Yoga Philosophy in Real Life: On Beginnings, Endings, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

This week marks my last week in Austin, Texas. It’s been my home for the last two years. The place that I began to deepen my practice. The home of my first studio. The location that gave me time, and space to heal. It gave me dripping hot summers filled with the drone of mosquitos, and cool, calm, winters, when pecans peppered the ground. It’s home.

I spent this week visiting the touchstones of my time here. My studio, Practice Yoga Austin. My teacher. My students. My fellow yoga teacher friends. My favorite taco truck near my house. I’ve been savoring the moments, drawing them out, watching myself as I watch the time of departure move closer.

This week I practiced with one of my teachers at my studio. She opened class with a thought about the second sutra in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

Literally translated: Yoga is the control of thought waves in the mind.

She talked about having certain expectations about things in her own life. The way they were supposed to go. The way they were were supposed to feel. How she ought to be. She mentioned that we all have ideas of what something in our future will be like. Whether it’s a move, a new job, a new house, a new friend, we have some mental formation about what that will look like.

As I’m staring down the impending move, I have a lot of thought waves and expectations about what life in Los Angeles will be like.

I lived in L.A. when I was in college. Back then, I didn’t feel like I fit in at the school that had chosen me. I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere, at that point, really.  I wasn’t the happiest person in the world. In fact, I was sort of a mess. What if I still don’t fit in? What if I’m still, sort of a mess?

Mind you, this fear isn’t based in actual reality. I have lots of friends in Los Angeles now. They are people I absolutely adore. People I dash across streets to hug. People that talk to for hours over cocktails or food or cars. People I would love to spend more time with. So, I suppose, I already do fit in.

Add to that, the fact that I know who I am, now— much more so than I did when I was 18. I know how to get around the sprawling city. I know where to find good tacos and a dog park. I am capable of taking care of all of these things and more. Yet, I still worry.

Life is changing again. What if I don’t like the changes? What if it’s as bad as it was? What if I slide back into the darkness of shoulds, and have-tos, that I knew not so long ago? I’ve been there, too. What if?

These are what my thought waves about Los Angeles and the coming move look like, and sound like, right now. Like waves on a lake, if I let them go on, they’ll  eventually become imprinted on the bottom of the lake in the form of sandbars and ripples. They’ll change the way the water behaves. They change the nature of my thoughts. These are my samskaras. I need to be aware of them and work on them.

So, what to do?

As Patanjail teaches, the only way to control your thought waves, is to counter them with other, more truthful thought waves.

“To our thoughts of anger, desire, and delusion we must oppose thoughts of love, generosity, and truth.” —How to Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, by Swami Prabhvanandha and Christopher Isherwood

In other words–be with your thoughts enough to know when you are heading down a rabbit-hole of negative thinking, and counter those thoughts with waves of compassion, love, and even, acceptance. Understand your fears and comfort them by being patient and letting expectations go. Stop “shoulding” all over everything. It’s not going to go the way you think it will. No matter how much you worry about it.

In addition to the message from Kiely, my teacher, I also stumbled across this, from REI, this week. Yes, it’s consumerism. Yes, it’s one of those well crafted ads to get you to buy more stuff.  And dammit, I still like it.

I was cleaning up a bunch of odds and ends around the house before the movers show up and this landed on the floor after I moved a stack of magazines. When I read it, the message that this cover delivers, hit me like a ton of bricks.

IMG_20170428_173304

I spent years of my life living within the lines of “should,” and “supposed to.” For me it lead to tremendous unhappiness in almost every aspect of my life–from my relationships to my work.  I woke up one night with a panic attack and realized that I had to make a significant change or risk losing my soul. It took years, a ton of money, and a whole lot of work and heartache, but eventually, I got out.

The truth is that we put so many expectations on our experience, on ourselves, our loved ones, our kids, our families, our work, our homes, and our lives. We should ourselves into a corner. We shame ourselves when we don’t have the perfect experience, or when we suddenly find ourselves off the reservation and loving every minute of it.

It’s time to change those thought patterns. It’s time to stop expecting things to go badly, or well, or perfectly, or off the rails–but it will take time to stop. We’ve all been doing it for so long, that it seems nearly impossible to just quit.

I try to think of it this way: If you started surfing tomorrow, and hadn’t ever done it before, you’d get tossed in an instant. Even in relatively calm waters you probably wouldn’t be able to make it out past the break. If you kept at it though, eventually you’d be able to get past the break. Then you’d catch a wave. Then you’d be able to stand on the board.

Yoga and the real-life practice (and surfing….and even, life….. it turns out) is like that. It doesn’t actually ever get easier. You just get stronger. More resilient. Better at falling. Better at moving into the what ifs.

 

So, here’s to the what ifs of Los Angeles. Here’s to the continued daily work on the practice–and here’s to a new chapter. It’s time to head west.

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