Thanksgiving is a special time for many of us. Personally, I love the changing of seasons: the cool crisp nights that call for the down duvet; the dawning of sweaters and jackets;and, the eating of warm and hearty foods. At this period in my life I live in one of the most majestic fall landscapes; Ottawa teems with brilliant oranges, golds, reds, yellows and remnants of greens on Thanksgiving Weekend. Being kissed by the unfolding of this beauty of nature is awe-inspiring.
Fall is a great time to turn inwards. Those of us living in colder climates begin preparing for the winter months. It is important that we make the necessary adjustments to the changes of nature. And perhaps it is an important time to [re]focus on our personal practice. In order to grow and prosper and begin to reap the fruits of practice it is necessary to a) do your practice and b) do a practice that meets your needs. How do you know what to do? A teacher can help you. Certified ParaYoga teachers work with individuals to create practices for them. This approach honours the tradition of yoga and parampara, transmission of the teachings from one of higher knowledge to the next.
Getting to the Mat
It can be a challenge to do daily practice. It is the initial obstacle in your personal unfoldment. The mind/ego will find ways to keep us from our mat. Excuses are a dime a dozen here. And for a long time we succumb to them. But at some point there is a realization that I am better at life when I do my practice - when that happens, the excuses dissipate. Your morning practice becomes as natural as brushing your teeth. You know how it feels when you don't brush your teeth in the morning? You don't feel right. Over time it's the same with practice, when you miss it you just don't feel right. Practice becomes a natural part of your being.
What to do on the mat?
Over the years I've heard yoga instructors counsel students on this by saying things like, "Do what feels right". No doubt somewhere along the way I said that too. I certainly did "whatever" as part of my daily practice before my understanding of yoga started to deepen which was after several years of teaching, and finding my teacher. To know what to do on the mat we need to be clear about what our current conditions are - these change with life events, seasons, time of life and even the time of day. So there is no one-size-fits-all yoga, sorry to those of you who practice styles of yoga where the sequence is always the same.
A little Ayurveda can help you to understand your constitution and your condition. A qualified yoga teacher will take Ayurveda into the equation when working with you. If you don't have much knowledge of Ayurveda I highly recommend some of the on-line resources at Dr Lad's site. It may be worth your while to book a consultation with someone who has this knowledge and can prescribe a practice for you.
To make personal practice more effective it needs to have more than poses. Specific pranayama, kriya and meditation techniques will excel your yoga; your union with self. There is a science to this work, it isn't happenstance. A teacher sees in us the potential that we sometimes don't; a teacher is able to prescribe a practice that helps us to arrive at greater clarity and purpose in our lives.
Gratitude is the soil from which change blossoms
It took me a while to understand gratitude. When I found my teacher five years ago and began to work with a focused practice that met my needs, it was like I was suddenly on the fast track to personal understanding. Remember in yoga-speak, fast is years. Meditation using my guru-mantra was what brought about a sea-change in my life; it was a kick-start to my personal unfoldment.
The journey of self-discovery is a path not chosen by many, simply because it is hard. In the yoga lineage of which I am a part, the student is told that we learn more about ourselves by facing our darkness. When we cultivate stillness of mind through practice this darkness presents itself and with sthira (steadiness) and fearlessness we face it head-on. The result is growth.
On Thanksgiving morning six years ago, in the middle of a fairly deep meditation, I became overwhelmed with emotion and tears poured from my eyes. I saw the faces of individuals who had been my teachers, supporters, friends and family pass over the screen of my mind and with each one I spontaneously said, "Thank you". This powerful experience shook me and I finally knew the meaning of gratitude. But when I had finished with the many "thank you's" and was beginning to recover, I heard a voice inside of me say, "There is one more: You!" Tears flowed for a very long time as I thanked myself for all the work that I had done, all the failures, all the successes, all the crap and all the joy that make me me. This was profoundly healing.
From that day onward I've had a different understanding of the world and my place in it. While I may not be an effusive demonstrator of gratitude to others in my daily life, it is part of my daily practice. Part of my practice includes giving thanks to those who have shared these teachings for it is through their efforts that people like me - and you - benefit from these time-tested teachings. At the end of every class that I teach I encourage students to take a moment to express gratitude to conclude their practice. I now know what giving thanks is all about and I am eternally grateful for that.
I thank my teacher, my teacher's teacher and all the saints and sages who have shared these teachings through the generations. My wish for you on this Thanksgiving is that your heart is filled with love, that you love yourself unconditionally, and that you are grateful for being the great idea that is you!