Don’t let this picture fool you: I’m not exactly what one would call “patriotic.” In fact, I’ve spent the better part of the last two years out of the country than in it (the U.S., that is). But I was scheduled to teach this morning at Yoga Nanda in Garden City, and today being the Fourth of July, I was thinking about how I could tie in a theme that would sync up the national holiday with some sort of yogic message.
So I was thinking about Independence Day and what that means. Before we ever got to the Revolutionary War, the pilgrims made their way across the pond because they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Wanting to practice what they believed in, they set sail to find a new home where they could practice in peace. Eventually more and more settlers followed suit, looking to this land for a fresh start, to be free from their past and the governments and rules that didn’t bode well with them. Sure, some not so great things happened in this country’s past, but people came to America TO BE FREE. We celebrate the Fourth of July to celebrate our independence as our own country.
I’ve been rereading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali lately, and the second verse in particular has been resonating with me. Actually, it’s been stuck in my head, repeating itself over and over like a broken record: yogas citta vrtti nirodhah. Sri Swami Satchidananada translates this to “the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.” Which is pretty funny as my mind as been on overload, more so lately than usual. I just am having the craziest time trying to stay present. The Sutras, ever so clever, they are, are doing their magic, directing my attention with the point of a finger: Ah ah ah, you need to bring yourself back, my dear. You need to get yourself back to this moment RIGHT NOW.
Now this isn’t a singular dilemma: Many people suffer from overactive minds that seem programmed to replay past experiences or long for future ones, creating both excitement and anxiety—and doing a great job at distracting us from this very moment at our fingertips. We become slaves to our minds without even realizing we want to be present, so focused are we on what we WANT to happen to us, how we COULD have changed something that already happened to us, or how AMAZING a previous experience (and while we’re at it, were we even REALLY present then? Or were we too busy comparing it to something else that happened to us or wishing for something else to happen when we were “enjoying” that particular instance?). That’s where the yoga comes in.
Patanjali tells us that the goal of yoga is stop the mind from wandering, to stop the chatter that goes on inside. You know what it sounds like: You’re not good enough. You could have done a better job. You still have such a long way to go. Why did you do that? How could I be so dumb? What am I going to make for dinner? Did anyone see me mess up just now? We are constantly judging or comparing ourselves, putting ourselves down, distracting ourselves, creating anxiety, which, added together, is like making one crazy Long Island Iced Tea (scorpion bowl size) of negativity. (I use Long Island Iced Tea as an analogy because, for those of you who don’t know, an LIIT is one of the most lethal cocktails I can think of that mixes just about every liquor in the well at the bar, its sole purpose to knock you on your ass, drunk—I don’t think anyone drinks it because they think it tastes good, but I digress.)
The goal of yoga, then, is to try to free ourselves from these thoughts, even if just for the hour or so you spend on your mat. And sure, thoughts will come up throughout your practice: What did she say? She wants my leg to go where? I hate this pose. HATE IT. What time is it—is it time for Savasana yet? But the thing about yoga is, the more you practice, the more you are able to really listen to the instruction given by the teacher during class, the easier it is to be truly present and dedicated to the task at hand.
Now I don’t know if I have ever experienced the type of yoga Patanjali is referring to for the entirety of a class, but I have had numerous instances—some of which may have followed through several poses before my mind found a way to interrupt—where I was completely present and aware of every muscle, bone, cell in my body, where those were the only things on my radar at the time, where I was finally FREE and INDEPENDENT of my thoughts. And each time I come to the mat, it is another opportunity to fight my own Revolutionary War with myself to find peace within, a peace similar to the kind that was sought after from those who brought themselves to America over 200 years ago.
Which is why I showed up to class today wearing red, white, and blue: to acknowledge the struggle I am in as I fight for my own independence in hopes that it will inspire others to find theirs as well.