We are all aware of the challenges we face in these times of stress, insecurity, uncertainty and fear. Many are dealing with financial hardship. The stories that I hear from those of you who have jobs, are of stress, disputes between colleagues and management, misuse of power, a feeling of powerlessness to influence change, a feeling of not being heard or listened to, and fear and despair about whether your employment will end or not.
Many of us are experiencing the physical, mental and emotional effects of these kinds of situations.
As the pressure and pace of life increases, it is necessary to keep a clear head and to be aware of how to prevent, or at least minimize the effects of physical and mental stress. Confronted with such events as illness, mental suffering, the loss of a job or the ending of a relationship, most of us become lost in the drama and panic of emotional reactions. And this makes the situation even worse. (Please let me know if you have not felt this to be the case !)
Ever since its birth, yoga has strived to raise individual awareness and to give people the tools to improve themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. The tools that yoga offers are aimed at helping people cope with life's challenges and give them the ability to stand on their own two feet.
Yoga has sought to improve the mental and physical health of people and, through increased awareness and insight, to allow them to discover their hidden potentials.
It has given people the means to replace negativity with a positive attitude to life and to replace feelings of hopelessness with confidence and faith. It has aimed to raise levels of welfare and contentment and to help people to give their lives meaning and direction.
For thousands of years now, wherever and whenever yoga is applied and practiced, it has continued to raise and improve the quality of life of those taking part. It has responded to people's essential needs.
Initially Hatha Yoga constituted only methods of cleaning the body, because at that time, that was what was most needed. In 400 BC Patanjali introduced, for the first time, a path of 8 stages, which would enable the individual to transcend the boundaries and limitations of a conditioned, limited mind, leading towards the experience of spiritual enlightenment and a transcendental mind.
When yoga was first introduced to the west in the 1960s by Swami Satyananda, few people knew what yoga was and even less had any understanding of it. Swami Satyananda recognized then that the physical aspects of yoga practice were what was most needed to help people. And when yoga is spoken about, it is these physical postures that most people associate with yoga to this present day.
Yet "the times, they are a changing", as everybody knows.
"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit" ≈ President Harry Truman
In India the form of yoga that is most applied is Karma Yoga, the yoga of selfless action. This yoga is used to build houses, dig water wells, give medical assistance, as well as to provide education, food and clothing; indeed it is used to give everyone, young and old, the very essentials of life. This has led to a new generation of children growing up with more knowledge and better circumstances. It has, for example, raised the standard of living – indeed transformed the daily lives – of more than 26,000 villagers in the hitherto impoverished area of Rikhia, Dheoga State. And thanks to the latest initiative there, 2,000 children have been given a free meal each day so that they can study without gnawing hunger.
When I began teaching in the 1980s, classes were full, the pace of life was more relaxed and "free time" was respected and cherished.
While the digital age has brought about huge changes and advantages for all, the notion of having ‘free time’ after work is no longer a reality for many people. Instead the time that was previously ‘free’ to do non-work related things, is now often taken up with emailing, SMS’ing and meeting deadlines on the laptop. Work that used to be done by many people is now expected to be done by 1 person. Couples both work in an attempt to make ends meet, placing their children in the care of others and find it difficult to maintain a stress-free relationship.
"I don’t have time", has become the mantra of the 21st century and is now considered a normal response. After all, if we are extremely busy, when do we have the time to think about how life could be different?
The fact that we are engulfed by a tsunami of information from all sides, makes decision-making, prioritizing and thinking clearly almost impossible, at all levels of society. The over use of mental faculties is causing an increase in mental restlessness, fatigue, depression and sleeplessness, as well as disturbances to the digestive processes, a reduction in energy and communication from the brain to the rest of the body.
Eckhart Tolle often says we are trapped in a form of "collective madness".
Yoga may be thousands of years old, but even in ancient times it provided the tools for maintaining balance, as well as managing the body and the mind, and the energy needed to operate both.
Yoga acknowledged thousands of years ago that we needed to learn how to use certain tools in order to deal with life's challenges and difficulties. Integrating these yogic methods in your daily life will be an anchor in the "storm".
Today, more than ever, we need the awareness that yoga gives us, as well as the tools it provides, to manage our time efficiently, by delegating and acknowledging our priorities each day. (The SWAN meditation is useful here – recognizing your Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambitions and Needs).
This occurs when the mind is calmed, brought under control, and, above all, when it can recognize the neutral witness in you. Stress clouds the thinking process, lowers willpower, immunity to illnesses and faith in yourself to deal with things; this causes lack of sleep which in turn leads to poor memory. ("Oh I forgot to do any yoga today…")
This is what yoga offers to help us deal with life's challenges:
Regular meditation to centre and control the mind, removing deep forms of conflict and stress, balancing organ functions, developing one-pointed focus and producing profound contentment and peace of mind. The meditation weekends in October are an excellent beginning, as well as a way to go deeper for those of you who have already followed them.