Quite often, product takes precedence over process; ultimate achievements reign over necessarily laid groundwork and considerable effort. While the majority of our time and energy is spent in the climb up the hill, much of our judgment and pride resides in...Read More
"We will not discover our place in the world. We must design our place in the world." –Courtney Romano, author of "The First Ten Years"
Choices. Our lives are laden with them, and the spectrum across which they exist—from insubstantial to life changing—is extraordinarily broad. A number of choices I made last summer provoked massive change in my life, and ripples of those same choices have continued to bubble at the surface of my headspace and heart, stirring up a fierce desire for further change and, more specifically, a life of my own design. I recognize that seeking such a goal is a luxury, a product of my country and relative economic status, so for that I am grateful and even more determined to pursue what my freedom and privilege makes possible.
My overarching career goal at this point has triggered great transformations in my work life and offered up free time in a way I haven’t experienced since childhood. This shift in my work-life balance is immensely exciting but begs for an investigation of the self, or svadhyaya, as we identify self-study in the realm of yoga. Where do my priorities lie in regards to the larger sectors of my life and within each of these arenas? How must my daily, seemingly inane choices be altered to serve my greater goals and values? Perhaps most importantly, how will I muster the necessary courage, patience, perseverance, and compassion to support me through an ever-evolving process and nudge me closer and closer to what I hope to achieve?
I’ve realized lately that in pushing so hard in pursuit of the life I’ve dreamed for myself, I have largely disregarded the inevitable yin and yang balance that becomes requisite in sustaining a purpose-driven life. In yoga, we speak of the warmer and cooler sides of the body, linked to the Sun and the Moon, the masculine and feminine energies. To ignore this duality that so clearly exists in both our bodies and the natural world is to negate an inherent structure of our nature. To dismiss our potential for coolness through rest, relaxation, and reflection counters one’s opportunity to be balanced. Heat, fueled by and for our passions, jets us ever forward, always toward something more. Tapas, as we identify this barreling fire in yoga, ensures we do not lead complacent lives, filling our time with action and growth. But is it not incredibly valuable, too, to recognize that which we have already accomplished? To not get entirely carried away by ambition? Sitting where we are even for a moment or two throughout a day to dig our heels deeper into the ground we have set builds a more solid foundation from which to spring. Indeed, we rarely arrive at our destination as we imagined, if we even make it there at all; our paths have so many forks that we could never anticipate, no matter how we’ve strived to manicure them for success. And so our groundedness, our cooler edges, serve as our anchors through these unpredictable times. Interacting with ourselves in realms that calm and quiet us reconnects us to what it is that sent us off on harrowing dream journeys in the first place. This rest, too, can offer us the time to recalculate as more forks appear; our subsequent choices, then, can arise from the depths of our centers, rather than brushing hurriedly off our restless surfaces.
Now, of course I share all these ideas but certainly struggle to follow through with them myself. In amping up my risk-taking, I’ve gotten so fired up I can hardly exhale. I can barely let go of whatever hold on my future I imagine I have, nor can I let go of the physical stress that has stealthily crept into my body and taken up residency as I’ve stubbornly trudged forward. We know any sort of natural fire’s burn eventually comes to an end, so why do we push ourselves to such high peaks where we crash from lack of fuel? Our yin sides must not be diminished.
In her book, The First Ten Years, Courtney Romano sets intentions for herself and her readers:
To free fall into the life we were meant to live, not the fabricated one we’re always measuring ourselves against. To find abandon and order in the pathway to more creativity, more risk-taking, and more real world effectiveness.
To free fall and find abandon, as well as order…these statements validate and encourage a looser, more balanced grip on our reality. As I see it, we don’t look to be set beings, destined for a predetermined existence. So why do we become fixated on living smooth, linear lives? As humans, our lives are pockmarked with success, failure, confusion, clarity, indecision, passion, all of which knock us up and down and up and down again. In order to honor this continuous ebb and flow, we must first acknowledge and defend the dichotomy that lives within each of us. Whether you have been racing for days or even months and need to slow down or stop entirely, or you can’t seem to light a fire beneath you to shake up your status quo, comprehending and accepting our right to choose, especially our right to choose a move that veers from whatever cycle, or samsara as we speak of in yoga, we have gotten caught in can empower us to be bold and design a life that exposes our talents, skills, hopes, and dreams in ways they deserve to be shared. What arises so beautifully out of all this mindfulness and courage, too, is the change that billows out into the world as a result of our personal growth. Even our smallest choices can shift the landscape of our surrounding world. So in considering all of this, how is it that you will transform yourself, and our world, for the better today?
As organic creatures born of the elements of water, air, fire, and earth, we also become the proud carriers of these elements throughout our lifetime. A balance of our elements keeps us healthy and allows us to function. The element of fire is connected with passion, warmth, and intensity. Some of us carry more fire than others year-round but currently, the element of fire is naturally stoked in each of us as we commit to intentions for the new calendar year ahead.
One of the niyamas (yogic guides for balanced living) that comes to mind is tapas. Tapas has many translations from its Sanskrit root related to a burning desire for the practice. It is sometimes described as a fiery commitment that keeps us coming back to our mats day after day. We know that too much heat in a fire can burn out the fire too quickly; too little heat and there is no spark to keep the fire going. It would be better to find the sustainable slow burn of our inner fires to support us as we enter 2013.
As we climb onto our yoga mats with intensity and a desire for health and wellbeing, and perhaps a dash of ego to get fit and fabulous in the process, we must keep our inner fires in check. Show up to the mat each day but don’t push too hard or punish yourself if you don’t get there. Meet your edge in asana (postures) and accept challenges but also know when to back off as the Winter body requires gentler care.
I always tell my students: yoga is a practice for life, not just for today. There is no race or deadline or monetary reward. Just show up. Do let your tapas fires burn bright from within. Also allow Winter’s cooler temperatures to keep you from overheating. With this natural balance in place, you are likely to see your intentions on and off the mat fully realized…with a warm heart and a cool head.