‘Tis the Season… Advent and the Yoga Yamas

November 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Hatha Yoga

Before the Halloween candy was eaten, we were plunged into “the season.” You know the one I’m talking about—the blur of festivities that is Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas and New Years, all rolled into one. The pressure started November 1—or sooner if you let those premature retail Christmas trees that popped up at the end of the summer get to you. Kudos to rebel retailer Nordstrom, who closed Thanksgiving day and eschewed Christmas decorations until today. Odd that this common sense, one-holiday-at-a-time approach is a complete anomaly in today’s consumption-crazed society.

Even if you’ve managed to stay away from the stores today, I bet you’re feeling the pressure to buy even from your inbox. I know I am. It seems as if the whole world is on sale, and we are missing out if we don’t start snapping up the bargains.

There is no better time to use your yoga to maintain a sense of peace that really should define this season of gratitude, hope and rebirth. This task will require using your yoga on and off your mat. It is not enough to cultivate calm for that hour of asana practice. To embody the real spirit of the season, you’ll need to grab a yama or niyama or two from yoga’s philosophic underpinnings.

Here are some you might consider trying out this holiday season. See how they work for you. Do they help you distance yourself from the materialism that threatens to rob us of the sacred nature of this seasonal turning point marked by the Winter Solstice? Do they keep you more balanced? Just by looking within for these answers, you are practicing the niyama of svadhyaya or self-study.

Niyama of Santosha (contentment)… This time of year, especially, our culture shouts, “More, more, more!” while our hearts are yearning for a slower pace, whispering, “Enough…enough…enough.” We can use our asana, pranayama and our meditation to consciously cultivate an inner sense of contentment—a deep knowing that we already have enough and we already are enough. This can help us resist the desire to overdo and to overbuy.

Niyama of Tapas (austerity)… Austerity gets a bad rap in our modern, pampered world. We are, it turns out, a bit spoiled. Austerity, though, is not asking us to take a vow of poverty. This yama, which is particularly balancing to our Western consumer-oriented culture, simply asks us to look honestly at our needs and our wants. To learn the difference and proceed mindfully as we meet the needs and consider the wants of our heart and of those around us. There is often a better way to spread holiday joy than by buying a material gift. Those crayoned hand-made coupons for unlimited hugs and kisses that our kids make us are a perfect example of this!

Yama of Asteya (non-covetousness)… Too often we are motivated by our desire to have what others possess. We do this because we are operating under two common false assumptions. First, we believe that what people have makes them who they are. And second, we buy into the myth that what you see on the outside—the store-bought trappings of life—is actually reflective of who people are inside. Bringing our awareness to these fallacies can help us joyfully accept our own reality, with its many blessings, this season.

Keeping your yogic mindset in tact during the coming weeks is a sure way to enhance your holiday celebrations and to spread the love to those around you. It’s not easy, and we won’t do it perfectly, but that’s why we call it a yoga practice, right?

Monette Chilson is a yoga practitioner and writer who contributes to Yoga Journal, writes regularly for Om Times and pens a monthly column for the Texas Yoga Association newsletter. Her search for the sacred reveals itself in her writings on her blog and her first book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga. She blogs at http://www.SophiaRisingyoga.com

Take Your Practice Out of Your Comfort Zone This Summer

July 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Christian yoga, Hatha Yoga

yoga in the summer on the beach
Summer. It’s that time of year when rules and dress codes relax. Even decades beyond school age, we feel as though the disciplinarians that normally keep us in line are looking the other way for a few months. As adults, we are often kept on that well-worn, responsible path by our own inner voice—its timbre a collection of tones and inflections collected over our lifetime. Some kind and loving. Some not so much.

This season offers you the opportunity to give your unhelpful inner teachers a well-deserved vacation. Bid them good-bye, and take your practice in a new direction. If your inner teachers are telling you that you aren’t strong enough, prove them wrong by practicing a strengthening pose every single day. Flip up into handstand and watch them gape, amazed. After three months of this, you will be strong.

Does one of those teachers tell you that your never be a back-bender and you better stick to your forward-bending forte? I have one who says that. Find a backbend—starting as gently and propped as needed—and prove to yourself that you can open your heart without sending yourself spiraling out of control.

Pick a pose that bothers you and explore why that might be. You just might discover something about your inner self that is being reflected back at you through your physical body.

Sophia Rising BookThis summer, stop internalizing the world around you. Spend some time in the yogic niyama of self-study (svadhyaya).  In my book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga, I describe it like this:

“Leave behind the belief that to study means to seek external knowledge and claim it for our own. Limiting the search for truth to outside sources—books, the Internet, sermons, lectures, others’ opinions—can be dangerous territory. The most important study we can ever do is internal. It is also precisely the work that we often try to avoid. It is so much easier to absorb from the environment than to explore the landscape of the soul.”
p. 51).

Christians contemplatives will find this idea congruous with Thomas Merton’s translation of Moses’ mandate to “go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”

This summer, become an explorer of your own soul’s landscape. Meander, and push your edge. Strive for new heights, then honor your discoveries with some restorative poses. Find out what you’ve been avoiding, and find the strength to face it. That work will remain with you long after the lazy days of summer have given way to the dictates of the rest of the year. And you might even find that some of those inner teachers softened their criticism over the summer break!

MonetteIn addition to serving as the feature writer for the Texas Yoga Association’s newsletter, Monette Chilson is long-time yoga practitioner whose writing has appeared in Yoga Journal, Integral Yoga Magazine, Christian Yoga Magazine and Om Times. Her first book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga, was released this month by Bright Sky Press and is available at all online book retailers. She blogs at www.SophiaRisingYoga.com.

Compline and Savasana

I’ve spent more time than most working out the way in which my yoga practice intersects with and feeds my faith experience. Still, I find myself unexpectedly delighted each time I find a new point of convergence. Recently it struck me that the last stop in Christianity’s liturgy of hours — Compline, the final office of the monastic day established by Saint Benedict in the sixth century — is directly analogous to the savasana (corpse pose) with which we end our yoga practice. Both are contemplative closing ceremonies of sorts for cultivating spiritual peace within their own traditions.

They are markers which prompt us to stop and enter into a stillness in which we absorb the events of the day (or the results of our practice) without the analytical fervor that we, in our humanity, often bring to bear on such recollections. Both Compline and savasana have an osmotic quality about them that brings gentle closure with no effort on our part but surrender.

So as I sat by the fire after 2012 had turned into 2013 without any pomp and circumstance, it occurred to me that the waning hours of the year are very much like Compline and savasana. We look back on the year and say our nightly prayers like the monks at the end of the day. Then we lie down on a bed of energy created from all that has been in the last twelve months while opening ourselves to what is to come, like the yogis do in savasana.

Even more profound to me than the holy congruity between the two spiritual practices, is the fact that they are both rituals that happen without exception. They are not earned for good behavior, as in, “I’ll allow myself a period of savasana if I do an extra long shoulder stand.” Monks don’t say, I’ll indulge in a candlelit Compline if I do an phenomenal job on turnip-chopping during kitchen duty today.” They are graceful practices that arrive on schedule, unrelated to our performance, undeterred by the faltering and mundanity of our lives.

Perhaps some of you had the postcard New Years Eve. You know the one—sparkly hat, dressed to the hilt, a glass of champagne in hand and a passionate kiss from your sweetheart at the stroke of midnight. Mine looked nothing like that. But, guess what? It came anyway. The New Year didn’t wait around, lingering in the shadows till I donned my party dress and got my groove on. It came while I watched a dinosaur movie with my nine-year-old son and his buddy. Which was right after my teen-aged daughter announced that I was ruining her life by not letting her go out that night. And while my sweetheart was already sleeping. Alas, no midnight kiss.

But 2013 snuck in, tiptoeing and was waiting when I crept back to sit by the fire that should have long petered out. It came in the midst of my imperfect life that defies the flickering plastic images that try to tell me how to look and how to live.

There have been times in my life when I have shouted for the clock to hold up and wait until I was ready—until I had myself pulled together—ludicrously thinking I had the ability to control such things. Sitting by that New Year’s fire, listening to the rain, it hit me that while nothing about that night echoed the cultural ideal, it was, in its own odd way, perfection. I had a deep knowing that everything was exactly as it should be. And there was nothing I could do to make it better or worse. It was Compline, filled with relief and gratitude, and followed by a savasana-like sleep.

I had unwittingly embraced the imperfection. The choice, after all, is always ours in such moments—pine for what could have been or gaze with grateful eyes at what is before us. Here’s to knowing that whatever 2013 brings, God’s soft, Sophic light will be illuminating our path.

Monette Chilson is a yoga practitioner and writer who contributes to Yoga Journal, writes regularly for Om Times and pens a monthly column for the Texas Yoga Association newsletter. Her search for the sacred reveals itself in her writings on her blog and her first book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga. She blogs at http://www.SophiaRisingyoga.com