Whole Life Magazine

August/September 2013

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Page 23 of 51

yoga & spirit YOGA AT THE EDGE OF THE MAT New possibilities arise from loving acceptance of what is W hen the yoga teacher asks our class to move into handstand, I invariably freeze. I never know if I'll be able to bring my feet up to the wall or not, and I typically don't make it when I'm experiencing fear somewhere in my life. Clearly there is a connection between what happens on my mat and what is happening in my life outside the yoga studio. And whatever is happening in my life is, in turn, a reflection of what is going on within. Knowing how this all interacts, can yoga be used as a tool to shine light on fears and negative thought patterns, and then help in the process of moving through them to bring more ease and joy into every aspect of life? "Yoga is a mirror," says Santa Monica YogaWorks instructor Jesse Schein. "Every emotion, reaction or observation of yourself while going through your practice will inevitably arise in a situation or relationship off your mat. You can use yoga both to quiet your mind and to open yourself up to self-observation and change." Schein explains that our fears are merely "stories" that we carry not just in our minds, but also throughout our bodies. We have 72,000 channels of energy, she says, and our stories block some of those channels, resulting in our feeling stuck in negative patterns. Asanas open and clear the blocked channels so that we can release the stories from our bodies. Additionally, says Schein, being present during yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind, where the thought patterns originate and are reinforced through repetitive thinking. We know that if we always do what we've always done, we'll keep getting what we've always gotten. So then how do we change worn-out thought patterns to experience more happiness and elicit new possibilities in our lives? Daniel Stewart, counseling psychologist and co-owner of Rising Lotus Yoga in Sherman Oaks, teaches that yoga is a tool for transformation and that with consistent practice, it enables us to release negative thought patterns and create new ways of thinking. "We can approach each asana as a window into our psychological process and patterns," says Stewart. "With each pose, what thoughts come up? Do we push or pull back? Do we accept or criticize? This mindful 24 wholelifetimesmagazine.com By Sharon Brock attention to our experience brings us into alignment with our highest self, and negative thought patterns literally begin to fall away." Stewart counsels that transformation in yoga only happens when we are working at our "edge." Equanimity, or the ability to stay calm during difficult situations, is a mental state that yoga practice can strengthen. Try it yourself: Bring yourself into Warrior III and feel the outer hip of your standing leg start to heat up. Your mind, with its old thought patterns, may tell you to stop doing this—maybe even to run away—but you don't. You hold still and take deep breaths because you know that when you control and elongate your breath, you control and calm your mind. It is in these moments of holding and remaining calm while your body is feeling discomfort that you are creating new neural pathways of equanimity. From this you learn that you can choose peace of mind under any uncomfortable circumstance. So the next time someone cuts you off on the 405 freeway and you feel a trigger inside, you have the space to choose not to react. With consistent practice of equanimity, both your happiness and physical health improve. Renowned psychologist Carl Jung defined this phenomenon as "transcendent function." He described it as the tension between your unconscious mind and consciousness, leading to the creation of new consciousness, or a new thought pattern. Here, your consciousness is the thought pattern that reacts to the pain in your hip in Warrior III by telling you to run for the hills. The unconscious is where the new thought pattern of equanimity resides. Holding the pose creates the tension between the two and allows the new thought pattern to arise. Lasting Change Albert Einstein once said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." But it's a challenge to expand our comfort zones and make lasting changes in our consciousness. Ira Israel, L.A.-based psychotherapist and yoga instructor, points out that daily practice brings fresh insights about ways of being in the world. It encourages us to start to take responsibility for our

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