By Melissa Bryan
Lead with love
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.
May all beings be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in any way to this happiness and freedom for all.
Valentine's Day 2021 has just passed, and as I sit on the other side of this holiday, I have just taught my students to make heart cards to identify the parts of their lives that fill their hearts, and right now Romeo & Juliet with some and ends Great Expectations with Others, I think a lot about love and how it works in the universe. Literature helps us question the larger and perhaps fateful direction of our future existence. The story syntax gives us this predictive power.
But what helps us to live these universal concepts of government? How do we practice transcendent and deep love in our presence? Yoga teaches us that.
These words "Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu" remind us that love radiates from us; It is hope for everyone to be happy and free, and the best way to receive love for yourself is to contribute to the happiness and freedom of others.
As I was preparing for my class on Elie Wiesel's night this week, I read an excerpt from another Holocaust survival memory, Viktor Frankl's Search for the Purpose of Man. Imprisoned Frankl says about love while wondering whether his wife is still alive: “I only knew one thing – what I have learned well in the meantime: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. “Frankl's expression of love is one that I believe yogis are looking for when singing the line" Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu ". For him, love is something that is rooted in itself, but at the same time also radiates outward. It is not another person, it is not formed by the external environment, it is neither performative nor dependent, and it is not possible for another person to break it down; Love goes very far from itself and very far within itself.
Through a yogic lens, love is happiness and freedom, but it is actually more of the calm, persistent way we contribute to these experiences for all beings everywhere.
Finally, if yoga is a state of mind and not just an act, then we can define a yogic transcendence and its necessary inward counterpart as a practice of love. Indeed, the practice of love is so tied to the yogic state of mind that we are often reminded by our teachers to "lead with love" or "shine our hearts" as in a great physical exertion to manifest what we are upon sing the mat and hope to contribute to the world beyond our mats.
Much like love, a wildly complicated and muddy emotion, yoga also involves ambiguity. It takes many years to understand that giving love (happiness and freedom to others) creates love in return, right? Seasoned lovers know that love does not rely on another person or what others think or feel for them. It doesn't exist or doesn't cease to exist with the coming and going of people or places, and I think the same is true of yoga. Now, after 20 years of yoga practice, I can finally “feel how all the parts are … connected” to recall the MoMA definition of painting.
I may not be sure if love has every beat, or I can articulate in words how yoga connects mind and body, or how a painting is born, but I "feel the parts" and can see the picture clearly. Fortunately, over time we acquire ownership rights to what we see (art), how we practice (yoga), and how we live (in love).
Last night, when I was lying in my bed with my head under my pillow and blocking out the remains of stray light, I discovered what seems so special about yoga. In this way, yoga instructs practically all actions – those actions that are very far from the mat are tied to the mat. And when I try to “lead with love” on the mat, I can “turn my heart towards others” at home, at work, on the street and in every meandering moment of my day. In the dark I actually felt how the parts of my existence are all "connected" to one another, and then I knew that I was leading a yogic life.
A nice thought about your own selfhood and the interrelationship with the universe, but which pragmatic tasks enable an undeniable acceptance of the murky connections between body and mind, love and yoga, mat and street relationships?
I could say that the yoga within me, the practice that I purposefully cultivate in the studio, has helped me realize the thoughts and feelings that I want to explore (and let go of those that I no longer want to stroke or care for). in my head, in my heart and certainly on the side. To paraphrase a yogi scholar whose class I visit frequently each week, the ideas that come to you on the mat will come back to you; If they are in you, they will be there when you leave. In other words, those subconscious insights that arise spontaneously from diaphragmatic breathing and kinesthetic asanas on the mat don't leave you when you are listlessly sitting on your couch at home. The delicate, supple intuitions that you collect and soothe on the mat begin to permeate every interaction from the mat.
I am calm in yoga and I am calm at home. You focus on the studio, you focus on the work.
We listen to teachers while we are on the mat, we listen to loved ones from the mat. Continuity is never broken.
In essence, the physical practice of the asana (as well as focusing on spiritual aspects of the practice and paying attention to ascending chakras) stimulates us and provides us with a mantra-like framework to which to attach our habitual life and through which we can evaluate and judge those untrained and inattentive words, actions, and thoughts. With a bit of routine and as a serious student, you can practice “yogic thinking” outside of practice to assess how loving your actions, words, and thoughts really are. But with a lot of practice and attention to discipline, you can miraculously create a loving automatism when you deal with yourself on the mat and with others outside the mat.
While I have come back to the mat to improve my physical practice for over twenty years, it is the words and instructions of my teachers that resonate throughout my days, through many months, and through the years. These words and lessons follow effortlessly and flow from me everywhere and every day, but that doesn't necessarily apply to the asana.
When we open the class, we sing very often. An opening chant is "Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu". The chants can change, change, and repeat, but the class will sing together, and this guide will prepare us all for the connection. A first act of love. However, it's not just a connection with the people in the class because often your eyes are closed and your energy is really pulled in, but the collective voices do what I remember being that my children's yoga teacher training is about the purpose of "Om; “Om, like singing a phrase, is about looking for a universal vibration. While we're inside, we're outside too. As we seek the depths of our souls or psyches, we also hope to channel something at the same time into a union with all things in the universe. We ask together that all beings are happy and free, and we hope that our practice "adds" love to them. As they say, "What we manifest …" It's a pretty powerful moment.
As with most openings, the om or chant is paired with the mindset of one's intention or devotion. The teachers instruct us to practice for another, not for ourselves. In my case, while on the mat, I tend to have a fairly consistent intention or person to which I practice but what I am to Realize intentions, as the practice we have in the physical expressions of asanas, is that they are not intentions and do not need to be achieved or won.
There are many days when I'm not in my best shape and don't have a “steady gaze and steady breath”. That is why I move through the river with no “steadfast mind”. Some days I'm just a weak, sluggish spot, but I go on, set an intention, sing with my fellow yogis and I'm sure that my mat intentions, whether I practice mindfully that day or not, still go far without and within. How should i know I know because, as my teachers have said, "everything is connected". When we leave yoga we feel better and act better and just feel that connection.
The opening aspects of a class, the chants and dedications, oms and intentions, I think, are like the heart cards I assigned to my students last February. They encompass all parts of our being – the blessed and the broken. I can put them on one page to read or look at while I move around in class. I may not really know how the pieces are connected, but I can feel the picture. I know they make up my heart.
Everything the heart designs is the reason we practice life, just as the intentions we set are the reason we practice yoga. When we are having a bad day or feeling blue, we know that there is no self-condemnation, negative narcissism, or paralyzed self-esteem because our focus has been on the love of others. There is "no drama, just a lot of rama". (Virtue or chivalry)
To quote my brightest – if sometimes weirdly edgy – yoga master:
Who you are on the mat is who you are in life.
Practicing love: applicability of the mat
In the top ten lists below, there are some accumulated doctrinal "isms" that have useful impact on and off the mat. These axiomatic expressions form the way in which we can look at and examine our life in the same way as our yoga practice. They reposition us in class, but also in life. Hopefully they are the learned framework that girds our unsupervised and loveless thoughts.
1. "Put your Drishti"
2. "Make all the movements you need and then get comfortable."
3. "One breath, one movement"
4. "If you fall out, get back in"
5. "Breathe in to lengthen, breathe out to deepen"
6. "Your thoughts are not yourself"
7. "If it is difficult to get out, you are doing it right."
8. "Remove all props"
9. "Without disturbing others, come sit up"
10. "Shanti, Shanti, Shanti" – Peace, Peace, Peace
If you ponder these lines as part of a yoga class, all of us who practice yogis understand the power of pranayama, the difficulty in balancing poses, the need to manage your thoughts, and healthily distance yourself from the obsessive vortices of the mind inconvenient and painful dismounting or exiting splits or backbends and the time to prepare for the unsupported and limp corpse-like end of class. All of the practice, and indeed every line shared here, is an exercise in love (being happy and free). Remember to apply some of these words to your life outside of the studio and off the mat as well.
Take a moment and really think about these very sentences in the context of your relationships. I hope you feel the same as me. That said, everything is interconnected and through yoga it is pretty easy to live a more loving life.
"Namaste, have a nice day."
Ode to the psyche
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Melissa Bryan, a Karma Kids-trained children's yoga teacher, a 20-year-old yogi practitioner, and a high school English and ESL teacher in New Jersey. She has an MA in English Teaching, an ESL Certification, and an MA in Creative Writing and Literature. She is also an adjunct professor of writing and evaluation at ESL and a teacher advisor on the Drew Writing Project / Digital Literacies Collaborative's National Writing Project in Madison, NJ.