April 22, 2012

Balance is Found Through Love: Yoga in The Gita

Welcome to our Yoga In The Gita Sunday series!

Last Sunday, Braja Sorensen talked about sacrifice and renunciation as what pave the pathway to love. Today I begin the forth phase of our series by introducing Balance.

If one were to observe a traditional asana routine, one’s body would begin close to the earth, grounded by her stability. Then, halfway through the routine, the postures dedicated to balance begin, when sometimes the only part of our bodies connecting us with a firm foundation is one foot. Then the routine ends with our entire body stretching the length of the earth beneath us.

Yoga is finding the firm balance in the middle, even while standing on one foot. 

When Arjuna had lost his footing in his own life, and had let his mind carry him in extreme directions, his conversation with his dearest friend, Krishna, returned him to balance.

Have you ever had a friend who could do that for you? Who could connect you to the steady core of your being through a heart-to-heart conversation?

Such friends are indispensable to one’s yoga practice. According to the Gita, finding such valuable friends begins with befriending one’s own mind.

Yoga is turning our mind into our best friend. 

Sometimes it feels like a part of us wants to practice yoga and another part of us doesn’t.

Like something is leading us away from making healthy, constructive choices for ourselves, “as if by force”, Arjuna says in the third chapter, painting a very helpless picture of himself. Yes, even thousands of years ago when the Gita was written human beings suffered from victim-complexes. We are too quick to give our power away. Even a mighty warrior like Arjuna did!

Krishna swiftly focuses on reconnecting Arjuna with the source of his own inner strength by focusing on the self, the atman. In chapter six we find two verses that repeat the word self in the original Sanskrit text, seven and six times respectively. Here is what one such verse looks like translated into English:

“One should raise the self by the self; one should not degrade the self. Indeed, the self alone is the self’s friend; the self alone is the self’s enemy.” (G.M Schweig translation, 5.6)

This type of repetition of the same word by the original author of the Gita is very deliberate, as it rhythmically drives important points across to the reader.

In this case, the clear message is:

When you’ve lost all sense of power, look no further than your own self to regain it. 

Finding a Gita translation that mirrors the words in the original Sanskrit text is the best way to access the original focal points intended by the author, and benefit from the meditations they inspire. Here, Krishna encourages Arjuna to meditate on all the strength in his own self.

Yoga is reconnecting with the amazing power of our own self. 

Halfway through his conversation with Krishna, Arjuna, who has mainly been listening, (except for asking occasional questions), suddenly speaks up. Concerned for how unruly the mind can be, Arjuna describes it as more difficult to control than the wind. So how does one befriend the mind? What kind of power can accomplish that?

According to the Gita, the greatest power any of us have within us is the power to love. And the best way to make a friend is through treating them lovingly! 

As Arjuna’s best friend, Krishna reassures him of this in the last verse of chapter six, when Krishna tells Arjuna that Arjuna’s greatest power rests in “offering love”, or bhajate in Sanskrit. This ability to offer love freely -Krishna tells us- characterizes a person who is “most deeply absorbed in yoga”, or yuktatamo in the original Sanskrit.

Yoga is offering love freely unto our self and others. 

When we treat ourselves in extreme, imbalanced ways, we usually also find ourselves in imbalanced relationships. More often than not, the people we are in such relationships with also relate to themselves in extreme, imbalanced ways.

Becoming conscious of the way our relationship with our self affects our relationship with others is a central part of practicing yoga.

The more loving we are toward our self, the more love we will be able to extend to others. 

In the Gita, Arjuna is obviously in a very tense and conflicted relationship with himself.

Feeling guilty about his stunted ability to perform, Arjuna asks Krishna what the fate is for a person who understands the value of yoga, but has stopped striving for it. What happens to a person who has faith in yoga, but whose mind has deviated from it? Krishna’s response is not a condemning one. Far from it!

The Gita does not ask us to feel guilty and ashamed, and beat ourselves up for slaking in our yoga practice. 

Instead, Krishna speaks very encouraging words: “By that previous practice, one is indeed carried forward even without one’s effort.” And he reassures Arjuna that even just the desire “to know of yoga” will serve as fuel for progressing toward practicing yoga steadily. This steadiness is achieved through balanced, loving dialogue with our own self.

Yoga is becoming conscious of how we communicate with ourselves, and making those communications loving ones.  

In an asana class, the way each person has to adjust their bodies to find balance in the balancing postures, will vary from person to person. Great sensitivity to one’s body and breath, along with concentration are required to rest steadily into each pose.

The Yoga in the Gita asks that we employ the same sensitivity and focus when finding the unique and individual balance we each need in our lives to thrive.

When we are first introduced to yoga most of us enter into it with imbalances in at least one –and most likely in several- areas of our lives: emotional, physical, mental, etc.

Yoga helps us become more conscious of where our imbalances rest. It then equips us to balance them out by integrating all parts of our lifestyle into our yoga practice.

Yoga is the balanced integration of the many aspects of our lives. 

The Gita compares one who weaves their yoga practice into everything they do to a lamp burning steadily in a windless place. There is no flickering for one who can turn every opportunity in life into a perfect chance to practice yoga.

This perspective prevents us from assuming extreme and imbalanced reactions. What follows is a feeling of being peacefully interconnected with all life around us:

“One who sees the Self present in all beings and all beings present within the Self- such a person, whose self is absorbed in yoga, sees the same everywhere.” (6.29)

With this steady vision, yoginis and yogis avoid suffering from imbalances created through harboring perspectives based on fears, insecurity, guilt, shame, hurt, etc.

Yoga is when we posture our consciousness in a steady balance on love.

Instead of dwelling in such bewildering states of being, Krishna enthusiastically encourages Arjuna to “Be a yogi!” For according to the Gita, yogis are more powerful than “ascetics, those who cultivate knowledge, and those who perform sacred acts.”

This is because a yogi or yogini is steadily situated in his or her innermost self: the most empowering, oceanic place to live our lives from.

For it is from that self that we generate love every time we dive deeply into it. We fall the most out of balance when we feel a lack of love in our lives.

Loving deeply is the solution.

And, according to Krishna’s words in the Gita, that love is the deepest absorption in yoga. 

For earlier posts in this series, see the Elephant Journal author pages for Catherine Ghosh & Braja Sorensen
For continued posts in the series, see Yoga in the Gita.

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