Do Nothing to Succeed.

Don’t just do something, sit there! —Sylvia Boorstein

This seems like an important statement. Within the last five years, according to research done by the Harvard Business Review, in the American culture, busyness and hyper-activity have come to be associated more closely with success, than leisure. Now, instead of hard work being done so as to attain the promise of leisure, hard work is more and more being championed for its own sake. More and more, busyness and multi-tasking are seen, in and of themselves, as symbols of a successful, well-lived life. 

Both anecdotal and scientific evidence, however, suggest that the opposite is true. Personally, I am struck by the number of people that respond with some variation of, “I’m so busy!” when I ask, “How are you?” To be completely honest and vulnerable here, I myself am surprised how often those words come out of my mouth in response to the same question. In fact, I have to admit that I will often say this with a hint of pride or reassurance, as though my “busyness” somehow validates my existence and lends a certain credence to my daily actions. It seems to me that being “busy,” now supersedes being skillful in making choices about how to spend one’s time. The question that remains, however, is what are we busy doing?

According to a 2015 “American Time Use Survey,” conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend more time working than any other activity in their lives (including sleep). Additionally, U.S. citizens work longer hours than their counterparts in other large economies. In fact, according to an article published by bloomberg.com, Americans work nearly 25% more than their European counterparts. 

So what else is keeping us busy? Well, that same “Time Use Survey,” also found that Amercians spend from two to almost five hours per day watching television (in some cases this amounts to more than twenty times the amount of time spent reading or exercising). Interestingly enough, time spent on “Computer Use for Leisure” generally exceeded that of time spent reading or exercising as well. To see the study results for yourself, please click here: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t11.htm

“So,” you might be asking, “we’re busy. What’s the big deal?” Well, that’s the point of this article. In Iyengar Yoga, a there is a dimension of the practice dedicated to slowing down—stopping, actually—and holding still. Mr. Iyengar himself virtually single-handedly developed a whole category of postures known as Restorative asanas. These postures are now taught far and wide by Iyengar and non-Iyengar Yoga teachers worldwide, using many (if not all) of the props Iyengar invented to aid the practice of these postures (a fact that, sadly, is often overlooked or unacknowledged by the teachers themselves). Practitioners of Restorative yoga postures will find themselves holding certain asanas, quietly and, ideally, in profound and alert stillness for five, ten, even twenty minutes or longer. This is one category of postures where the old adage, “Less is more,” holds true. 

One has to note here that the practice of pranayama, or meditative breath work, requires a similar, if not deeper cultivation of alert stillness. Every single technique of the more than sixty techniques taught in B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Light on Pranayama is performed in a sitting or lying (i.e. still) position, with the eyes closed. Mr. Iyengar himself suggests the practice of Pranayama builds the bridge between the “outer” and “inner” practices of yoga. It makes sense, then, at this point, to examine these eight limbs (known in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as Ashtanga Yoga) in light of this concept of alert stillness and dynamic silence, as it is the thesis of this article that these qualities provide a much needed antidote to the stress related disorders that many in our society finds themselves gripped by. What’s more, I assert the capacity to achieve a state of alert stillness is, contrary to what the mainstream message appears to be, the key to success. 

In surveying the practice of Ashtanga (or eight-limbed) Yoga, delineated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one finds several dimensions (or limbs) that appear to have alert stillness as a pre-requisite for their fruition. In fact, all the “limbs” of Ashtanga Yoga require a certain degree of stillness or steadiness. Even the yamas, the ethical guidelines relating to our external behavior in relation to others and our environment, reflect a need to keep one’s reactivity and agitation in check and to act out reflectively and thoughtfully. Said another way, practicing the yamas requires us to slow down and think. Similarly, surveying the “last” four limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (fully half the practice) one cannot help but be struck by the manner in which they run counter to busyness. There is certainly no room for multi-tasking, or rushing in the realms of Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration and focusing the awareness), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (superconscious absorption into the object of focus). Indeed, yoga, though it demands effort, can provide a strong counterpoint to busyness and therefore essential healing of the aforementioned “disorders” associated with high levels of stress, the apparent byproduct of excessive busyness.

So, what are these disorders? They seem almost too obvious to merit mentioning. However, having recently heard that the amount of information the average human “produces” in a day has increased by over 200% in just over 25 years [See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/8316534/Welcome-to-the-information-age-174-newspapers-a-day.html], they might bear repeating. So one potential disorder could be information overload and the hindered thinking that results from channels clogged with information. Other physical symptoms include insomnia, digestive disorders, and hypertension (all of which can themselves give rise to a whole host of diseases, both mental and physical). Additionally, depression and anxiety disorders have also been found to be caused by the stress of face-paced, over scheduled lifestyles.

What I found most interesting was a study conducted by Brian Gunia of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Brian is a social psychologist with a doctorate in management, who studies behavior in the workplace. His research has shown that a lack of sleep (one of the primary symptoms of an excessively busy lifestyle) makes people less morally aware and ethical. “When people lack sleep, they have a lower moral awareness,” Gunia says [See http://www.johnshopkinshealthreview.com/issues/spring-summer-2016/articles/the-cult-of-busy]. This brings us back to the idea that, to practice the yamas—ahimsa or non-violence, satya or truthfulness, asteya or non-stealing, brahmacharya or the restraint of one’s lustfulness, and aparigraha or non-greed—which comprise the first limb of yoga, one must have the ability to settle oneself. At a time when there appears to be so much contention regarding people’s character, political views, behavioral practices, and value systems, the need for clear and life-affirming ethical practices seems urgent.

And so, we return to the subject of this article. To be more precise, we return to the quote at the beginning of this article: For your own well being, for the sake of the children who, like my six year-old son, really just seem to long for undivided attention and presence, for the sake of the planet that groans from supplying our endless compulsion to do more, be more, have more (in a past article I have mentioned a study asserting that if everyone on the planet consumed resources at the same pace as the so-called “Western Civilized” countries, we would need four planets), for the sake of the spirit within us that beckons us to “be still and know:” please, please, don’t just do something. Sit there.

 

Living Tradition Yoga is committed to supporting our students to take the revolutionary action of reclaiming the experience of stillness, ease, and sense of sufficiency. Therefore we are excited to present:

Creating a Space for Grace: A Restorative Yoga and Pranayama Workshop

Saturday 25 February and Saturday 25 March 2017

4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

For more information, please visit http://livingtraditionyoga.com/special-events/

The Two Pillars of Yoga (Part 1)

Numerous yoga texts assert that two qualitites are essential to the realization of the highest state of being called Yoga, a state characterized by unlimited exuberance and joy in living. In sanskrit, these two qualities are called abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa means practice. However, in the Yoga Sutras, this practice is distinguished in a very specific way. Abhyasa, in the yogic sense, is practice performed with zealous commitment, sustained over a long period of time, without interruption, and persevering in the face of setbacks, obstacles, and failures. Vairagya means renunciation of or detachment from desires for a particular outcome. I will discuss vairagya at length in another entry. In this piece, I would like to focus on the first of these qualities: Abhyasa. In over 15 years as a student of yoga, I have learned practices and techniques from a number of different traditions. I’m not saying I would recommend it, or that I am even proud of this fact, but I have learned several different “styles” of Hatha Yoga, as well as several different “styles” of meditation. Though their methodologies and practices differ, sometimes dramatically, in their particulars, every single tradition I have studied has agreed upon one thing: the importance–in fact, the necessity–of regular, even daily practice. Every single school of yoga or transformational thought I have studied (and as I’ve said, it is over 10), emphasizes the importance of consistency, of continuity of practice, and of persistence. Every single tradition I have studied asserts, in one form or another, that without persistence, without regularity in practice, progress is sure to be slow, if not non-existent. In some traditions erratic or irregular practice is even discouraged as it carries with it the risk of actually causing more problems than progress. This has been my own experience with an inconsistent practice of pranayama (meditative breath work). I know firsthand the uneasiness of body and unsteadiness of emotions that stem from trying to push to far at irregular intervals in this practice.

As a yoga teacher who emphasizes the importance of practice to my students, I often hear about their struggles to implement a regular practice into their routines. For me, personally, even though I have made a conscious choice to dedicate my life to the practice and pursuit of yoga, the demands of work and family life crowd in on the time available for practice. Seen as non-essential, or as of secondary importance, practice often gets taken off the schedule in favor of more “practical” tasks related to “making a living”. This might seem very reasonable behavior, but I would like to challenge it by asserting a different perspective, a perspective grounded in my own experience as a yoga practitioner. I assert that yoga “practice” (or sadhana) is one of the most intensely practical activities we could engage in. If you think about it for a moment. Each experience that has made up your life so far on this day, has required a certain responsiveness of your body, your mind, your emotions, and your intellect. Even if you have stayed in bed all day, you still have relied upon one or more of the above faculties to execute that choice. Every moment of every day, we think thoughts and then take actions based upon our thinking. Our thinking comes from the aforementioned levels–certainly from our mind, our emotions, our intellect, our wisdom. Thinking even comes from our body as the sensations and perceptions it gives us influence the mind and emotions, which then influence our choices and actions.

I am not the first or only person to assert that the quality of our lives is correlated to the quality of the choices we make. It is obvious, though: if I make life-affirming, harmonious and healthy choices (choices which then spur action) I can expect a certain quality of life; conversely, if I make less than life affirming choices, the quality of my life correspondingly diminishes. If you look into the way things work, you will see that a driving force behind human behavior (many say behind life itself) is a desire for greater happiness. So here’s a contemplation to take with you throughout the following week or weeks: Ask yourself, “Why do I do what I do? What am I doing this   (name of activity)   for? What do I hope to gain from it?”

Whatever is on your “to do” list for the day, whatever is on your agenda, whatever it is you feel you “must” do, or wish to do–what is it that drives that? What is it that drives you?

What if happiness doesn’t “await”? What if it is, as countless saints and sages have suggested, right here, right now, within you? Would it not make sense, is it not highly “practical” to utilize a system–i.e. yoga–that has been specifically designed and carefully refined for millenia, to yield an ever-deepening experience of the highest form of joy? Do you not agree that you give your best performance in life–quite literally “make” your best “living”–when you are most joyful? Is this not the main aim, whether you are conscious of it or not, of all the things you feel you must do?

As a student and teacher of yoga I am so grateful for the transformation yoga has wrought in my life. From a very indecisive and uneasy beginning, a certain conviction has grown through the experience of practice. This conviction–specifically that the “there” I was trying to get to was not “there” but was and is always here and now, and that the practice of yoga has been masterfully crafted by countless great beings to grant direct access to the highest states of joyfulness and fulfillment–informs my teaching and the design of our yoga programs at Living Tradition Yoga. I have seen numerous miraculous, seemingly impossible changes occur in my life as a result of steadily practicing yoga. I have no doubt such changes are available to anyone willing to invest themselves into the practice and to follow the clear and precise instructions for uplifting life to the highest level given to us by the great beings that have developed (and continue to develop) this Living Tradition. I am happy and grateful for the opportunity to share the methodology of Iyengar Yoga in the systematic way I’ve been taught and in a multiple-week or “session” format that allows my students to develop the precious quality of persistence. It is a privilege to see this persistence enhancing life on this planet, one dedicated person at a time.