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The Yoga of Painting

“Yoga in action is composed of austerity, self-study, and trustful surrender to Ishvara [God].”

-Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 2:1, translated by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

This past week, Mary and I were painting our family room, that we call our “Sun Room.” As I was painting the room, working hard to edge the ceiling and the windows precisely so that the painting would look perfect, I realized that I was practicing “yoga in action.”

Pandit Rajmani translates above three Sanskrit words “tapas” as “austerity,” and “svadhyaya” as “self-study,” and “ishvara pranidana” as “trustful surrender to Ishvara.” He goes on to say in his commentary that a person is not practicing yoga, even when doing the “asanas” (postures/poses),” if those three are not present. This he calls “yoga in action,” another way of saying “a yoga lifestyle.”

What does he mean? And what does that have to do with painting the Sun Room?

First, “tapas” really means “effort that is somewhat challenging,” or “effort that causes heat in the body and mind.” Although I can paint quite well, learning from my mother at the early age of 10, I really don’t like to do it. I sweat when I do it because of the intensity of making the walls and the woodwork look perfect. I don’t want to get color splotches on the white ceiling or the stained window and door frames (even on the top of them) because I want it to be perfect.

That was happening to me all day, as I painted away.

In reference to “svadhyaya,” it really means “watching myself closely as I perform certain tasks” and “getting to know how I function in certain situations.” It also means exploring my “true self.” While Mary and I were painting in silence, I noticed that I was holding my breath at certain times, especially when getting very close to the edge of the ceiling or frames. I immediately moved to diaphragmatic breathing and I noticed that the “cutting” of the trim went smoother and less stressful.

I also noticed the “roaming tendencies of my mind (citta vritti chakra).” My mind would float from one idea to another. Sometimes I would share one of the ideas with Mary. Mary also would share an idea from her mind that often had no reference to what we had previously talked about. I was watching my mind, and Mary’s, spin all over the place with no particular reason or meaning. I learned a lot about the roaming nature of my mind while painting.

Then, too, in reference to “Ishvara pranidhana,” it does mean “trustfully surrendering to Ishvara,” but the term “Ishvara” could be translated as “God” or “Highest Goal” or “Highest Good.” While painting, I often found my mind roaming to the thought of God, namely “The Divine Mother.” At those times, I would thank The Divine Mother for all the blessings that I had, especially my ability to paint well, my steady hand and my health to be able to stand on the ladder with no pain. I was also painting this room for the physical presence of The Divine Mother in my life, my beloved Mary.

So, painting became for me “yoga in action.” Tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana were all present! Painting was a great experience that day and I want to experience yoga “in action” all the time!


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