Yoga says that we must act skillfully in order to be successful in reaching our goal of union with God. When we act skillfully, that is when we act without harming ourselves or others, when we live truthfully, when we use and keep only what we need, when we take only what belongs to us knowing that we have enough, and when we avoid overusing our senses, we will be prepared to experience a peaceful, joyful life. Believe it or not, that is the beginning of joyful living, but what a great beginning because it prepares us for letting go of the stress in our lives.
We are not often aware of the major stress we dump into our lives when we move through life without reflecting on our actions and thoughts. Many of our daily habits (samskaras) unconsciously add stress to our lives. That’s why yoga says that a daily habit (samskara) of meditating is essential for joyful living.
But most people say to me, “I don’t have time to meditate.” Or they say, “I relax every day. When I get up in the morning, I just sit and drink a cup of coffee and read the morning paper or listen to the morning news.” Or many people tell me that before they eat, they sit down in front of the TV with a beer or evening cocktail. That is their relaxation for the day.
Yoga says that although we might think that is relaxing, it is not! Yoga has a totally different understanding of relaxation than the culture does. So what do we do about eliminating or at least reducing stress in our lives?
In the yoga tradition, relaxation is systematic attention to the energy flow in the body, specifically, the energy flow that is connected with our breath.
All we need do is lie down on the floor with our feet up on the seat of the couch or the seat of our comfortable chair for 5 minutes and watch and feel our belly go up and down as we breathe in and out. According to Dr Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical College, focusing on the breath for three minutes brings us to the Relaxation Response. When this response kicks in, our blood pressure decreases, our heart rate and breathing decreases, our digestion increases and our brain waves move to alpha waves.
This is acting skillfully.
All it takes is five minutes to begin to manage the hyper world and our fears about all that is happening. Wonderfully magical things start happening when we take this short time to truly relax. We even begin to know how to act skillfully in other situations.
I challenge you all to take that 5 minutes every day—either before lunch or dinner—and see what happens. For Christians this might be a great Advent practice, where we practice quite literally waiting for the Peace and Joy of the Season to arrive!