Freedom: Our Natural State
Mana eva manuṣyanam karaṇam bandha mokṣayoḥ.
“As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.” -Amrita-bindu Upanishad
The co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon Gannon, says, “Yoga is not something you can DO. Yoga is our natural state. The yoga practices reveal to us where we are resisting our natural state.” Mokṣa, the Sanskrit word for emancipation, liberation, or freedom, is said to be the result, or even the goal, of the yoga practices. When I contemplate mokṣa, I hear Sharon’s words echo in my mind to remind me that freedom already exists within me. This goal of liberation cannot be reached with acquiring more money, bigger and nicer homes, prestige, popularity, certifications, credentials, or anything that lies outside of the yogi. The attainment of freedom does not come with searching and fighting for it, but with the opposite. Freedom comes with letting go, reversing the search to move inwards, and discovering what already lies within. Freedom is our natural state. . . it is our birthright.
As I was preparing to embark on the 2010 Swan School Yoga Teacher Training, I open-heartedly began a meditation practice. I consider myself a good student, so I followed the directions offered by Swan Michelle: start with a shorter meditation time, and practice at least 6 days a week, at the same time of day, in the same spot. I began with 5 minutes. 7 years later, my daily meditation is only 10 minutes. Progress is slow, but steady.
Beginning a meditation practice was just what I needed. It felt like a mini vacation every single time. 5 minutes of seated meditation felt like 8 hours of deep sleep. I was able to sit still, to focus on my breath, to be free of thought, and would always experience rejuvenation afterwards. After a year or so, things began to change. I became restless in body and mind. My meditations left me feeling agitated and frustrated. I was disappointed that this precious practice was no longer offering me the relief it had once offered.
Fortunate to have a life that allowed me to participate in trainings and travel, I joined Michelle on a trip to Peru for my first ever yoga retreat experience. Michelle would meditate every morning at sunrise, overlooking the Amazon River. And all the participants of the retreat were invited. Though at that time, “vacation” to me meant sleeping in until 10 a.m., my good student side encouraged me to join her. These meditations were 45 minutes long. Expecting extreme discomfort and frustration, I was overjoyed to discover that these daily sunrise meditations were simply effortless. Was it because I was in a group, or because Michelle was there? Was it because I was overlooking the beautiful Amazon River (which looks pink at sunrise)? Perhaps it was because I was away from work and all obligation that I could have such effortless meditations.
The changes in the outer environment were just an illusion to my mind. When I sit down to meditate, I close my eyes – I could be anywhere. I could easily convince myself that I needed certain requirements to have an effective meditation, but then if I didn’t have those requirements, I would suffer from frustration, anger, and restlessness. But if I let go of thinking that I needed those things, then I could truly just be content with wherever I was and whatever was happening. The obstacles to freedom and ease were only in my mind.
It is like this with yoga. Sukhasana, “easy seat,” is one of the recommended postures for meditation. Sukha means ease or joy. Sukhasana is not an “easy seat” because it is easy to do. Many people find sitting on the floor with their legs folded up almost unbearable. But we do the best that we can to create a nurturing environment. We lift our seat onto a blanket or block. We place blocks under the knees, or even lean against a wall. But we still must cross the greatest obstacle yet: The mind. Will we choose ease or dis-ease when we choose our seat? Will we let our minds continue to obsess over what it seems we are lacking, what is uncomfortable – what binds us? We have a choice to let all that go and allow our natural state of ease and freedom to arise. As the Sanskrit saying from the Upanishads says, Mana eva manuṣyanam karaṇam bandha mokṣayoḥ, “As the mind, so the person; bondage or mokṣa, liberation, are in your own mind.”
This choice is available always, on and off the mat. Give yourself permission to limit your exposure to television, social media, and music that is not uplifting. Allow your own inner capacity of knowledge and freedom to arise without needing to be told what to think, do, wear, say, or how to act. This creates the environment that nourishes inner freedom. In every situation you have a choice on how you can react. Be empowered with this choice. Don’t give your power or freedom away by allowing another to cause you anger or frustration.
On the mat, start with creating a nurturing environment for freedom. Use your props! They are never signs of limitation, but instead of empowerment. If your fingers do not touch the floor, you have the power to lift the floor up to you with a block. Notice the tendency of the mind to want to blame the poses, the music, or even the teacher for any discomfort or frustration. Look within and discover where you might be resisting a state of ease or freedom. Become empowered to shift the discomfort towards ease by taking responsibility for your experience. Allow your asana practice to become a moving meditation of honest introspection.
I continue to see shifts and fluctuations in my practices. And they do reveal to me where I am resisting my natural state of freedom. The world around us may continue to proclaim that it is other beings and their choices that cause us suffering and frustration, whether through the news, through social media, or through cultural indoctrination. But with a commitment to the meditation practice, we will discover that freedom lies within. It can never be taken away from us. To echo the wisdom of the sages, buddhas, and yogis that have come before us, turn inwards, discover your own limitless potential, and let freedom ring.
Written by Mary Glackmeyer