Contentment Through Yoga
The current financial climate has brought a need to conserve in many families, mine included. As a long time yoga practitioner, I have been applying the practice of Aparigraha (non-greed).
This is one of the Yamas or personal practices recommended in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a foundational text of Yoga. The Five Yamas are considered external disciplines as they relate to how we ďyokeĒ to the world. Aparigraha can also be translated as ďnot taking more than you needĒ. It is a good practice and well worth modeling for our children, families and loved ones.
Iíd like to say that I had a profound spiritual compulsion to start practicing Aparigraha in order to become a better teacher, yogi and world citizen; but that would violate Satya, another Yama that translates as truthfulness. It was my profound inability to practice Aparigraha in the first place that most certainly got me into my current financial crisis. The yoga tradition has a magical way of giving the practitioner exactly what she needs.
Faced with financial hardship, it is easy to become afraid and start contracting. When we are afraid, nagging thoughts of ďthere is not enoughĒ seep into our consciousness, then into our actions. We start protecting what we have and look for ways to get more. We may envy other peopleís abundance and secretly wish it was ours. Fear brings contraction and contraction instantly stagnates flow.
Non-Greed and Contentment
A better approach is to practice Aparigraha (non greed) in combination with another of Pantajaliís recommended practices called Santosa. Santosa belongs to the group of 5 Niyamas or internal practices and can be translated as contentment. The Niyamas are said to guide our actions so they benefit all of life. This practice is one of expansion and helps make us feel full. It is good for balancing Aparigraha (non-greed).
Now the usual practices of gratitude and giving thanks for what you do have are fine examples of the practice of Santosa. However, I have to tell you, this can be a stretch when you have lost everything, including your home, all its contents, a husband, a job, most of your community, your credit and pretty much everything else. This is where Iím coming from this year. You get tired of telling the kids we have no money for shoes or Christmas presents and they canít play soccer or have a birthday party. You grow weary of standing on welfare and food stamp lines and visiting the labor department and divorce courts.
Oh sure, you become grateful you can buy food and for the churches who run ďAdopta- FamilyĒ at Christmas. You feel blessed to have schools that secretly slip food baskets through the back door to the playground so as not to embarrass you and for kind neighbors who buy your kids shoes. And youíre eternally grateful that you live in a country that provides Health Care, job programs and basic civil rights unknown to so many world citizens.
Yet fear kept clouding my perception and I didnít exactly feel full or expansive. Iíve been on those welfare lines recently and have looked deeply into the eyes of the others standing there with me. Some seemed depleted and empty and definitely not content. I think many of them are afraid too.
Abundance is Made to Flow
It seems to me that in order to coax abundance into oneís life, a certain amount of trust is necessary. I once heard a saying that ďfear is the lack of faithĒ. I have found this to be true. Faith doesnít have to take on religious connotations; it can be a basic trust in some benevolent force out there that cares for even the tiniest of ants under the biggest of rocks. Or simple trust that the basic principles of energy will work. Wealth is an energy whose nature is to flow. If you contract around it in fear, it will stop flowing. If you move towards it with trust, it will be allowed to flow. It is good to have some wealth and spread it around too. Let it flow to and from you. Allow it to circulate so you can participate in the magnificent cosmic dance of it. Wish abundance for others and happily receive it when it flows your way.
Life Force in Everything
The word Prana is often defined as Life Force or Chi. It animates the body and brings life to the world around us. It is a dancing, cosmic intelligence that allows things to shine forth brilliantly. It pulls us out of ourselves and insists on our bigness. The flow of Prana sings within you and asks you to shine your very brightest. You can recognize it everywhere; in good art that calls to you and in music that stirs you. Itís easy to see in puppies and babies and in childrenís faces when they laugh. It can fill yoga poses and thread itself into musical notes. It is weaved into the colors of sunsets and juiciness of apples; it is even present in the tears of a deep embrace.
Liking Nice Things
The thing with my financial dilemma is I like nice things; handmade things, good pieces of art and carefully crafted clothing. I like good organic food and 100% cotton sheets. To my eye, they have more Prana in them, as if the artist, musician or farmer added some of his light into the thing and made it bigger, more full somehow. Having these things stirs the Prana in me so my humanity feels fuller, shinier, and expansive. Witnessing their pranic expression helps me to feel connected and in union with something bigger than me.
A life full of particle board furniture and plastic dishes can get to you after a while, deplete you, make you feel small and lonely. This isnít to say Iím irresponsible. I have hard-won lessons from failing to practice Aparigraha and Santosa. Practicing yoga has allowed me the ability to understand that I donít really own anything. Itís all part of one big, fluid pranic pie. I donít need these things to define myself or provide sense gratification anymore. I have begun to cultivate deep gratitude for their fullness; for the way they make me smile inside and fill me with admiration and reverence for the effulgent force of Prana. I feel instantly grateful to the artist, handcrafter or farmer who made the brave effort to bring the thing to creation. Living life in this way helps me to move beyond myself and inspires a generous spirit within me. The experience brings effortless practice of Aparigraha and Santosa in a way that fear and contraction could never achieve.
Promise Yourself Flow
I made a promise to myself and my children this year: when we are able, I am going to find some of those people that were on the welfare lines with us with fear in their eyes. Iím not going to get them something practical like canned goods or new shoes. Iím not even going to get those 100% Egyptian cotton sheets or a finely crafted piece of furniture because that would be my dream. No, Iím going to ask them to pick one thing they would really love to have, something beautiful and full. Something that they would never buy themselves because they feel itís too much, canít afford or donít deserve. Iím going to ask them to pick something that stirs them inside and brings life back into their eyes. Iím going to insist on their bigness for one day and then Iím taking them shopping.
Suzanne Wells McGrath is the owner of Harmonic Earth LLC ďdeepen your practice, harmonize your world.Ē She is an Ayurvedic Consultant & Yoga Specialist and a Certified Instructor in Yoga, Pilates & Zumba. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.HarmonicEarth.org or 631 261-1691.