September is Yoga month, which allows the yoga community to share the vast benefits of having a regular practice. When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I transform lives through the practice of meditation and yoga. Initially, they are skeptical, wondering how doing nothing (meditation) and exercising (yoga) can transform anything. Because words cannot replace the value of experience, I invite them to try it for themselves. Once they begin to experience the benefits they better understand my meaning.
Over the course of 30 years I have taught yoga and meditation in church basements, bookstores, public schools and universities, martial arts dojos, neighborhood community centers, gymnasiums, spas, and yoga studios. Along the way, I have thought of myself as a Johnny Appleseed of the eight limb path of yoga, dropping the seeds of transformation in fertile minds - always myself a student, knowing that we teach what we most need to learn. This eight limb path, known as Ashtanga yoga; and not to be confused with the popular Ashtanga style of yoga, has guided me through the minefield of my emotions, memories, and rigid beliefs, step-by-sometimes-painful-step. I have learned not to expect anything but what each moment presents to me. I awaken each morning excited to do my yoga practice and eager to tap into the deep wellspring of my spiritual nature.
Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world, I remind myself that the solution is very simple. It begins with sitting quietly and watching my breath. Yes, there's more, but that comes up while focusing on my breath and observing my mind as it dances like a drunken monkey. That more part is me; in your case, that more part is you.
As you establish a daily practice of yoga you will be pleasantly surprised to see the benefits show up in every area of your life. You will become a calmer, more focused individual or, as a student said to me, "I find that I am a nicer person than I was before." What she meant was that she had more patience with her children and colleagues. her relationship with her husband has blossomed with understanding and acceptance that neither of them ever thought possible. Most of all she now savors the joy that happens with each spontaneous moment, knowing that it will go and return and go again. To live in the present moment is to live your life fully.
What is mostly taught in yoga studios is the third limb of the eight limb path, Ha-Tha yoga; the physical postures that awaken the body-mind connection, release tension, calm the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, focus the mind, strengthen muscles, allow internal organs to function more efficiently and prepare the student to move forward into the next phases of the practice.
All of the wonderful mental and physical benefits should be enough for any individual, but what follows this personal transformation is the clear understanding of our connection to other people, species, and nature. And this is how the world begins to shift toward peace and fellowship amongst all peoples.
As more and more students of yoga awaken to their inherent state of enlightenment, society inevitably moves along the same path. Those who practice on a regular basis are part of what scholar and former Tibetan Buddhist monk Robert Thurman calls a cool revolution - one that reconstructs society by transforming each individual to a higher state of consciousness. Like any great movement, it takes time to grow, easing its way into the lives of people and opening their hearts to the possibility of world peace and the end to all suffering. Whereas political revolution constitutes a war for power, a cool revolution happens within the individual. Transformation occurs on a spiritual level.
Impossible? Improbable? To that, I say, just begin. Take your time and explore the different styles of yoga offered in your area. Through the Yoga Health Foundation there are thousands of studios offering a free week of yoga during the month of September. Most importantly choose your teacher wisely and when you find the right space and instructor make the time to attend classes at least 2-3 times per week. At home you can create a quiet space and take 10 minutes each morning or evening to sit in meditation. There's really not much else to do, because, as the yoga guru Pattabi Jois was fond of saying, with regular practice all is coming.
Delia Quigley is the author of Empowering Your Life with Meditation. She is the Director of StillPoint Schoolhouse LLC, where she teaches a holistic lifestyle designed to achieve optimal health and well being, based on her 30 years of study, experience and practice.