1-8-12 Sunday Meditation based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
Saraswati Andrea Lee and Chitra Jessica Sunshine
Starseed Yoga and Wellness of Montclair, NJ
Sponsered by The Yoga Life Society
Hari OM call/response chant lead by Saraswatiji.
With this time of year comes a landslide of resolutions that we make for the upcoming year. Some are small and well defined, while others are ambitious and grandiose. What so many have in common is their purpose: to change or alter some aspect of our lifestyles, relationships and our general image of ourselves. It has been said that many resolutions come from a place of lack, of not having enough, not believing we are good enough, a void needing to be filled. This need may be on the surface or it many subconscious. This is not the so with the yogic practice of sankalpa.
The Sanskrit word sankalpa may be translated as will, purpose or determination. It can also be thought of as a vow. In the latter interpretation you can see glimpses of the aforementioned New Year's resolution, but sankalpa comes from a very different place. With sankalpa comes the idea that we already have everything we need to be fulfilled, happy and peaceful. As opposed to missing something, we've got all of the ingredients for this kind of existence. What we are missing is the recipe. This is where sankalpa can be of supreme use.
At the root of yoga is integration with the Divine, your highest Self. Sankalpa is fueled by a desire to know and understand this most powerful Self. As described by a writer from the Himalayan Institute, it is a commitment to support our highest truth. With resolutions we are typically looking externally for answers. With sankalpa our work is internal. The only thing we need is to express our commitment to Self realization. With this recipe, so to speak, all of the attributes, the strengths and the answers we need begin to emerge from within.
One way to transform your resolution into sankalpa is to probe into the reasons you've made the resolution in the first place. If I resolve to get my finances in order for the new year, I can ask myself why this is so important. Perhaps my answer is that it will allow me to live responsibly and without the fear of financial turmoil. But why is that important? Because it feels good to be secure and it feels uncomfortable to live with anxiety. And why is that important...and so on. Eventually we come to a point where we just say, "It's because I want to be happy." The practice of sankalpa provides a direct route to this point underneath our desire for weight-loss or to stop smoking or to be a better friend/lover/mother/father.
With sankalpa we think of the things we want not the things that we don't want. We focus on the positive and build life-changing energy from that place. Then we let it go and offer it up to the Universe. Once set free, there's no element of failure that often accompanies a resolution we did not stick to. There's no taking two steps back and you continue to progress even in the most subtle ways.
It is helpful to choose a phrase or two that remind us of our commitment such as "I am one with the Divine", and we can use this phrase to inform our work life and home life, our meditation and hatha yoga practices, and anything that we do to guide us back to our selves.
Regularity is most important in following through in our commitments. According to Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.14, "Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and with enthusiasm."
In my experience we tend to focus on the major parts of this sutra that speak to duration, endurance and zeal. However, as I was recently reading an edition of the Integral Yoga magazine I came to an article that stressed the importance of a practice that is "well attended to." To be well attended to is to always engage with an eye towards the foundation of your practice. I believe it's similar to the zen concept of beginner's mind. We have to go back to the basics, see our practice through fresh eyes and then we can proceed with "a long time, without break and with enthusiasm." It matters little if our practice is firmly grounded by those three standards if we've forgotten our mantra or our alignment. When we attend to something well, we do so with care, and devoted attention to detail and to precision. We need this same attention when we practice yoga.
Another sutra that relates to this idea is the following. Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.32 The concentration on a single subject (or the use of one technique) is the best way to prevent obstacles and their accompaniments. The commitment we make is the preventative against future occurences of obstacles. Sankalpa is a dogged resolution that centers the goal on an unattached journey to the Self in any form, all the while renunciating all gifts or benefits to the Divine. My recent commitment to Ashtanga Yoga is an example of a sankalpa.
While working at Asana House Juice Bar, the practice of Ashtanga Yoga was surely to be incorporated into my life. Watching and serving the Yoga students as they come and go from practice was always intriging, especially as a yoga teacher. The practicioners always seemed strong, inspired, passionate, regular, and happy. I wanted that feeling so I tried Ashtanga Yoga in December. In January of 2012, I decided to commit to a 30-Class Challenge with Ashtanga Yoga to further my own practice in order to serve others better. With only one week completed, the practice and my commitment to it has become my number one priority. Why? Maybe because I know myself as a geminii who jumps into something appealing feet first, without speaking up or thinking twice. Maybe because in one week I've been practicing Ashtanga Yoga, I've seen more changes in my mind and body than in the last year. Maybe I am really ready to begin practicing Yoga, that all my previous experiences with yoga were only learning. Don't get me wrong, we are always learning, its that the body has developed muscle memory for the poses and it is the breath that takes precidence. Either way, the mood is stabilized, the motivation is up, the breath is deeper and the practice is regular.
The concentration on a single object is meditation. If practiced with digilence, regularity, for a long time, and with enthusiasm we can be firmly grounded in Yoga and navigate through the obstacles more easily. On the mornings I do not feel like practicing or if I get frustrated throughout the day, I am learning to tune into my breath, into my Self. It knows what to do. Just do it! May we look to each other for inspiration along this journey and share our experiences with the world. May the sankalpa we choose help us grow and serve our communities as best we can. And, may the force be with you!
Closing Peace Chants
Asaato Maa Sat Gamaya
Tasamo Maa Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lead us from unreal to Real
Lead us from darkness to the Light
Lead us from the fear of death, to the knowledge of Immortality
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light
May the Light of Truth overcome all darkness.