In these last few weeks of summer, the long evenings are fading away and the early mornings are darker, but we are left with the memories of the warmth and the light, precious moments and adventures with new and old friends, and the sense of bliss when you sit on a mountain at sunset and feel yourself as the sky. We had a shining mountain hut get-away in August (even with the humbling high-altitude effects of living at 11,300 feet!). It was an honor and a pleasure to practice and spend time with everyone who was part of the weekend, flying kites, eating baklava, watching the meteor shower, and so much more…
Summer has a way of reminding us of the inherent beauty and joy in life, which sometimes we forget about when we get caught up in the busyness, the competition, and the suffering of ourselves and others. I think that we all do appreciate the immense contentment of being alive, especially when we bring ourselves into balance and stillness enough to bring our focus inside. We realize that life doesn’t have to be a competition, and that there is much more there. It does not need to be me against you, or us against them, with lines drawn, and grudges held. We really all depend on each other. We all want to feel safe and comfortable, have enough nourishing food and clean water, and the chance to live with love and a sense of fulfillment. We don’t need to win, because that implies that somebody else loses (and what do we really gain, but a temporary sense of superiority and more fear of retaliation?). I want you to succeed and live the best life you can, because it helps us all. If I do well, it is for your benefit.
As babies, we are guided entirely by primitive urges: to take in nutrients, eliminate bodily waste, and survive at all costs (and at great expense and hardship to our parents). As we move through childhood and develop personalities, our wants and needs become more elaborate, but are generally still almost exclusively self-centered. It seems as though some adults never fully move past this shallow sense of self-interested ambition – with what ultimate aim? These “lower” urges tend to show up as strong divisiveness and reactivity. This sounds familiar. If we can move our focus and priorities upward into awareness, however, we find greater clarity, understanding, and peace. Let’s not lose sight of the raw bliss of being alive, even as we navigate the obstacles and fully acknowledge our own shadows.
There is a concept in yoga of inner fire. This fire is your vitality – not just your physical energy and mental exertion, but everything about the way you perceive and participate in the world. Ojas is the oil that feeds that flame (you can think of it as sacred ghee in a fire ceremony, or lighter fluid on a barbecue, or whatever…). To keep the fire stoked and steady, we need the proper amount and quality of ojas. Everything you do affects your ojas: the foods you eat, how you exercise and stretch the body, how much you sleep, the company you keep, your physical environment, the sounds around you, the quality of the air you breathe, how much socializing or solitary time you partake in, the tone of your thoughts, and on and on. Everything we do affects us. There is no fixed formula to be found for conserving ojas; the balance is constantly shifting for each of us, depending on our individual circumstances at any given moment in time. We all know what it feels like when everything is in balance, and through yoga practices we cultivate that awareness and develop skill for how to restore the balance when we feel depleted in some way. By properly maintaining our ojas and stoking the steady, bright inner flame, we are able to move through the world with clarity and purpose, and with great joy through it all.
Trust the internal wisdom that you have inside your body (the “inner teacher”). There is so much to access if you are willing to explore it with curiosity and diligence. This takes time to learn, and time to practice, but I have found it to be highly worthwhile, and it never stops unfolding. There is much more to the human experience than easy gratification, recognition, and winning; there is much more to the world than the apparent physical forms (and try not to dismiss this as all “woo woo” or imagined – I have a science and engineering background, and can tell you from experience there is something there).
So stoke the inner fire! Be the beautiful glow of life, and expansively send that out. Others will feel it.
Here are a few excellent practices that I find helpful as we move into fall:
Stoke the inner fire by bringing some new awareness into your yoga practice, whether it is at home or in class. As you work on new and difficult poses, see if you can maintain a sense of ease and spaciousness, and you might be surprised at what you can do. In the familiar poses that you have practiced hundreds or thousands of times, make a point to breathe deeply and expansively, focusing your attention in your center, refining the posture with the movement of every breath.
Make time to sit in meditation. Really. If you practice asana (yoga poses) at home, sit for a while after you finish your savasana. Remember the spacious feeling you had while lying on your back. Try to center your awareness at the crown of your head. Then, as you inhale, draw the awareness down through the central axis of the body (through the skull, past the throat, through the chest, the belly, all the way to the pelvic floor). As you exhale, move your awareness back up from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head, and continue this movement with every breath. After a while, you can let your attention on the breath fade away or dissolve, and just feel the pulsing enormity of consciousness, empty and full at the same time.
Drink turmeric milk. On the stove, heat up a cup of milk (whole milk is best) in a pot with either fresh turmeric root if you can find it (an inch or two, chopped) or powdered turmeric (a spoonful), and black pepper (a few whole peppercorns or freshly ground). I sometimes also add fresh chopped ginger root for an extra kick. Bring the milk just to a boil (be careful not to let it boil over!), and then let it simmer/steep on low heat for 5-10 minutes. The milk will turn a lovely shade of sunny golden yellow. Strain out the solid spices and add as much honey as you like!