Friday, January 16, 2009

Santosa under Pressure

This morning I covered a 6am yoga class for someone. It was seventeen degrees below zero for the commute! I was feeling sluggish from the generous portion of Thai noodles I ate late last night. I had checked the clock several times during the night, making sure that I would get up on time. I was down to the very last of my yoga clothes that I almost never wear. So, I didn’t arrive at class feeling my best, and the class was full. And it was time to begin.

So I began, automatically, to lead the class through “Yoga Basics.” I wasn’t happy to be there. I was thinking negatively to myself and about myself. I had the class in down dog, and I did it, too. And I said to myself silently, “Cut your self some slack. It’s seventeen degrees below zero.” And I giggled. From then on, I began to make more eye contact with students. Things felt better. I ended the class with a poem about gratefulness, and I was thankful for the students and the class. I was learning about Santosa under pressure.

The second personal observance (Niyama) of yoga is Santosa, meaning contentment. How can one respect or fulfill this aspect of yoga when experience naturally includes things like irritation and discontent? I don’t think that the answer is to just pretend like everything is great. If we are just pretending or showing others that things are fine, but know inside that it’s not true, is that helpful? In some cases it is okay, but as a habit it is deadly. It kills the potential for real connection with people if we cannot share authentically. And what about lying to our selves by thinking everything’s great when it’s not? This might lead to us just being a mess of repressed yogis unintentionally lashing out without awareness. This is why it’s important to see your negative thoughts (because they can drive you).

How can we see negativity safely, without becoming subsumed by it?

One approach is to “cut your self some slack” like I did this morning. Also, I am looking to learn which thoughts are helpful, and which are not. What I have found is that a lot of the stories I tell myself are not helpful. I am learning to be suspicious of my thoughts. So when I discovered the negative crap my mind was spewing this morning, I honored it just enough to shift my focus. And I left class feeling that my job was well done. Can I do better next time? Absolutely. I am learning all the time. I sometimes make mistakes. And I aim for doing my best.

I want to live my life fully, with Santosa (contentment) in my heart. My life is a real life, a human life, with ups and downs, gains and losses, achievements and failures. Yet, I know that this is life and things are always changing. So becoming attached to any one aspect of the experience (even positivity) is false. And in this is a measure of contentment. I am doing what I came here to do. I am laughing and crying as I live. I am grateful for the experiences I can have.


Anonymous said...

Nice story, Brooks. Interesting isn't it - yoga (and I presume, teaching too) is something you enjoy.

Yet, for various reasons, you just couldn't get into it.

But then, simply by performing asana yourself, you were able to open to a bigger view.

I used to teach belly dancing and I found the best classes were the ones where I felt I was learning something as I was teacing. :)

Brooks Hall said...

So true, Svasti! Thank you!

Flo said...

I really enjoyed this. It reminds me that at times...we do need to cut ourselves some slack.
My inner dialouge can be pretty cruel at times. Especially during a not so graceful practice or a moment I do not deal with rationally.

Brooks Hall said...

You are not alone, Flo. Thanks for commenting!