Ingela’s Reflection

Yoga – A Celebration of Life


Celebration is usually only reserved for holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year, or we celebrate a new baby, birthdays and anniversaries. When we celebrate we stop to give our full attention, awareness, and presence of mind to an event. We focus, notice, and give our full appreciation to a special person, family, or friend. Or we might even go deeper into the origin of the celebration by experiencing something sacred, filled with wonder, awe and bliss.

Whenever we celebrate we open our hearts and minds to a life event and transform the common day reality into something special, an extraordinary reality. And, this is just what Yoga is all about in a nutshell. Yoga teaches us to slow down, to open our hearts, minds, and consciousness to life fully. Not just during a few special days of the year. Instead Yoga teaches us to make every moment of life into a sacred experience, a celebration.

So, how do we use Yoga to celebrate life, to transform the common day reality into an extraordinary reality? Yoga in its essence is a discipline that trains our minds to be quiet, to be present, moment by moment. And in the presence of now, our body, mind and soul unite. Yoga means union, and in this union we experience a connection with the sacred core inside us and the sacredness in all of life.

This all sounds simple, but it’s not! Our monkey minds are continually jumping back and forth between past and future. And our minds have a hard time just simply slowing down, being quiet, noticing, being aware, experiencing and being totally present for just a few minutes or even a few seconds!! For those of you who meditate or have tried to meditate, you know how quickly the monkey mind starts hopping around after just a few seconds of trying to sit in silence. So, how can we learn to quiet the mind effectively?

In Yoga we use the body to train the mind. The mind lives in the past or future, but the body lives in the present. The mind often fools us, but the body never lies. While sitting on the meditation cushion, the mind can easily imagine enlightenment, while fooling us into illusion instead.

In Iyengar Yoga we train the mind by using Alignment, Action, and Breath in each Yoga posture to invite a presence of mind, a meditation in action. First we focus on Alignment, aligning the bones in tune with gravity, to bring balance to the muscles, joints, and organs. For example, we align the feet and knees in all the standing poses for maximum benefit and safety to the knee joints. But the Alignment also aligns the mind into the presence of now. The moment the mind wanders away, the knee wanders away from the center of gravity. So, the body gives immediate feedback to train the mind to be present.

Second, we focus on Action, which is a movement with a counter movement. For example, in the standing poses we press the feet actively down into the ground while lifting the knee caps, opening the chest, and extending the arms away from the heart. An Action creates inner core strength and vitality. But an Action also trains the mind to be fully present. You can’t think about your grocery list and also do an action. The moment the mind travels away, the kneecap drops and the chest collapses. So, the Action is another immediate and honest feedback to keep the mind present.

Third, the Breath plays an important part in our Yoga practice, cleansing and rejuvenating the body from within with prana, life force. But the focus on the breath also has a quieting affect on the mind. And the pause at the end of an exhalation brings the mind into a moment of total silence, giving us a glimpse of enlightenment.

When we do our daily Yoga asanas with Alignment, Action and Breath, we gradually train the monkey mind to be quiet. But, what is this monkey mind mindstuff? It’s all the knowledge and experiences we have acquired through life, that we categorize and qualify into right and wrong, good and bad, pleasure and pain.

And with the acquired knowledge we jump back and forth between the past and future, seeking happiness. The mind dwells on the past, what we did, what happened and what we should have done differently. Or the mind projects into the future, fantasizing, wondering or worrying about events that might be happening.

It’s healthy to reflect and learn from the past, and it’s equally healthy to have dreams and visions of tomorrow. But, most of us are total slaves to our monkey mind—and can’t turn it off, during the day or even at night. Life is made out of moments; if we continually live in the past and future, we miss out on life.

In our Yoga practice we also get caught in the monkey mind play between past and future. We hold onto the past, remembering a good feeling we had in our practice from yesterday and expecting the good feeling to return. Or we hold onto a memory of a past experience of discomfort in a pose from last week and resist it today. But everything in nature is constantly changing. And today is a new day with new possibilities, and if we let go of yesterday’s experiences, whether good or bad, we can open the door for new and enlightening transformations.

The beauty of Iyengar Yoga is that it offers us gradual and attainable steps towards the classic poses, allowing everybody to celebrate each step on the way, and make every pose a sacred experience. Interestingly, challenging poses are often the gateway to health and healing. In Yoga and in life we learn to celebrate challenges as opportunities for growth.
When we practice Yoga, the mind also travels into the future. We have visions of a dream pose that the mind expects the body to perform, while the body says no. For example, trying to stand on our head or forcing our legs into the lotus pose prematurely. Instead, if we stay present by listening to our bodies’ true abilities moment by moment, and with Alignment, Action and Breath, we can create positive and healthy changes, step by step.

So, in Yoga we use our bodies to train our minds to be present, to “be here now.” But, it’s also hard to “be here now” in our world today. Our modern lives have become very fast paced. We are constantly involved in a symphony of multitasking, living superficially on the surface, making our lives mechanical, and leaving our hearts empty. We drive our car, sip on a latte, listen to the news, talk on our cell phone, all while little Jimmy in the back seat is telling us about his experience at his last soccer game.

Our daily Yoga practice can help us slow down for a few minutes allowing us to listen, feel, and experience life on a deeper level. And the presence of mind we cultivate with our Yoga practice sends an echo of awareness through the rest of the day’s activities, adding depth, newness, and a celebration to all the little things in life. Like watching a spider sit quietly beside a magnificent creation of a web glistening with fresh dew in the morning sun, or looking into somebody’s eyes while listening to their stories full-heartedly, open-mindedly, with curiosity and depth.

I recently came across an inspiring article I had saved from the magazine “Unfolding” fifteen years ago. In the article Noemi Sosa says:
“To celebrate is to appreciate all of life!
To celebrate is to transform the commonplace, the ordinary, into something solemn and sacred; to give value to what we take for granted.
When we celebrate we feel blessed; we feel we are in touch with reality in a deeper way.

A life of celebration is a joyous life
A life of celebration is a spiritual life
A life of celebration is a sacred life
To appreciate
To rejoice
To celebrate.”

This holiday season, I wish you lots of sacred moments with family, friends, nature, and your favorite Yoga poses!

The light in me celebrates the light in you,