by Joanie Butman
The literal translation of the Sanskrit salutation, namaste, is "I bow to you." In the practice of yoga, it is a greeting from one soul to another and is usually how a yoga instructor begins and ends each class. You can find a long list of translations on the internet, but these seemed to be the most popular.
The Divine in me recognizes and honors the Divine in you.
The spirit within me bows to the spirit within you.
I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light and of peace.
I salute the light of God in you.
I recognize that within each of us is a place where divinity dwells, and when we are in that place, we are one.
Yoga has become a key element of my wellness routine – especially since my recent commitment to make use of my more rigorous fitness classes before they expire. Now I need yoga even more to aid in my recovery from these classes. This entire maintenance effort is exhausting as you get older. One of life’s ironies is that the older you get, the harder you need to work for lesser results. Here’s another one. Just about the time a woman of a certain age desperately needs to wear sleeveless clothing is the exact same time she needs to start wearing sleeves. What’s with that?
Anyway, the foremost benefit of yoga for me is a recovery of a spiritual nature because wellness is so much more than physical fitness. Like many things in life, it’s all about balance. Unless your mind, body and spirit are in alignment, you will not feel well regardless of what size you are.
Recently, I’ve been asked how I can practice yoga if I am a Christian. After my initial surprise and much thought, my answer is “How can you not?” Regardless of your beliefs, who couldn’t benefit from an hour of peaceful stillness and reflection? In my mind, as the pace of our world and the flow of information increases, the need for stillness and refection increases exponentially. My yoga mat says it all, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness is the most vital ingredient in my wellness routine. It doesn’t keep the weight down in a physical sense, but it certainly helps keep the weight down in regard to the burdens so many of us tend to lug around every day.
Despite yoga’s Hindu origins, there is a difference between the philosophy of yoga and the practice of yoga. What you choose to meditate on during stretching poses is more significant than the poses themselves. The postures stretch your muscles; the meditation clears your mind and stretches your soul.
Last week’s post discussed a poem which claimed we are all given a spark of the Divine that resides in us. Yoga is all about getting in touch with that spark. It doesn’t matter what the person next to you thinks that might be. If you are thinking about them, you are missing the point and the connection.
During class, the instructor often suggests finding a spot on which to concentrate your gaze to help with difficult balancing positions – life being one of the hardest I might add. The Sanskrit word drishti is what that spot is called, and it is different for everyone. Wikipedia defines drishti as a “focused gaze, a means for developing concentrated intention.” You may be gazing outward, but the purpose is to bring your awareness inward as is noted on the abc-of-yoga website: “This is the focal point where one’s gaze lies to attain concentration alignment, and inner and outer balance. One actually does this to prevent distractions, but should be looking inwardly and not concentrate on the physical object.”
The interesting thing is that when your focus shifts off your drishti, you lose your balance. I’ve been told that’s because wherever your attention is, your actions will follow. One yoga blogger describes this phenomenon as a ‘drishti violation.’ I can’t think of a more accurate explanation. He goes on to say, “Many of the random things I wrestle with over the course of a day could be considered ‘drishti violations.’ Does it matter what someone else did, said or didn't do if it doesn't have anything to do with me, and there is nothing I can do to actively change the situation? No. Those are the moments when I need to put my eyes back on my own practice/life and wrestle my attention back to where it serves some purpose.”*
Enough with the yoga tutorial. So what does this have to do with Christianity and the original question ‘posed’ to me? As a Christian, my drishti is Christ. He is the light that I choose to put at the center of my being. The more concentrated my focus is on His light, the more balanced my life is in every respect. The more connected I am to the Divine within me, the easier it is to recognize and respect it in others. It is only when I allow myself to be distracted from my drishti that I lose my balance. And predictably, that is when my actions do not honor Christ. When I am practicing yoga, it is a method of prayer that restores the balance to my mind, body and soul. It is a recovery process that transcends all boundaries - including religious ones. Anyone can choose to practice it and reap the benefits of achieving an inner stillness.
Our attention is our most valuable asset. Therefore, where we choose to focus it is probably one of the most critical choices we make daily and can be life-defining as it guides our actions.
Where do you choose to focus your attention?
I will leave you with a poem my yoga instructor began class with this week.
Finally, I am slowing down.
After weeks of doing, I have
a moment to just be.
Serenity must be chosen,
the wave of relaxation washing
through me not by chance,
but choice. I consciously
give myself over to the tide
of peace that easily receives
the burdens I release.