For the tough times

This festive season, when the world was exchanging messages of happiness and joy, I received a call announcing the loss of a loved one. Death is hard to accept, but even more difficult when one’s sorrow is in direct contrast to the joyful mood of those around you. This juxtaposition of my own grief against the world’s joy was hard for me to bear. However, I soon realised that yoga had given me some tools to deal with this difficult time.

Through the physical practice of yoga we learn about balance — how to stand on one leg, to balance on your head and also on your hands. This sense of balance is important to the body (and means that you can do some really fun things on the mat), but it also filters into the mind. When this balance is manifest in the mind, it is referred to as equanimity. The Bhagwad Gita defines yoga as equanimity or samatva: “Perform all thy actions with mind concentrated on the Divine, renouncing attachment and looking upon success and failure with an equal eye. Spirituality implies equanimity.” Bhagwad Gita Ch 2. 48.

In life, especially around Christmas and New Year’s, we become attached to joy or sukha and are extremely prejudiced against sorrow or dukha. Yoga teaches us that sukha and dukha are two sides of the same coin. The waning of sukha leads to dukha and vice versa. When we have this knowledge, why should we be attached to one and prejudiced against the other? We must accept both.

Through the practice of the principle of samatva, I have learned to accept many situations in life. But I realised that this time of grief, made more difficult by the celebrations all around me, would be the real test for me. While I grieved inside, I found that I was able to show strength when it was needed and also provide strength to others. Following are the lessons yoga has taught me, which have helped me along the way:

Death is a part of life. At the end of every yoga practice, we lie down in shavasana or corpse pose. This pose helps us to relax the body at the end of the session. While we are not actively thinking of death whilst doing shavasana, the stillness of the pose juxtaposed against the movement in the earlier asanas is a reminder of death. One day, all the activity will cease and we will have to be still. People like to joke and say that shavasana is the easiest pose, but it’s not. It is very hard for us to be still, to let go of tension, of movement and of thought. Just as it is hard to let go of people when they die. This daily reminder of death allowed me to approach the reality of it with strength.

By controlling my breath, I can control my emotions. The death of a loved one can bring very powerful emotions to the forefront — sadness, grief, anger, hatred, jealousy, regret and pain. It would be easy if one could just succumb to these emotions, but the world goes on and often one has to show a strong face during these times. Yoga taught me that emotions are not real; they are a construct of the mind. This knowledge made it easier for me to focus on my breath and rise above all negative emotion.

This too shall pass. This is another lesson that the physical practice of yoga has taught me. Sometimes, the body feels strong and flexible; at other times, it is weak and stiff; sometimes the mind is eager; and sometimes it is lazy. These variations keep happening, but we still have to show up every day. In the same way, sometimes life is hard and painful, and other times it is exciting and fun; no matter the emotion we attach to it, we still must show up every day.

The principle of non-attachment. Aparigraha or non-attachment is one of the Yamas (moral principles) found in the Yoga Sutras. We are taught to let go of all thoughts and desires, to live in the moment and accept whatever life gives us. This is a difficult lesson, but every asana is a fine balance between effort and letting go. Of course, letting go of a loved one is far harder.

Happiness comes from inside you. It is hard to have positive emotions when someone dies, but it is not impossible. By focusing on the person’s life, the people that they touched and on the good memories, we are able to celebrate a life instead of mourn a life. This is hard to do. But yoga teaches us that the mind is fickle. What is now a sad moment will soon change to a happy one. Life is constantly changing and the only way to survive is to learn samatva and learn to accept both sides of the coin.

“Yoga allows you to find an inner peace that is not ruffled and riled by the endless stresses and struggles of life.”

 -- B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

( Rani Jeyraj is a former Miss India who traded a glamorous life in front of the camera for an adventure behind it, before finally finding her home on the yoga mat.)

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 2:26:22 AM |

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