The art of living peacefully through yoga
The Buddhist path is synonymous with peaceful living. Can the practice of yoga yield peace? And what indicators for peace might we witness in our lives by following the path of yoga? Author and IYN Yoga Elder, Jenny Light, has spent a lifetime in quest of peace on the yoga path. Here, she shares her experiences frankly with OM.
When I was a child, it was the postures with the funny names which drew me to yoga. As I continued to practice I found that the postures evolved into a stepping stone and that a deeper sense of peace emerged as I immersed myself in its practice.
For most people, at the beginning, yoga is only skin deep; something that you do with your body. Then, gradually, some alchemical metamorphosis starts to awaken a dormant aspect within. The veneer of the little self grows thin and a more resilient calmness shines forth through the facade.
At first, this is experienced in sporadic moments of calmness between the hectic routine of daily life, marked by a deeper sleep, feeling rested and interacting more calmly with others in situations which would previously have pressed your buttons. These moments of calmness are the signposts that what you are doing is good for you and you are on the right path.
By continuing with your yoga practice over a longer period of time, the feeling of calmness deepens into a sense of peace within. The awakening of our peace-filled nature brings forth an inner resilience and strength. You notice yourself being less judgemental and feeling more kindness and compassion for the suffering that others may be going through. Eventually, even when you find yourself in the midst of tumultuous circumstances, that core of peace can still be maintained. Nothing can knock your inner peace and resilient strength. Unless you choose to let it.
At times, however, we go off the rails and the density of living in a human body presses in on us again. If you find yourself here, don’t beat yourself up and tell yourself that you’re a failure. This is only a temporary setback. Just pick yourself up and get back into your yoga routine once more. I found that the loss of ‘feeling good’ always equated with times when my yoga practice became stale or fell away from me. Instead of berating myself and thinking negatively, I took this opportunity to remind myself that my life is 100% better when I’m on track with my yoga practice. And I choose to use this situation as a pointer to get back on the horse!
Yoga builds resilience. So that if you feel a low mood creeping in, you can harvest the power of your practice to steer clear by whipping up a wind of action, intention and will to overcome.
The presence of peace becomes more palpable when you add meditation to your asana routine. Even a 10-minute daily meditation pays dividends. That’s when peace really starts to effervesce within. Slow, calm breathing is a sign that peace has broken out of its secret chamber in the heart chakra and is transforming how you live your life.
I suppose yoga for me boils down into a feeling of being in tune with life. I believe that life is a rich journey of exploration to find one’s true self. As the decades progress on the yogic path, we become more in tune with a quantifiable sense of peace sustaining us from within.
The yoga approach differs from the Buddhist approach. Yoga deploys specific breath techniques to quell inner waves of disquiet and burn away our accumulated karma, like a residue of soot being consumed in the fire of the practice. Both approaches eventually reveal the truth that peace is the essential nature of the self. It seems to me that yoga techniques just help us get there quicker!
“Ask for a solution to something you may be facing in earthly life. Hand over that big attaché case of worries to the Oneness. The weight of it is no longer with you.”
The process of yoga is to use:
• Asana (postures) to bring calm control to the body. Calming and toning the nerves of the body through physical yoga naturally calms the neural pathways of the brain.
• Observation of the breath as if watching someone else breathing. Mindfully watching the breath starts to calm the mind. You may observe that you have a body and that it is breathing. This starts to separate the consciousness of who you are from the temporal body.
• Breath control (pranayama) deepens the calming effect. When you have your mind engrossed in a technique, such as alternate nostril breath (nadi shodhanam), pure energy or vitalising life-force (prana) is drawn into every cell of the body and trickles into psychic pathways, away from the surface of the body, enlivening the spine and brain.
• Meditation lifts the awareness from the body into a higher state of consciousness. Meditation is the art of learning to sit still with the mind interiorised within. Below you will a sample meditation drishti (focus) on cultivating peace by overcoming fear.
Asana is the necessary discipline to prepare the body and mind to quell inner promptings to shift position. Some mental agitation is normal in the beginning so keep it short and manageable to about 10-15 minutes. Committing to even a five-minute daily meditation can impact on how calm you feel that day. What you learn to do is to adhere to the focus of your meditation without allowing your attention to be diverted by any distraction, physical or mental. This takes time and patience.
• Mantra or affirmation to recalibrate and calm the mind. You are what you think. In the heightened awareness, post-meditation, mentally repeating a mantra, such as So Ham, or a positive affirmation is most effective in creating a change in yourself. For example, if you lack courage, affirm: ‘I am strong and fearless. I have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ The following meditation for inner calmness is drawn from my new book of yoga meditations: Awakening the Lotus of Peace: Yoga Meditations for Inner Peace’ (Mantra Books).
Peaceful Calmness Meditation
Tense and release the body a few times. Take a long inhale, hold the breath and have a long exhale. Repeat for a few breaths. Breathe in normally. Explore a pause after the exhale. This pause can be as long or short as you wish and should be comfortable. Try to experience freedom from the clunking mechanics of the breath, if even for one second.
Notice that you will have started to move into a more subtle frame of awareness which may be felt as a warmth, coolness or comforting feeling. This underlies the physical experience. Imagine that you are standing on a beach looking out toward the sea. You are breathing in the coolness of the air with feet planted in the sand.
Your breath flows in gently as a cooling breeze over the brain. This cooling breath soothes the nerves of the physical body as a balm of peace. Be aware of the breath as calmness and alertness beyond the normal everyday consciousness. Let that calmness flow down from the brain along the nerves of the physical body. This elixir of peace creates a calmness around the nerves, like the insulating sheath around an electrical wire.
Gaze at the gentle movement of the sea with feet planted on the imaginary sand. Imagine the gentle sensation as if the water were moving through you. Breathe in calmness across the brain. Shift your attention to breathing more subtly and breathe calmness over the ‘nerves’ (nadis) of the astral body. These flow upward towards the crown of the head (sahasrara chakra or astral brain).
Breathe in the elixir of calmness as it blows over the physical and astral brains. Take your awareness to the middle of the head, between the brow and the medulla at the back of the head. Come back to breathing in that elixir of calmness, allowing an experience of peace to arise. Allow your heart to open with the gentle fragrance of peace as a sweetness to open the heart.
Tune into the frequency of the creative vibration OM by either humming Mmmm... Mmmm... Mmmm or chanting OM... OM... OM. Each intonation takes you into a deeper experience of calmness, opening into a vast space. Listen with super-consciousness awareness characterised by great alertness of consciousness. Just keep lifting your consciousness to a higher and higher level of alertness.
Perceive that you are gazing down a tunnel of light towards the brow. You can travel down this tunnel of blue and gold in a blink of an eye, opening into vastness of eternity. Look back at your little earthly-self and see all its trials as only transitory. You exist and are eternal.
In your vastness of consciousness you can ask for a solution to something that you may be facing in earthly life. Hand over that big attaché case of worries to the Oneness. The weight of it is no longer with you. Receive the gift of quiet acceptance and calmness.
Come back to awareness of standing on the beach gazing at the sea with the calming breeze of peace blowing through your mind. Notice how light you feel. Notice the ease of your breathing. In your heart of hearts quietly contain the calmness, acceptance and peace.
Jenny Light is a student of Paramahansa Yogananda and Yoga Elder with Independent Yoga Network (IYN). She lives in Ayrshire and runs meditation and mindfulness classes and retreats in the UK. Visit living-lightly.co.uk
AWAKENING THE LOTUS OF PEACE: YOGA MEDITATIONS FOR INNER PEACE
The new book, Awakening the Lotus of Peace: Yoga Meditations for Inner Peace by Jenny Light (Mantra Books) is a guide to meditating on peace, made accessible via the senses: peace as a soft breeze; peace as a whisper; peace as an inner smile; peace as radiance; peace as a musk that arises from within. Each of these expressions of peace, the author has experienced herself on her quest for inner peace. A treasure trove packed with 15 beautifully scripted meditations, the book is exquisitely adorned with peace mandalas and is a stunning addition to any yoga practice.