The Rock and Roll Yogi

Touching on the endless cycle of desire and the nature of true happiness


People ask me, do you have to be healthy and clean living to do yoga?

And I answer no!  Do yoga, and, over time, you may well get healthier and cleaner living, but if you wait until you stop smoking or drinking, or eating red meat before you start… then you’ll probably never begin!

Start slowly, do a class a week, don’t overdo it. It will only set up a reaction.  Find a teacher you like.  When you have, stick with them, at least for a while… after all, the teacher doesn’t do the yoga – you do!

As you continue with yoga, maybe starting to do some at home, or going on the occasional yoga holiday, you are likely to find that your urge to smoke, drink, take drugs and other potentially detrimental behaviour, tends to decrease naturally. 

If you’re a rebel at heart, and, lets face it, a lot of us are, then if you try and order yourself to stop doing something, however much you tell yourself its unhealthy for you to continue, another part of you will be protesting – in essence you’ll be fighting against yourself, you will have a split mind.  We all know how difficult it is to do something if you are doing it half-heartedly… It has to be something all of you, most of you wants, so be honest with yourself!

Yoga says, don’t try to boss yourself into stopping something. Treat yourself gently, with respect.  You can say, okay I could do that, but I would rather choose to do something else. Instead of saying ‘no’, offer yourself an alternative – walk the dog, go to an art gallery, run round the block, have a drink with a friend, take up a hobby that gets your hands active (a knitting obsession is quite good for minimising smoking!), plant up a few herbs or flowers. Helping others makes you feel great too – so visit your aged relatives, volunteer your skills, offer someone a seat on the train.

As you deal with bad habits, don’t punish yourself for slip ups, but focus on the positives.  So if you’ve managed not to smoke all week, celebrate that!  And ok, so you slipped and had a couple with friends down the pub, fine.  Tomorrow is another day, take a breath, move on.  Substitute drugs with physical exercise or extreme mental/emotional stimulation.  Do a parachute jump, take up snow or skate boarding or an artistic discipline – and if you’re already in one and think that drugs help with creativity – try to work with a clear head at least now and again.

Our tendency to inculcate habits is both a good and bad thing, an opportunity as well as a potential pitfall.  You can create new habits, such as a regular exercise, a new activity that engages you. Breaking old habits is perhaps best done by instituting new ones; ones that make you feel good.

Whether its exercise, creative work, getting out in nature, the stimulation of good friends, whatever makes you feel good can start to take the place of all that feeling bad. Eventually, the old bad habits will wither and die, and be blown away like yesterday’s dust.

The ancient yogis who, ultimately, were working with the mind and the nature of reality, understood that to deal with the mind directly can be very difficult, hence they instituted Hatha Yoga, which deals predominantly with the physical body, and the energetic body. It works by changing the conditions of the body, cleansing it, actively using it to get rid of sluggishness, improving the functioning of the internal organs, increasing its flexibility, reducing tensions, regulating the breath… all these things help to bring calmness to the mind.

So all the focus on yoga poses is really so you can sit, comfortably, still, and work with the mind in meditation.  As a side effect of course, the body becomes toned, healthy, the organs improve their functioning, the body becomes strong, the gaze clearer, the minor physical stuff that tends to plague us disappears!

So laugh. Explore what really makes you happy, feel good, be satisfied. Realise every day you have so much to be thankful for, rather than bemoan all you think you don’t have. 

This is the essence of samtosa, contentment, one of the niyamas of Patanjali, a yogic sage, who was key in systematising Raja yoga.  To find content within is to be unmoved whether joy or suffering comes our way. This doesn’t mean that we do nothing when we see or experience inequality, violence or other pain in this world, it just means that we deal with whatever happens without getting too caught up with it.  It is very similar idea to that expressed in Buddhism by ‘non-attachment.

Stop hankering after ‘stuff’, we all know that even when we finally get what we think we want, it doesn’t actually do that much for us anyway.  Whenever we get what we want, we’re not that bothered anymore, and our desire shifts and we want something else, something more.  Its endless!

If you don’t have much, celebrate your freedom.  Be thankful for your health, good friends, some place to call your own, or a job you don’t hate!  Be grateful you can still laugh, the fact you’ve still got your hair, or your own teeth – and if you don’t, then how good the false ones look!  There’s so much to be grateful for, and the more you practise this attitude the more you see that something out there in the consumerist-driven world tries to make us feel we need something outside of ourselves to feel good. Whether its more clothes, a better house, bigger cars or smaller gadgets. But none of that stuff brings us more than a fleeting satisfaction before the same old cycle of unfulfillable desire starts again.  Again that doesn’t mean we stop striving, changing, improving our selves and our environment, but we do this is a way that is about the joy of expansion not the ring-fenced ego satisfaction of doing something just so you can feel superior to someone else.

Anyway, often what it is we think we want, even when we do get it, we have to then deal with what having it involves. Only a miniscule proportion of people have a Porsche, and probably an even tinier one actually get more than a passing thrill out of owning the damn thing. And there is everything that comes with it, even aside from any environmental factors, there is other people’s envy, worries that somebody might steal it, high insurance, where to park it?  More and more responsibility, more protection, hiding behind fences, and security systems, employing more people to clean the house that’s too big for you anyway… it goes on and on!

So choose NOT partake in that endless cycle of desires and find happiness where is always is, and always has been, within.  And stop trying to fill the hole with stuff, or other people. We don’t need someone else to complete us, we are complete in ourselves.

All desire, ultimately, is to feel connected, to feel at one with the whole of creation.

We can always find a reason not to be happy, but by the same token, we can always find a reason to be so – even no reason at all – because it feels good!

The Hatha yogis understood that much of what makes us feel bad, although often reinforced by thoughts – often unconsciously – much of it actually stems from the larger body.  Deal with the daily stresses, unkink the muscles, relax and invigorate the entire system, eat a good diet, and it becomes easier to see how clear the mind becomes. 

So, to start with, get the mind and its endless excuses and rationalisations out of the way, take a step back from those negative thoughts, and revel in the pure magic of breathing, the sheer excitement of blood pounding around your body, celebrate that essential mysterious fact of being alive, and conscious in this incredible world.  Look at the shape of a seashell, the stars in the velvet night sky, the movement of the waves. 

To do so, you might have to stop, slow down, unhook from the speedy thinking of the mind.  Learn to look and listen to your inner self, focus on the world within. 

When you do, you can look out at the world with new eyes, and help to create a new world for yourself and everyone else to live in.

©Yogalways 2011


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