Focus of the Month: December 2016


Circle the Sun

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-12-42-13-pmI enjoy watching the sky slowly changing color as the sun rises and the world is illuminated. I can hear the birds waking up to sing, beginning the day most likely the same way they began the day before. My morning routine is usually much the same as the previous day. I put some water on my face and put in my contact lenses, I take care of the cats and I show them each some love, I practice asana and sun salutations and I sit down to practice pranayama and meditate. The asana sequence I practice in the morning has been the same for years. I’ve been practicing the same sun salutations in the morning for years. Some mornings, I’m teaching or traveling early, but I do my best to make time for the asana and sun salutations. Some mornings, I hold off on the paranayama and meditation until later in the day, but for the most part, my mornings are very repetitive.Life itself is very repetitive. We are on a giant rock which has been circling the sun for over 4.5 billion years. The teachings of yoga tell us that we’ve lived out many lifetimes ourselves, often repeating much of the past in our current incarnations. Day in and day out, millions of people get up, go to work, come home, go to sleep. Certain details—our bodies, our lives—change, but so much of our lives is repetition. Repetition becomes dulling for many people, but the yoga seeker sees the repetition as a chance to go deeper into what is already known. For the yogi, it is the repetition that gives rise to the opportunity to practice.

In Yoga Sutra I.12, Master Patanjali tells us that we need to do two things in order to still the fluctuations of mind that distract us from realizing Yoga. Those two things are Abhyasa and Vairagya, essentially practice and non-attachment, a two-step plan. Any plan takes some time to put into place. And the Sutra which gives us this plan implies that in order for the plan to work, we must learn to apply these two steps consistently.

Abhyasa is practice. When we talk about consistent practice here, we are talking about more than just asana, of course. Master Patanjali is not advising us to stay in a yoga pose all day. It’s challenging enough to be there for five breaths! Many of us—in this lifetime, at least—began our yoga practice because of an attraction to the physical aspects. Maybe we wanted to be more flexible, to be stronger, to heal, to have an excuse to wear stretchy pants in public, but most of us started our practice by rolling out the mat. Of course, many of us who continue to roll out the mat and practice daily have experienced more than just physical benefits.

Repeatedly practicing a familiar sequence like Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) and familiar poses like Trikonasana (triangle pose) or Urdvadhanurasana (upward bow pose or wheel), gives us the opportunity to refine our alignment both physically and metaphysically, to learn to move with grace and strength, to free ourselves of preferences, and to refine our relationships (to the Earth, to others, to ourselves, and to the True Self). Consistent practice is necessary to refine lifetimes of karma, which influences all of our relationships. It’s practice that fuels the fire within us, and this fire illuminates what was once dark. Without consistency in our efforts, that fire will grow dim.

Vairagya is detachment, renunciation, or non-attachment.

Not being attached to the outcome of a consistent practice is challenging.

Letting go can be quite difficult. We often cling to things and ideas because of fear. The practice helps us to become more fearless, to shine a light in the darkness. The habitual ways of thinking and living which we realize no longer serve us can be burned up in the fire within as long as we are willing to let go and to practice to keep that fire burning. However, if we are just replacing those old attachments with new goals—even goals like changing the body or becoming an enlightened master, we will only keep ourselves from realizing Yoga, Oneness. Practices like pranayama, meditation, and Surya Namaskar can help us realize how to let go. By moving with the breath through the changing shapes of Surya Namaskar, we can clear the mind and find freedom from attachments, even from one moment over another. Moving through Surya Namaskar smoothly (the way the sun appears to move through the sky) and not stilted (the way a second hand of a clock moves) helps us to embrace each moment with an open mind, not rushing ahead or holding ourselves back. When we are well practiced in letting go and accepting each moment, we embrace the repetition of life, so that we can live with open hearts and minds as we repeatedly circle the sun.

Yoga teaches us how to live more fully by giving us a fuller understanding of who we truly are. Understanding who we truly are, we realize that we’ve done it all before. The line from the song “Do You Realize??” by the Flaming Lips reminds us that “The sun doesn’t go down/It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning around.” The sun rises, moves across the sky, and sets (or appears to, at least). We each are born, live our lives, and die (or appear to, at least). The teachings of yoga tell us that we’ve lived before and we will live again until the soul, enlightened, is free. Lifetime after lifetime, repeatedly, we are given the opportunity to let go of what will not free us and practice moving closer to or into (re)Union every single day, every single moment, as we continue to circle the sun.

“The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without.” 

– Ernest Hemingway

Written by Thomas Q. Sims
December, 2016