Cultivating Good

Yoga has become prevalent in mainstream American culture because its purveyors have presented it as a beneficial tool with many attributes such as stress reduction, flexibility, and relaxation.

No matter what the condition, it seems that nowadays yoga is the prescribed answer, a fix for what’s wrong.

It is commonplace for Doctors, Psychiatrists, and other medical professionals to recommend yoga as a cure-all for everything from stiff joints to stressed out minds.

It is my belief that medical professionals typically prescribe yoga without specifying a particular practice, they may even have no experience with yoga at all.

The Hippocratic Oath—First do no harm—should also apply to prescribing yoga.

A gentle restorative Hatha class is worlds apart from a Hot Yoga Flow class and even further removed from the more athletic competitive versions of gym yoga aerobics which certainly may do more harm than good.

Unfortunately yoga only becomes palatable to the majority of American culture when it is presented as an aerobic work out, that will cause you to lose weight, so that you will look great in your form fitting yoga gear.

Yoga, however, is not about overstraining your joints so that you can look more like the girl up in the front and not about beating yourself up because you are not the “best” in the class.

All that misses the goal of yoga anyway. Yoga is not a competitive sport, in fact Yoga is not even an athletic endeavor. Yoga is here to remove obstacles so that breath, body and mind all work in harmony towards the release of suffering.

Even the increased flexibility, the strengthened muscles, the better conditioned heart and lungs, the improved balance that a dedicated practice of well-taught Hatha Yoga brings are simply physical side effects of a genuine Yoga practice.

Hatha yoga practice should be about using your mind to observe your body in a pose and using this awareness as a means of self-regulation to find a steady comfortable posture.

Healing cannot be separated from the practice of yoga, itself, they are intertwined. This is simply because the removal of obstructions from the human system naturally re-establishes a healthy balance.

While it is certainly helpful being educated about, and wanting to right a wrong within a human body, that also is not the primary focus of a yoga practice.

So in honor of Thanksgiving, I would like to present to you an alternative point of view and a couple of chances to practice.

I am suggesting that instead of thinking of Yoga practice as something that will “fix” you—look at your practice as a way of establishing a connection with the “things” inside of you that don’t need fixing.

Humanity has a gigantic negative bias, we always have a tendency to look first, if not only, at what is wrong in any given situation. This is to ignore a vast portion of your life experience.

(I really wish I could give credit to the author of this wonderful quote that I found written down on a random sheet of paper in my “interesting topics” pile. If it is yours let me know, I will give you credit, in the meantime I ask your forgiveness for using it anyway.)

“Even on the worst day of your life, even if you were getting ready to die tomorrow, on a cellular level, there is still more going right in your body than has gone wrong.”

In the book, Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson writes about the human mind saying it is like velcro for “negative” but like teflon for “positive”. Sounds about right.

Let’s spend some time this Thanksgiving channeling into the good things about being alive in this day and age.

Now according to the media the world is a messed up place, that may be true, even so there is far more going right in the world than has gone wrong, it just doesn’t make for front page news.

Today let’s live by this mantra instead: Good news sells. The only way to make the front page news is to do something good, not only yourself but for others as well. Below are a couple of ways to do just that.

Rick Hansen says, if you imagine your mind as a flower garden that there are three ways of looking at your plot.

1) Simply look at it, look at the flowers, the weeds, don’t judge it, don’t change it, let it be. 2) You start pulling weeds by decreasing the negatives in your mind. 3) You grow flowers by increasing the positive in your mind.

In essence, he says, you can manage your mind in three primary ways: let be, let go, let in. His book is about the third one, the cultivation of inner strengths, growing flowers in the garden of the mind.

Use this strategy during your physical yoga practice:

When you are next on your mat, enter a pose not with the mind set of whats wrong but with your focus on all that is going right. All the ways your body and breath are releasing around and working with a stiffer muscle or joint. Notice that as you remain in the pose, more space appears.

It is likely interference from your thoughts, not your body, that turns this pose into a negative experience. Instead take a moment to feel thankful for the space that is opening up inside your body. Grow this flower.

Use this strategy as a Meditation Practice (5-10 minutes) :

Sit down in the middle of your mental garden, get comfortable, when the body is comfortable the mind is better able to focus.

Survey your garden— all the flowers, the weeds, the luxurious strips of green, the barren patches, look everywhere in your life.

Choose a flower or a luxurious grassy spot and activate it, make it grow, fill in what makes it beautiful and happy, let it make your whole garden a good place in which to dwell.

Then plant a new flower and watch it grow.

Finally, since it is Thanksgiving be a flower in someone else's garden.

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