena, seems like an excellent recipe to be on a constant emotional roller coaster that changes like the wind.
Yoga is a journey of inner exploration of our physical, mental, emotional and respiratory inner landscapes. It can be argued that yoga can enhance our ability to regulate our inner climate. For instance, most yoga sessions are set up in a safe, calm and relaxing environment in order to facilitate an exploration with minimal to no distractions. As a result, we can notice how our movements, our breath and our mind interact and interrelate and even further, we may start noticing how the practice influences our attitude and mood. The skills we cultivate in our practice are transferable, so one of the goals of our consistent practice is to help us act consciously and deliberately during our practice and beyond, in our daily lives. In other words, our yoga practice helps us establish a link between our inner world and the world outside, enabling us to respond rather than react.
How can we get better at regulating our internal states?
The first requirement is to show up as fully as we can to our present moment. Without this we may not notice that some of our reactions might be habitual and/or unconscious.
The second requirement is to be interested in noticing what is happening to better determine if, and how, external phenomena influence the way we feel, think, move and breathe.
Third, as we remain interested in what is happening right where we are, we may notice places where we feel pressure, discomfort or pain arising. It is helpful to keep in mind that these sensations may be happening at the level of breath, body, mind or emotion. A temptation when we notice an obstacle, challenge or distraction, might be to go into self-judgement and to think that we may be doing something wrong. Here is when it is critical to validate our experience, that is, to recognize that it is valid to feel what we are feeling, regardless of liking or disliking what we are feeling. That acknowledgement offers us a pause, an invitation to explore if there may be other options within our control. This aspect of the practice is critical to being able to regulate our inner states because we are cultivating our ability to observe and discern before reacting.
Consequently, we can make a choice and notice its effects.
Of course, like with any other practice, we get better at it when we remain interested and curious enough to persist gently over time.
As we embark on the journey towards being better able to regulate our internal climate, it may be easier to understand why in the Yoga Sutras Patañjali defines yoga as regulating our internal activity [1.2] in order to experience our true nature [1.3] instead of mistakenly identifying ourselves with the transient objects that enter our field of awareness [1.4]. Perhaps, a first level of the ultimate freedom that Patañjali speaks about, is the necessary step of becoming independent from all external manipulation. This is truly empowering. Of course, it is important to note that taking this path requires us to own up to our actions and to stop blaming others for our internal states. A possible corollary, is that being responsible for our internal climate is a way to stop engaging in external and internal drama so that we can focus our energy on our dharma, i.e. our wholehearted and conscious participation in life as it unfolds in front of our eyes.
When we remember that Yoga philosophy is not a mere mental exercise but a call to action, we can choose to put the idea of regulating our internal climate into practice. Here are a few possible approaches, some seemingly more attainable while others may seem quite ambitious:
- Can I choose to stay calm as I drive?
- Can I choose to look in the eyes of each person I meet?
- Can I listen to each person I meet with?
- Can I keep a soft smile on my face throughout my day?
- Can I choose not to judge?
- Can I make a choice not to complain?
- Can I be an abode of peace and compassion wherever I go?
- Can I choose to be grateful no matter what happens to me?
- Can I choose to be happy or kind or loving or compassionate no matter what?
It may be helpful to remember that as we try to bring these intentions into practice, we are likely to start bumping into obstacles that keep us from staying focused. Noticing how we respond is a good way to test our ability to modulate our inner climate. Actually, it is quite illuminating to notice what we do when we bump into obstacles, some of us will choose to blame the obstacles or somebody else, somebody else may grow frustrated or angry. Each obstacle helps us notice the strength of our commitment to our intention. Similarly, each obstacle we face may offer us insight into our values and attitudes.
These fluctuations between staying with our intention and getting distracted is part and parcel of the process. Most of us will probably get distracted and forget our intention for a few minutes, hours, days, week, months or even years. What is truly important is to remember to keep coming back again and again without any strain, struggle or self-judgement. To keep trying is what develops our focus, strength and will; that is the core of all yoga practices (postures, movements, breathing, chanting & meditation).
As we continue trying with gentle persistence we will grow in our self-understanding and insight, and perhaps we will be able to look at ourselves and the world with a little bit more patience and kindness.
May the weather outside not become the master of your internal states.
Simple guided meditation with Rubén