I’ve been having a rough time of it lately. Nothing terrible, just the accumulation of small things over time that have me feeling worn out, harried, and overwhelmed sometimes. I know that the continual beating of water and grit can smooth sharp edges and fog the translucency of glass, creating something that’s almost comforting to the touch. I know that a tree’s growth over time can uproot and break apart something as impermeable as concrete and rock. I know that the fog will eventually break and disperse under the sun’s penetrating gaze. And I know that the present is just a sliver of time, something that goes as quickly as it comes. That it is always in the process of regeneration: Birth and death. Here, now there. I know these things, and yet I still find the current moment slightly exhausting.
My mind keeps coming back to Chapter V in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad; more specifically, it keeps coming back to this:
“The heavenly voice of the thunder repeats this teaching. Da-da-da! Be self-controlled! Give! Be compassionate!”
Da-Da-Da! I feel like it could be a part of a song. Something I’d maybe bust a move to or belt out in the shower. And while it’s not a solution to my weariness, it is a comfort. I can’t master my life. I can craft it, however. If I’m lucky the work goes smoothly. If not, then I have to apply dogged effort. I error if I think that artistry is easy, and living in the present moment is a kind of art.
Da-Da-Da! I like it because it’s how I think of yoga’s heart: Be self-controlled. Give. Be compassionate. Are your passions and unconscious reactions governing your actions? Practice self-control. Meditation and pranayama are great for that. Have you certain attachments that bolster your ego, make you slightly misanthropic, or make you a contender for “Hoarders”? Try giving. Asana in a loving and supportive community is wonderful for that; so is meditation. Avoiding something or someone (maybe even yourself)? Be compassionate. We all suffer. (Simply look around the yoga room the next time you’ve held utkatasana for several breaths.)
Da-Da-Da! Three simple teachings. Three hard and difficult practices. Three principles that can probably work magic in your relationship to yourself and to others if you’re willing to commit, to apply that dogged effort even when you feel exhausted. Simply stepping on the mat helps. Self-control, giving, and compassion are part and parcel of asana, meditation, and pranayama.
It wasn’t just the asana practice that caught my attention with yoga. It was the subtle shifts I found occurring in my psyche and my habits the more I maintained my practice. A natural worrier, I found that my anxiety about the future lessened. I made fewer lists in my head as I tried to fall asleep. I stopped trying to create contingency plans A-G. Stillness and silence settled into my soul, especially when I was on my mat, and all of those thoughts about myself, my relationships, my possibilities, and my losses diminished in number, intensity, and negativity. Yoga has so much potential precisely because it’s you on the mat. All you are doing is folding back the wrinkles, cleaning up the debris, and moving aside everything that seeks to obscure you. As Swami Rama points out, you contain the cosmos. Yoga just helps reveal yourself to yourself.
All of which is why I am excited to launch a more deliberate inquiry into yoga’s eight limbs. Class each week will be dedicated to a particular limb – the yamas, or ethical teachings; the niyamas, or self-disciplines; asana; pranayama; pratyahara, or sensory withdrawal; the concentration in dharana; the meditation of dhyana; and, finally, samadhi, or enlightenment. The most time will be devoted to the yamas and the niyamas since there are eight within each.
Who knows? Maybe at the end of this crazy journey we’ll not only echo the thunder, but feel it roll out from within our own depths: Da-Da-Da!