I had a sense that the Easter bank holiday weekend could bring upon us the self-consciousness that comes from being thought lazy or making less than healthy choices!
So I wanted to address the concept of “feeling guilty” in last week’s classes.
Experiencing a feeling of guilt from time to time is an important and natural function of human conscience. It serves a role in the development of an ethical sense, discouraging us from harming ourselves and those around us. A modicum of guilt when recognising our overindulgence, or when blurting a damaging, snarky remark, helps us modify such behaviours in the future.
This type of natural guilt is also reparable - you can make amends, ask for forgiveness, and pay your debt. Once the transgression has been addressed, the guilt should dissolve.
However, while natural-guilt may prompt us at times to return to a healthier path, or to keep our criticism of others in check, no amount of remorse will make us perfect, and may well actually create a major obstacle to personal growth if left unaddressed.
Guilt is heavy baggage and we do not want to carry it around.
Allowing guilt and shame to fester and turn toxic within ourselves, leads to an underlying sense of not being a good person, which in turn causes negative self-talk and bad feelings that can, in fact, be out of proportion to the original guilt-causing-offence itself.
Thus it is important to learn how to recognise and deal with our feelings of guilt when they arise, so that they no longer have the power to program us from the inside.
And this is where our yoga practice may come in handy.
There are, as we know, a lot of conflicting and contradictory messages in the Yoga world. More often than not, we associate words like enlightened, skilful, balanced, aligned, mindful, fun, and even sexy with yoga practice. Thanks to social media, and our cameras living in our pockets, there is a trend toward making yoga practice look idyllic. Shots on beaches, with well-behaved babies, pets, romantic partnering, glorious arms and legs and flexible spines, permeate our consciousness on a daily basis.
However, when it comes to our own practice, the reality is that we often feel confused, lopsided, awkward, scattered, struggling, and unattractive in our yogic efforts! Our humble, sweaty attempts at pyjama-clad sun salutes in our cluttered living rooms are a far stretch from the marvelousness that is the picture-perfect yogic lifestyle!
Then, no matter how many times Yoga attempts to remind us that we are there for our own practice, and that non-possessiveness, non-grasping, and non-greediness are yogic virtues, these tendencies arise within us and we compare ourselves to others anyway! And so comes the tidal-wave of “feeling guilty” along with all of its primordial self-hatisms - “I am not good enough, or thin enough, or poised enough, or smart enough”.
So Yoga can be a bit bitter-sweet when it comes to guilt.
Ultimately though, what our yoga practice does do is to ask us to reflect on our actions and behaviours towards ourselves and others, and teaches us the value of “ahimsa” – non-violence.
Ahimsa is the first Yama (the necessary self-discipline that allows us to head toward the fulfilment of our dharma, or life purpose – see last week’s blog!) in the Yoga sutras of Patenjali. Therefore, allowing feelings of guilt to take over and alter our thoughts and behaviours in a harmful way is actually detrimental to our journey on the yogic path.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, world-renowned psychologist, author, and peace maker, teaches in his book “Nonviolent Communication” that guilt and shame are the most internally violent emotions we possess. Often we jump through hoops not to potentially harm another person, but we will so readily “beat ourselves up” with negative self-talk!
Guilt and shame are the inevitable toxins of any belief that equates our worth based on actions rather than our “Being”. Yoga is a practice that helps us understand ourselves as a Being - a divine member of the oneness of all things and valuable simply because we are. Therefore, yoga reminds us that we are human beings, not human “doings.”
And when our Yoga practice is used as a tool to explore our feeling and to help us remember what really matters and who we really are, our guilt and shame can be turned from neurotic over-processing into a means of learning and expansion. By investigating where our guilt is coming from and what kind of guilt we are feeling, it is easier to see how to get rid of it (making amends for something, working through it, or simply letting it go). Eradicating our guilt means that we are practicing internal non-violence; we are able to realise that when embarrassment and guilt no longer serve us, they can be left behind—just as a snake sheds the skin that was limiting its growth.
As human beings we all make mistakes. And sometimes, despite our best intentions, we do things that we know are not good for us or other people - and we feel guilty for it. But Yoga encourages us to develop an exquisitely scrupulous conscience, by holding ourselves to the ethical standards of the yogic path, making it harder to let ourselves get away with insensitive or harmful behaviour.
Our yoga practice therefore teaches us to have a healthy relationship with our personal guilt, so that we do not agonise over guilty feelings. Instead, we are able to use them as signals to change our behaviour and make self-love part of our yoga practice, building ourselves up instead of beating ourselves down.
When we start to do this regularly, the world seems much more bright and beautiful. It becomes much easier to be kinder to the world around us, and magically it feels as if the entire world became kinder, less judgemental, and more compassionate too - because it did.
And as with everything, it started from within.
“The biggest threat to our well-being is the absence of moral clarity and purpose.” — Rich Sherman
Have you ever noticed how much happier and grounded you feel when you have a sense of purpose; when something you have said or done has had meaning behind it, and possibly had a positive effect on yourself or something/someone else?
Life seems so much brighter when it is more than simply eat, sleep, wake up, get things done, rinse and repeat.
This is because purpose guides our life decisions, influences our behaviour, shapes our goals, offers a sense of direction, and creates meaning to our lives.
For some of us, purpose is connected to vocation--meaningful, satisfying work. This is definitely the case for me. I teach yoga and offer massage therapy because I love to utilise my passion for something, turn it in to a skill, and then transfer it on to others in the hopes that it will make them feel good about themselves. It is why I set intentions and write blogs most weeks. The hard work and fear over sharing some of my most personal insights, feel worth it when I realise that I have managed to resonate with even just one other person that day/week/month.
For others, purpose lies in responsibilities to family or friends, or through spirituality/religious beliefs. Some people may find their purpose clearly expressed in all of these aspects of life.
Your purpose will be unique from everyone else’s; what you identify as your path may be different from others. Moreover, your purpose will actually shift and change throughout life in response to the evolving priorities and fluctuations of your own experiences.
Ultimately for all of us though, our life’s purpose is the message we wish to drive forward in the world during our time on Earth.
Nobody wants to live in chaos, and without focusing on our life’s purpose, we are bound to feel lost, depressed, anxious, and feel a sense of meaninglessness. A lot of psychological literature clearly states that there is a link between feeling like we have a purpose and our psychological well-being. Having a meaningful pursuit in your life acts as a buffer against stress, negative emotion, and makes you more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviours. It even helps you sleep better at night! Therefore, to have a goal, a purpose, is to organize the world around you, and to move through time in a meaningful way, carving your way through the chaos of life!
Taking the time to discover your purpose means that you are passionate about living your best, most conscious life. This does not mean that all of your problems disappear; it simply means that with a clear purpose, you can then set the right goals and plans, and take the right daily steps to create your most meaningful life.
Think about my blog post on making decisions a couple of weeks ago. Understanding what our purpose is in life, will help us to make better decisions about our actions and behaviours, which will ultimately lead to more desirable outcomes and manifest a more meaningful, positive life for ourselves. As with decision-making though, when trying to figure out our purpose, we need to differentiate between the important and unimportant, so that we can cut through the cr*p and get right to the things that matter!
When we begin to direct our focus to the really important things, life becomes filled with direction and meaning, instead of wasting time on inconsequential stuff. For example; as opposed to wasting time in a job you do not love, you can now work toward a career that better fits your purpose; as opposed to being around toxic people who are incompatible with you, you can now find people who share the same values to build your highest life; as opposed to living a random existence, you can now create your life of the highest meaning.
Thus it is important to identify what you truly care about, and then direct your energy to making this a reality.
When we find what our purpose is, we will naturally want to devote our life to pursue it because we care about it, it gives us the most fulfilment, and we will naturally get better at it because the time we spend on it will give us the experience and skills to succeed.
So where does Yoga fit in to all of this?
We already know that traditionally yoga was practiced and developed to open the body and clear the mind, so that one can sit and meditate without dwelling on a stiff back or congestion in the process of thought. More often than not we practice yoga simply for its physical benefits of having toned muscles, flexibility, and mental clarity.
But what about the philosophical side of this wonderful ancient practice?
Practicing Yoga and meditation enables us to be free and clear to focus our attention on the deeper imperative questions of life like 'who am I?', 'what is my purpose?', 'why do I exist?'; and to seek out the answers.
Our sense of purpose often arises from this curiosity about our own life. What obstacles have we encountered? What strengths helped us to overcome them? How did other people help? How did our strengths help make life better for others? Our yoga and meditation practice allows us to cultivate a deeper sense of who we are, and fill any gap in our lives, giving us a true sense of completeness.
On another note, ancient Yoga is derived from Indian Philosophy and religion, of which the concept of “Dharma” is of central importance.
Dharma has multiple meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, so it is therefore difficult to provide a single concise definition of the word - it has a long and varied history, and straddles a complex set of meanings and interpretations. There is no equivalent single-word synonym for dharma in western languages, and numerous, conflicting attempts have been made to translate ancient Sanskrit literature with the word dharma into German, English and French.
There are over twenty different translations for dharma, including meanings such as statute, law, practice, custom, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, ethics, religion, religious merit, good works, nature, character, quality and property. Yet, each of these definitions is incomplete, while the combination of these translations does not convey the total sense of the word.
In common parlance, dharma means "right way of living" and "path of rightness".
In the context of Hinduism (which heavily influences the practice and teachings of Yoga), dharma designates human behaviours, rituals, rules that govern society, and ethics considered necessary for the order of things in the universe - principles that prevent chaos in the world.
Hindu dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviours that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.
Living out one’s dharma can therefore be synonymous with living out one’s purpose in life; contributing to the peaceful and orderly running of society. Finding our purpose is to pursue and execute our individual true nature and calling, thus playing one's role in the cosmic concert. For example; it is the dharma of the bee to make honey; of cow to give milk; of sun to radiate sunshine; of river to flow.
In terms of humanity, dharma is the need for, the effect and essence of service and interconnectedness of all life. Each individual carrying out their dharma, their purpose, acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe.
So how can Yoga help us to find our purpose?
Remember the Yoga sutras of Petenjali? Our dharma (purpose) is played out in the first and second limbs of the eight-limbed path of yoga – the yamas and niyamas (external and internal moral codes) that we live by. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes yoga as “the progressive quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.” Thus through dedicated practice and the cultivation of detachment, we will stop identifying with the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that can cause us so much emotional pain—and we will open to an experience of our true self. As Patanjali and so many other wisdom teachers have taught, who we really are goes beyond the labels and titles we often use to define ourselves.
Therefore, practicing yoga and meditation can help us to discover our true purpose in life, instead of simply attaching labels and stories to ourselves and believing that to be our purpose.
However, finding our purpose is not just an intellectual pursuit, it is something we need to feel. Yoga also helps us to cultivate within ourselves certain emotions and behaviours that promote health and well-being, which in turn foster a sense of purpose. Gratitude and altruism for example, can drive us to make a positive impact on the world, and these two qualities work together to generate meaning and purpose in our lives. In the face of one’s own or others’ suffering, if we are able to count our blessings and still give thanks, we are much more likely to contribute to the world beyond ourselves. And there is little question that helping others is associated with a more meaningful, purposeful life. People who engage in more altruistic behaviours, like volunteering or donating money, tend to have a greater sense of purpose in their lives.
Yoga embodies this type of behaviour.
You can also find purpose in what people thank you for. Appreciation from others will fuel your passion and therefore your work. People thanking me for my classes and massages and telling me how much of an impact I have had on them, keeps me going. It encourages me to want to learn and develop more, so that I am better able to help others and continue to fulfil my life’s purpose.
We can also often find our sense of purpose in the people around us, and we all know that Yoga brings people together.
This links in with the concept of dharma. If each individual is able to find their true calling and foster their own sense of purpose, then humanity is more likely to accomplish big things by working together peacefully. Purpose is adaptive in an evolutionary sense, and therefore helps both individuals and the species to survive. Purpose does not simply arise from your own special gifts and what sets you apart from other people, it also grows from our connection to others.
So we need to recognize our own gifts, but use them to contribute to the world; whether those gifts are playing beautiful music for others to enjoy, helping friends solve problems, or simply bringing more joy into the lives of those around you.
If you are having trouble remembering your purpose, take a look at the people around you. What do you have in common with them? What are they trying to be? What impact do you see them having on the world? Is that impact a positive one? Can you join with them in making that impact? What do they need? Can you give it them? If the answers to those questions do not inspire you, then you might need to find a new community—and with that, a new purpose may come.
When your authentic purpose becomes clear, you will be able to share it with the whole world, and to live this way is deeply meaningful.
Ironically, I do not think there is enough time in the world to fully and completely cover the complex and complicated subject of time. Even physicists agree that time is one of the most difficult properties of our universe to understand.
As someone who is late for most things, I feel that time is a conspiracy anyway!! But after many recent conversations about how time seems to be whizzing past us (we are quarter of the way through 2019 already!), and one yogini feeling absolutely terrible about turning up 4 minutes late for my workshop at the weekend explaining that she, like myself, has no concept of time-keeping and cannot work out how to change her perception of time so that she can be on time for things, made me think about ways in which we can somehow claw back a bit of time!
In general, the Islamic and Judeo-Christian world-view regards time as linear and directional, beginning with the act of creation by God. In the modern Western world, it is this view of time that we still currently have. There is a past, a present and a future; and life is a series of events one happening after the other.
However, the Ancient Greeks, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and other religions have a concept of a wheel of time: they regard time as cyclical and quantic, consisting of repeating ages that happen to every being of the Universe between birth and extinction.
Yoga, being heavily influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism, also views time as cyclical.
If we think about it, all of our most common time measurement systems we use in daily life are cyclical – the moon, the seasons, the days in a week/month/year, etc.
A post on www.theperspective.com explains how, “until recently, the lives of agricultural, nomadic, and even urban peoples were governed by the endlessly repeating seasonal round. Calendars, which portray time as a linear concept, are a recent phenomenon when compared to the long-term existence of our species. The earliest calendar may have developed as early as 10,000 years ago; well-documented calendar systems do not become common in the archaeological record until within the last 5,000 years. Our species is 200,000 years old; so for at least 95% of humankind’s existence as a species, time was cyclical and circadian”.
The post goes on to ask, “What is the difference between the Hebrew, Chinese, Gregorian, and Mayan calendars? Ultimately, from the perspective of time itself, not much. These calendars have different origins, starting points, counting systems, and holidays that are relevant only to people, not animals, plants, or the planet. In the end, each of these calendars is nothing more than a cultural construct based on local political, religious, scientific, and economic systems created by humans”.
This leads me on to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Now, I am not even going to even attempt to explain this in any detail, because it is far beyond the scope of my own intellect, and the point I want to make in my Yoga classes this week! But simplified, Einstein says that time is a relative concept – it speeds up or slows down depending on how fast you move relative to something else. Also, apparently, the higher you live above sea level, the faster you should age, because gravity can also bend time!
Before this gets way too mind-blowing and complicated, the point is that Einstein’s theory proves that time and space are not as constant as everyday life would suggest.
Think about how time seems to fly by when we are having a great conversation with a friend, or when we are doing something we love. And how it also seems to slow down when we are doing something we find boring? How can time be an objective constant in this instance?
Our idea of time comes from the Newtonian paradigm, which says that there is only a finite amount of time - it assumes that there is a scarcity of time. This is what gives us the feeling of urgency – the feeling that we never have “the right amount of time”. There are never enough hours in the day. Thus we are always busy and rushing, trying to stay ahead of the clock and fit in as much as possible in a week, half a day, or an hour.
There is a book by an author called Gay Hendricks which personally I have not read yet, but in it, he explains that, “At the heart of the Newtonian time crunch is a dualistic split: we are deluded into thinking that time is ‘out there’; an actual physical entity that can put pressure on us ‘in here’.”
But, “When we switch to Einstein Time, we take charge of the amount of time we have. We realize that we’re where time comes from. We embrace this liberating insight: since I’m the producer of time, I can make as much of it as I need,” says Gay Hendricks.
As soon as you stop thinking that time is ‘out there’, you can take ownership of time. If you acknowledge that you are where time comes from, it will stop owning you. You won’t be the slave of time anymore.
And now, the only thing to do is to implement this insight…
The Huffpost has a great article that may come in handy here.
A few tips about how to master your own time:
1. Take a deep breath.
Most of us will say, “But I do not have time to take a deep breath!”, and that this “deep breath” idea is just cliché. But really, we all have enough time to take a full, complete, deep inhale and exhale. Try it now. When you do, you might actually feel time expand a tiny bit. And if you take a few, deep breaths, you might feel it expand even more.
Doing this will oxygenate the body and mind and give yourself a chance to approach things more calmly, which will in fact feel like time expanding.
2. Make a list and get out of your head.
Remember my post on feeling overwhelmed?!
Making a list might seem a laborious and time-consuming task in itself, but doing so will free your mind from overwhelm and put all of the things you need to do in front of you. This way you can see them, approach them, and deal with them one by one; giving you more time in the long run to slowly get everything done.
Put your list in order of importance. Prioritise the big things, and before you move on to everything else, tackle that task first.
3. Combine efforts.
Try to schedule things so that all of your activities fall back to back on the same day — making for a busy day, but also leaving other days of the week open for you to feel more spacious.
4. Schedule less.
It may seem obvious, but if overwhelm is becoming a regular state of mind, and you are feeling yourself never having enough time, perhaps you ought to think about doing less. If it is making you stressed or anxious, then maybe it really is too much.
Whatever you give up for now will be there when you are ready to approach it again, but you are not serving anyone by completely overextending yourself.
Ask yourself if you really need to do everything yourself? Maybe try looking to friends, colleagues or family members who might be able to pick up some of the slack for you. This could simply be out of the kindness of their own hearts (and more often than not, it will be), or in exchange for other tasks that you are doing anyway.
Share, trade, barter, bargain: whatever you can do to make things feel more efficient and fun.
6. Get more sleep.
It seems funny to think of sleeping more as giving you more time, but everyone knows that when you are well-rested you are a much more efficient machine. Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier, and leave something undone that night. You will feel stronger, more capable, more efficient, and happier too – then you can get more done more joyfully the following day.
In our modern age, there is always one more thing that needs to be done. One more thing that creeps in to our time schedule and sucks precious time away from us! To battle against this and gain some time back for yourself, decide from the very beginning what is most important – your mental and physical health, or doing the hovering?!
Remember that time is relative and cyclical. The ageing process, from birth to eventually giving ourselves back to the earth, is simply the “circle of life”.
So why not have a blast whilst we are here for now, and spend our time doing more of the things we enjoy!