One of the few statements that I could make at anytime and have it always be true is that all of life is impermanent. This is evident in myriad ways–the weather, the seasons, jobs, our growing children–but it seems that no change is so profoundly rattling to us mentally as our ever changing physical state. We rejoice when our physical body feels good, when it looks and behaves as we believe it should. And we bemoan these same bodies when they fall short of our expectations. How are we ever to reach that blissful state that Patanjali describes as Samadhi if we are ever in this state of impermanence; if, at once, we are both joyful that we have finally lifted up into crow pose, but devastated that we no longer fit in the jeans we bought last year?
Lately I’ve been thinking about something that teacher Darren Rhodes said about practice–that our practice is a contribution, not only to us as individuals, but to the world, and so our yoga practice become an act of “seva,” or selfless service. Think about this: whatever you contribute to yourself, whatever you participate in fully, yields something back to you. If you are contributing to your suffering, then your suffering will increase 10 fold and that will be what you give to others. If, however, you contribute to your bliss, it is your bliss that will increase 10 fold and that in turn is what you will give to the world. Our yoga practice is a gift that has the potential to bring us energy, joy, a quieter mind and more contented body. That is, if we remember that the nature of our yoga practice, as everything else in life, is impermanent and we participate fully in each changing moment as it is offered to us on the mat, then our practice becomes a source of boundless energy that increases, rather than decreases as we contribute more.
Sometimes we forget that life is impermanent and we participate in suffering so fully that we believe suffering is a permanent state. Suffering, however, like everything is else is not permanent. When I’m practicing asana, I like to remember that I have the choice of whether I suffer in, say, a very long-held chair pose, or if I remember that chair pose will pass, the burning in my thighs will end, and instead, I participate in the pose in a way that allows me to refine the details of the pose and to contribute my awareness to deepening both my breath and the physical aspects of the pose. Then the pose and I keep giving to each other and by the end of the pose, I am not depleted; rather, I feel invigorated, a hero who has come to know the pose more intimately and allowed it take me past my initial boundaries, uncovering more of what I have to offer. Seva. Selfless service that turns my practice into a devotion so that I have the ability to give as much as I have received.
Perhaps a focus for your next practice, and the next one, and the one after that even, could be on contributing to your own bliss. How do we do this? We remember that suffering is a choice and that each pose presents us with a unique opportunity to know ourselves better. How do you react to a long held pose? How do you feel if you focus on energizing your breath in poses? How do you feel if you participate fully in the alignment cues your teacher is providing? Remind yourself that the ability to do or not to do a pose is an impermanent state and try to see what the doing or not has to teach you. Just as suffering is a choice, so, too, is bliss. Probably the state of bliss will come and go just as everything else does. But bliss is a renewable state of being. Your complete participation is necessary.