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As I was sitting in meditation the other day, after having practiced asana for a bit, this thought came to mind: The purpose of yoga is to live a happier, fuller, and more enlivened existence.

I wrote it down, looked at it for a bit, and contemplated it over the next few days.  I’d written it on the back of a piece of paper that I had handy when the words/thought came together.  A month or so passed, and I saw it again this morning, and it speaks to me still.

Like other physical activities, asana practice lifts my spirits.  But in addition, I learn about myself through practice in a way that specifically and directly improves my life; that improves my ability to stay calm when things go wacky, to really listen to myself and recognize patterns of thought and why they’re coming up, to balance my energy levels, calm anxieties, alleviate fatigue, and increase my feeling of connectedness to the world around me.

Obviously, these are just a few of the benefits of a well-rounded yoga practice that includes meditation, pranayama and the other limbs of yoga, but sort of summarizes why I practice yoga.


One of the things I like best about New Year’s is that it’s a very unifying holiday; it’s celebrated around the world.  Few other holidays or events are shared by so many people at the same time.  New Year’s serves an important role: it provides an opportunity for reflection and re-set, renewal.  We look back on the opportunities and challenges of the year before and reflect on how we wish the year ahead to be.

Years ago, my teacher Suzie Hurley opened the first class of the new year by asking us to think about some limitation we think we have, and to imagine our lives without that limitation, to envision what would be different, how we would feel differently.  At the time, I took her suggestion at quite a literal level – for me, my limitation in my yoga practice was that I couldn’t do handstand by myself, just too scared to really kick up.  What would my life be like if I could in fact do handstand?  For me, I saw it as a gateway pose for me to go to the next level of class, for me to feel like I could do yoga well enough to start along the path of teaching.  Later that year, I did manage (after a lot of hard work and daily practice) to kick up into handstand, and it’s now one of my favorite poses.

But her suggestion really goes a whole lot deeper – what if we released our self-image of limitation?  What if instead of overcoming our perceived shortcoming like I did with handstands, we shift our view?  If I could do this, shift my view, then I can overcome any limitation.  For example, maybe I see my age as a limitation; obviously there’s nothing I can do about my age, it just is what it is.  So instead, softening my view and asking myself why I perceive age as a limitation, then I can address those underlying issues, or realize that I don’t actually believe that they are issues.

So this year, I repeat Suzie’s invitation – imagine yourself without one of what you consider limitations, envision yourself living that way, and then manifest it!

Meditation offering:

Start with 3 minutes of sama vritti pranayama (balancing the length and quality of your inhalations and exhalations).  Then return to a natural breath, releasing the breath count.  Softly envision yourself without your perceived limitation, and envision how things might be different.  Literally see this in your mind; for example, if your limitation is getting angry in difficult conversations with a family member, then see yourself sitting down with this person at the kitchen table and having this conversation.  Imagine how your voice will sound, how their face will look, when you have this conversation without your getting angry.  Imagine how you feel after the conversation ends, and imagine how future interactions will be different.  Sit for a few moments in the feeling of this new behavior.  When you’re ready, slowly deepen your breath, bring more awareness to your body, and then softly open your eyes to the new day, the new year.

The change of seasons always reminds me of the fluidity of time, and how what I think of as static is just changing slowly.  Even when the season changes are subtle, they’re a good reminder that almost everything does change, the world around us, circumstances, and our relationships with others.  As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, it feels like it’s time to turn inside a little more, delve more into meditation, slow down and notice what’s around me a little more.  The season change prompts to revisit my relationships and feelings about those around me, and to try to soften and smooth out some of those edges, to view others with a slightly softer, warmer light.

I’ve practiced this with the lovingkindness meditation, in which you actively cultivate feelings of warmth and love, and direct those feelings to others.  It’s easy to start with someone who has supported or provided for you, such as a parent or teacher, feel their love for you, and send them love in return.  Then, thing of someone you love deeply, perhaps a child or life partner, and direct your love to them.  Then, you can move on to someone you’re neutral about, and then perhaps someone you have negative feelings about, this for me is undoubtedly the hardest.  I find myself sort of superficially sending them good thoughts without really changing my view on them specifically.  I think the teaching for me here is that everyone offers something I can love them for, that I can focus on that and through that focus, any hurt feelings or dislike I have of other attributes begins to soften.

A helpful description of and practices for lovingkindness:

Peace and love to you!

Meditation is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Somehow it’s easier to get to a 90 minute yoga class after a busy day at work, or to lace up my sneakers and run 8 miles at 6 in the morning than it is to sit for 10 minutes in meditation.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my meditation timer chime and I realize I spent the entire time thinking about whatever thoughts floated in.  The worst is when I catch myself avoiding actually meditating by thinking about meditation!  I mean, really, does it get much worse than that?

It turns out, yes, it does.  Worse is not meditating at all.  When I meditate regularly (and I meditate 10 minutes a day, it’s still a struggle even after 3 years), I feel calmer, more settled, more able to think creatively, less likely to snap at my beloved or those around me.  Really.  The first time I noticed benefits from meditation was when I stopped it after sitting regularly for about a month.  I just had that feeling of unease, of ennui, and was more irritated.  Now, I’m more likely to have wacky nightmares or get distracted (now what did I come into this room for?) when I haven’t been meditating.

Don’t meditate because I said so.  Try it for a week because I said so. Then when life gets in the way and your practice is interrupted, notice if you feel any different.  Then meditate because it enriches your life.

“The foundation of the house of yoga is compassion” Judith Hanson Lasater

Compassion is needed in so many ways, toward those we love most, those we may never meet, everyone in between, and ourselves.  Taking a kind view of others and of ourselves is a way of recognizing our connection, that which we all share.  This is well described in the famous Buddhist meditation, the Four Immeasurables.  One translation:

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness

May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

May all beings rejoice in the well-being of others

May all beings live in peace.

The Four Immeasurables are sometimes summarized as: lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, peace.

another experience of pratyahara yesterday in meditation.  very interesting, soothing.  i felt i was inside myself, that my body and head where a container for my soul.  felt the eternal connection of my heart with others’ hearts, the web of connectivity very strongly.