“Yoga means addition of energy, strength, and beauty to body, mind, and soul.”~Amit Ray
I have been *consistently* going to hot yoga for a few weeks. At first, the heated room felt suffocating, and I fumbled through the sequence of poses. But after just a few weeks, the heated room has started to feel almost cool. The sweat doesn’t feels so overwhelming, and I’ve begun to pay attention to my body in ways that I never have before. Breathing, for instance, is a constant action I never think about. Yoga has helped me tune into my breath not only during class, but throughout my day. It has also taught me to relax; a standing boat pose is incredibly difficult to hold for 30 seconds if I resist the posture or try to muscle my way through it. Conversely, if I relax and breathe, 30 seconds is a breeze. Pardon the obvious correlation, but life is exactly the same way.
I used to experience a great deal of anxiety from worrying about the future, or resisting activities and tasks I didn’t want to do. Resisting and worrying and forcing myself to do/feel/say things that feel insincere is incredibly emotionally draining. Letting go of anxiety and fear to simply be in the moment requires thoughtful intention, but produces an intangible joy.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Do not pursue the past. / Do not lose yourself in the future. / The past no longer is. / The future has not yet come. / Looking deeply at life as it is / in the very here and now / the practitioner dwells / in stability / and freedom.”
Humans are drawn to stability and predictability, which is why a 9–5 job with clear parameters, benefits, and income is so appealing. It’s also part of the reason marriage is appealing, or why we purchase homes and live in the same place for decades. There is nothing wrong with predictability-it helps us feel safe and structured. But, stability is fleeting: we lose jobs for reasons outside our control, couples get divorced, homes burn down, unpredictable things happen constantly. The best way to be okay with change is to understand the impermanent nature of absolutely everything.
The Buddha, who lived in 6 BC in modern day Nepal and was one of the first known spiritual leaders, identified four “noble truths” to help people extricate themselves from behaviors and patterns of thinking that lead to unhappiness and suffering.
The first noble truth is that human suffering is caused by the impermanent nature of things. Because we crave stability and permanency, we deny the simple truth that nothing ever stays the same. Longing for the past is the most tangible way we needlessly perpetuate suffering.
The second noble truth is that humans often suffer because of unhealthy attachments and expectations. When a job or relationship ends, we often try to recreate the dynamics and situations we lost, in an effort to recreate our past happiness. Avoiding the process of grief and acceptance is a fear-based behavior that leads to stagnation. Looking for future circumstances that mirror the past is a self-imposed limitation.
The third noble truth is that suffering ends by letting go of attachments and expectations. Giving up the need to control or orchestrate our own happiness will oddly enough, lead to happiness. I read a book when I was young in which the author referenced the “wheel of life.” Sometimes, we’re at the top of the wheel and sometimes we’re at the bottom. But the wheel is never totally still, so no matter how bad things seem (at the bottom), they will always get better (at the top). This is comforting for those at the bottom, but it’s also comforting for those at the top, who must learn that happiness is not permanent, but that a different happiness will soon come.
The fourth and final noble truth is that the only way to end suffering is through balance and living in the present. The paradox of change is that until you accept what is, you cannot accept what might be. Being nourished and motivated by living in the present moment can feel incredibly difficult, but it will enable genuine joy. We cannot reach the fourth noble truth without embracing the first three.
The most difficult thing about living Buddha’s four noble truths is paying attention. It is impossible to live fully in the moment if we do not pay full attention to what is happening here and now. In order to recognize and resist repeating historical patterns, we must again, pay attention. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t breathing deeply until I paid attention to my breath. I didn’t realize my body was resisting yoga poses until I had nothing to do but breathe deeply and pay attention to my body.
Paying attention is necessary, but it can be tricky. Humans are prone to distractions, and we look for them constantly, whenever we feel slightly bored or frustrated. In relationships, we look for distractions for myriad reasons: to avoid how we feel, to avoid how the other person feels, etc. And, there are innumerable tools of distraction: the internet, social media, food, alcohol, drugs, other people, exercise, books, music, shopping, work, hobbies, and so. many. more.
I came to the realization that I wasn’t paying attention by subjecting myself to multiple hours of intense hot yoga. I had to experience paying real attention to my body in order to realize that I wasn’t paying close attention to the rest of my life, and I think this is common. I’ve heard dozens of times, “appreciate the little things,” or “live in the moment,” but the words never felt real to me. You might feel the same way, and yoga *might* not make these words real, but hopefully something does. Connection to your body, to your life, and to other people, requires intent attention. Sometimes, paying attention can feel incredibly painful, but more often, paying attention will enable growth, productivity, and happiness.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ~ Buddha
P.S. I started hot yoga with a Groupon. Try out dozens of workout classes before committing to 50 yoga classes, like I did.