Astanga Yoga London

8th of Sept 2020
08th October 2020

HAPPINESS

There is a story I often tell at the end of workshops or sometimes in conference. It revolves around happiness and God hiding it in the last place people would look. Inside ourselves. Now seems a good opportunity to bring back the subject of happiness particularly when it seems to be hidden from sight.

First let me set out my basic feelings. Happiness is our natural state and that it is the removal of obstacles that help us re-find it.

The obstacles are many and at the moment they seem to revolve around a pattern of stress, anxiety and fear. One obstacle can lead to another. We feel stressed we end up shouting and getting angry at people we love. So removal or to use a word in the yoga sutras attenuating which mean reducing, those basic obstacles is our first step. It goes without saying that yoga practice is the main obstacle remover. Having had the pleasure and honour to teach not only in London but in many yoga studios and shalas, small and large in towns and cities around the UK and the world one thing stands out that adds tremendously to our yoga practice.

The unwritten rules of yoga spaces. Speak quietly, respect others space and practice, equality for all and gratitude for the practice and teaching. These four things we can take away from the mat and use them in our daily life.

Speak quietly, don’t shout on zoom. I know we all do it, me too. With our ability to communicate quickly we don’t always take time before we say or type something. Sometimes slow is good. Communication is 99% listening.

Respect others space and practice. I’m not talking about social distancing, we know all about that. It’s more that you may not understand someone but you show them respect as they are a fellow traveller. We are all on a path. Give them space to find their way and if possible help them remove obstacles. The easiest way to help someone with their daily obstacles is to smile. I know it’s difficult with masks and I have been intrigued that we have adapted to be able to smile more with our eyes. I smile, you smile.

Equality for all. We all have different practices and some are more able to do difficult asana but no one is more yogi than another. Off the mat this translates as finding joy in the diversity of life. A great oak tree is as precious as a humble weed struggling to grow.

Gratitude, you can not say thank you enough. Where ever I travel (back in the day) the first word I always learn is thank you. To go along with this, when someone says thank you to you try and accept it as a gift of love. Sometimes it can be difficult to say thanks and difficult for some to accept thanks.

You could be forgiven for thinking that all is required is that we be more civilised. The rumour goes that Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilisation, he said it would be a good idea.

 

The concept of civilisation fits in with Sanskrit and Indian philosophy. Sanskrit simply means polished or refined. A concept where we help each other and not just ourselves. One theory behind why there are so few temples to Brahma are that he was just in it for himself. Brahma would chase Lakshmi were as Vishnu would just open himself up to her.

 

When we practice there are many conflicting issues, how do I breath, do I take my time, do I force my body, which part of this asana is more important. Doubts and questions become the obstacles. The quality of concentration is more important than the asana.

 

Practice brings us closer to our real self. We do that by reducing our sense intake. Our eyes and ears are more focused and we are acutely aware of our body. Off the mat there are increasingly more things to take away our focus, we go into a state of information overload. What you take in, is what your mind thinks about. If you look out of your window, something we should do more often a peaceful view of a tree or smoke from a chimney are very calming, satvic. But if on the other hand we spend too much time looking at things that spike our rajistic side like violence, porn, things that make us angry, then that is how we will feel. Pratyahara we know as sense withdrawal. Correctly it translates as control of what we put in.

 

I use the Shanti mantra Saha nau vavatu… every day. It’s all about working together and ends with may we have no enmity between us. No hostility, no animosity. It is so easy to slip from trust to un-trust. It’s a bit like doing a difficult asana, sometimes you just got to hold on and breathe. And then you move on, happiness is the space between stress, between inhale and exhale. Happiness is yours.

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