Tuesday, 5 February 2013

On Loving Kindness in Yoga

I wanted to post an assignment I recently wrote for a course I was taking on the topic of mettha/metta/maitri/lovingkindness.

Because I abide by the 'rule' that your blog post looks better on the page if you put a picture at the top, I googled 'metta'.

The monk with the tiger picture came up.  It reminded me too much of Life of Pi (ending spoiler alert) where the tiger leaves the boy (uneaten) at the end of the movie without looking back after the boy saved and loved him while they were lost at sea.  No thanks from the tiger!  Why couldn't he just look back?

So I went looking for another picture and found this.

It reminded me of Sri Lanka (lots of elephants) and so now I have two pictures.  Interesting how people  like to put up pictures of metta/mettha/maitri/lovingkindness showing human-animal bonding.  That's another discussion.

Here is my essay on the practice of mettha in yoga.  Heavily influenced by the poetic writer, human, monk Thich Nhat Hahn.  I hope you enjoy.

On the practice of mettha in yoga
In the springtime everything comes into bloom!  Nature has a big yawn, stretches it’s limbs, and it seems that all of a sudden there is life. 

But springtime beauty doesn’t just happen.  If we think of the flowers in our garden we know that before the flower there is the bud.  Before the bud there is the stem.  Before the stem there is the root.  Before the root there is the seed. 

But who is to say that just because there is a seed there will be a flower?  There are many things that can stop the flower from growing.  Conditions need to be right.  Care needs to be taken at every step of growth.  Some years there may be drought.  On others there may be infestation.  Sometimes there may be both.

Inside of us all there is a seed.  Buddhists call this mettha.  Yogis do too. In other cultures and languages we have a different word for the same thing.   We could call it a seed of loving kindness. 

It is a seed that exists always.  This is important to remember.  Sometimes it is in bloom and sometimes conditions affect the scent, vibrance, and blossom of the flower.  At certain times in our lives the flower seems to shrivel and we can forget there is even a seed.  But it is a seed that exists always.  This is important to remember.

The seed of loving kindness needs constant attention in order to flourish and remain in full flower.   Every time you practice yoga remind yourself you have an opportunity to attend to this seed, to help it thrive.   And, because your practice takes place in a social context, you not only have the chance to provide nourishment to your own seed but to those around you so that the whole garden—and perhaps the whole street, city, and country—will prosper.

Remind yourself of this before you come to class.  Before you enter the front door.  Perhaps while you are circling the car park searching for a space.  Instead of watering a seed of anger or frustration, remind yourself, it is only a car park.  If you know it will be hard to find one, leave early, find another way to come, or think about how you can resolve this tension so you don’t arrive to class already under pressure.  Importantly, don’t forget to breathe!

When you enter the room, take a moment to remind yourself of why you are here.  Some of us want bigger muscles; inner peace; more flexibility; a chance to relax.  These things are all ok.  But, whatever your reason, remind yourself that while you work towards your goal this class is also an opportunity for you to water your seed of mettha, of loving kindness, and to water the seeds of others. 

It is important to water the seeds of others.  Of what use is it to sprinkle our own seeds with water and the seeds of our neighbours with poison?   Inevitably, the decay will spread and we will all suffer.  Remind yourself that not only can our words and actions can be poison but the things we don’t say and the things we don’t do can be just as toxic.

As you practice, tune into your self-talk.  Is it loving?  Is it kind?  Are your thoughts caring or diminishing?  Are they helping you grow or are they causing you to wither?  In yoga we want to encourage ourselves, knowing that every time we practice we get stronger and healthier.  We remind ourselves it doesn’t matter if we can’t do everything now or ever.  What matters most is that we continue to water our seeds and grow.

As you practice, tune into your body.  What is it telling you?  Are you melting from the heat of a raging inferno or has your flame been stifled?  Is there strain or tension anywhere?  Listen carefully to your body, mindful that more is not always better and that less is ok—if that is what you want—but that it might not be what you need.    Be mindful that striving for a pose while losing form will stunt our overall growth and possibly do more harm than good. 

As you practice, tune into your breath.  What is happening? Are you breathing? Can you breathe comfortably?  An uncomfortable or absent breath is a clue that we might be overdoing or overstraining.  Always, always, always come back to your breath.  Let a steady, comfortable breath be your guide.

In yoga we focus on strengthening and stabilising our body.  We pay attention to minute detail so that we practice safely today and so we can continue to practice tomorrow.  We have the opportunity to move beyond this physical practice by nurturing the seed of loving kindness in ourselves and in others.  For most of us, we must make a conscious choice to engage in such a practice.  It is not always easy, especially when habits and personalities get in the way.  And we need to keep at it; it’s not easy to stay in bloom! But we can start by reminding ourselves each and every time we come to yoga.

In the words of a wonderful human being, Thich Nhat Hahn,

Words and thoughts concerning compassionate action that are not put into practice are like beautiful flowers that are colorful but have no fragrance.

Om Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthi.  May there be peace, may there be peace, may there be peace.  In the hearts, minds, and souls of all beings. 

Classes (current at time of posting.  See class schedule page for updated details):

Mon 1300-1530h @ Barton [private classes]

Wed 0615-0715h @ Hapkido Canberra, Colbee Court, Phillip, ACT, $12

Wed 1030-1130h @ Alive! Gym, Narrabundah

Wed 1245-1315h @ Menzies Library Lawn, ANU, $5

Sat 0900-1030h @ St Aidan's Uniting Church, Brockman St, Narrabundah, $15

Sun 0900-1030h @ Hapkido Canberra, Colbee Court, Phillip, ACT, $15


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