I am in the depths of the creative flow to complete what are now seven—yes, seven!—albums in support of MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary. As I do so, I am reminded of a truth that science now proves, but that yogis have known for millennia. When you redirect your energy to giving rather than getting, to serving rather than wanting, your entire biochemistry changes and begins to vibrate at a higher rate. You feel more connected and fulfilled in ways never imagined. A richness begins to grow deep within that banishes unhappiness, gives health and provides a sense of fulfillment. This is the gift of karma yoga, the yoga of action.
The work of MAPS is a beautiful opportunity to practice karma yoga. That is why it was an obvious choice for us at Parvati.org to bring together the yoga community for MAPS through Yogis Unite. Please join us!
Yogis are natural ambassadors for ecological harmony, because the practice teaches us that we are all one, united within a vast and wise symphonic whole. The global yoga community is hundreds of millions strong. Imagine what the world would look like if we got together with one common purpose!
If you do not already have a yoga practice, here are some simple points to help you become familiar with this radiant art and science of life.
Yoga is at the heart of all spiritual practices. Whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, or part of any other tradition, the desire and practice to become one with the divine is yoga. Yoga comes from a Sanskrit word meaning union, or to yoke or join. Yoga is a systematic body of knowledge and practice that teaches integrated living, while living our highest good, following our deepest joy.
While yogic knowledge spans the breadth of spiritual study, herbal medicine, astrology and more, what we mostly know of yoga in the Western world is one small branch of it, called Hatha yoga, which concentrates on the health and purity of the body. Whether you are doing Kripalu, Ashtanga, Hot Yoga, Power Yoga, Kundalini, or any other kind of yoga in a local yoga studio, you are likely doing some form of hatha yoga. The goal of hatha yoga is the purification of subtle channels that run through the body, so that you can experience unending bliss while remaining physically present.
You are a part of nature. Living in alignment with this reality, which is within the teachings of yoga, lets you tap into an infinite well of power and creativity, the very life force that continually creates this amazing universe in which you live.
HOW YOGA CHANGED MY LIFE
I first encountered yoga in my early adolescence. Around the age of ten, when I was visiting a friend from school, I saw her mother quietly excuse herself to go into another room for some time. I was never invited into that mysterious space. When the door would open and I got a glimpse, the area seemed to pulsate with something I only now understand as spiritual energy. After what felt like an infinite amount of time, my friend’s mom would emerge again, magically transformed, bright and radiant. I wondered if the fairies were in there with her. All I knew was that I felt deeply drawn to this – all of it – and wanted more. Eventually I learned it was not magic or mystery that made that room seem so special, but yoga, which my friend’s mother was practicing as a sanctuary from the stresses of her life, which included breast cancer.
At 16, I was in my freshman year in arts at McGill University in Montreal when I experienced my first hatha yoga class. I distinctly remember the way the world seemed fuller, richer and brighter when I walked out of the hall after the final savasana. I was sure I was taller and that the evening was somehow infused with immense light. I felt highly alive, expansive, yet rooted in my being.
Yoga continued to guide and inspire me through my university years. It was there for me as I started a promising career as an architect. And when I felt as though I had hit a wall in my life and needed to make change, yoga was what I left my architecture career to do, travelling to India to pursue yoga teacher training and study. My year in India saw me meet my satguru Amma, travel all over India spending time with wise teachers, and undergo a near death experience that totally redirected everything I knew. I came home ready to dedicate my life to yoga and music, living my soul purpose.
I am forever grateful for the experiences I have had and continue to have through my yoga practice. They teach me, as no theory book ever could, about the vastness of yoga, the breadth of its history and the practical implications it has for daily life, even in today’s busy world. Yoga is immense and also so simple. It comes alive when you practice, when you go within and face yourself, when you get on the mat and do your exercises and when you bring that expanded spaciousness out into the world and choose to live an awakened life.
One of my favourite sayings by Swami Sivananda is “An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory.” The saying helps us remember that enlightened action, living awake in the world, is where our true practice exists. We can stay knowledgeable in our heads, but if it does not translate into loving and serving, then it really does not mean much in our journey as a yogi or spiritual aspirant. Yoga helps us live all aspects of life more fully.
Yoga is part of what healed me miraculously from a devastating spinal cord injury that had left me bedridden and paralyzed. It has guided me to a deeper understanding of the grace of being here in this body, and the tremendous potential we have for healing and transformation when we are receptive to the moment.
EVERYTHING IS YOGA
Yoga is life. It is everything. It is the way the branches of each tree converge and make entirely unique patterns each time. It is within the mystery of life unfolding, and it is the mystery itself. It is the gut knowing we all have from deep within, and it is within the surrendered sense of not knowing.
Yoga can create the foundation of the way you receive the moment, process information and experience life. All situations and circumstances are opportunities for awakening. At times you will meet them as such. At times you won’t. The more you practice being open, ready and willing to be here and now, the more you can. It is not to say that all you will encounter is sweet and lovely. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not. The more you meet this moment, the sweeter it feels because in this moment, as you practice yoga, you find life itself.
Yet what you perceive to be sweet or not, ultimately does not matter. It is not your job to determine what the nature of reality is, to try to label it or categorize it, fix or arrange it. It is your job simply to meet that which is. Through the courage to do so, expansion occurs. That which was sweet, sour, salty, pungent or bitter becomes fuel for spiritual evolution.
When you practice non-resistance to what is, you awaken to the jewels of this moment. You learn to allow yourself to expand and meet the present, rather than contracting, running or hiding from it.
Ultimately, yoga is about merging back with the One source of pure consciousness, dissolving your identification with your ego. Yoga is built upon the practice of humility and letting go. When you allow yourself to release, you return to flow with a force much greater than your individual will. You begin to live in rhythm with the infinite, as a witness to the finite, rather than bound by the finite, wondering if the infinite exists.
I leave you with a simple exercise of self-discovery. Spend some time asking yourself the following questions with the intention of being open, honest and willing to listen to your soul voice.
- Is my life in flow at this time?
- Do I sense the presence of something greater than myself? How much of the time?
- What are my aspirations for my yoga practice?
- What does it feel like in my body when I take a few deep breaths? Are there parts of my body I feel more energy? Are there parts of my body I don’t feel at all? Where do I hold tension? Where do I feel more relaxed?
- What might my life look like if my body, mind and spirit were in flow, in harmony with the infinite?
- Am I willing to serve that unfolding in my life?