Changing Your Perspective with Yoga!
We’ve all done it – tried to see a situation from an ‘opposing’ position, and no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t seem right – it’s not MY view… right? (White and Gold or Blue and Black, anyone? – sorry for perpetuating this, but it really does emphasize just how worked up we can get over trivial things being naturally perceived differently.)
Take the story of the elephant in the darkened room… (See the full version and images here)
Six blind men study an unknown phenomenon--in this case, an elephant. Each of the six men approach the phenomenon from a different perspective and attempt to discern what it is. Each then gives his interpretation of the phenomenon, basing their interpretations exclusively on the particular part of the elephant they happened to examine.
The first blind man touched the elephant's leg and reported that the unknown phenomenon was similar to a tree trunk.
The second blind man touched the elephant's stomach and said that the elephant was like a wall.
The third blind man touched the elephant's ear and asserted that the phenomenon was precisely like a fan.
The fourth blind man touched the elephant's tail and described the elephant as a piece of rope.
The fifth blind man felt the elephant's tusks and declared the phenomenon to be a spear.
The sixth blind man touched the elephant's snout and with great fear announced the phenomenon was a snake.
The six blind men then got into a gigantic argument about what the unknown phenomenon really was.
Here’s how yoga helps to shift your perspective, and makes it easier to see things from other viewpoints (or at least acknowledge that those differing viewpoints are just as valid as yours). I’m not talking about turning your world upside down (though inversions are great! – we’ll get to that later…), I’m talking about simple practices to help us all get along better, things that you can practice anytime you feel challenged in a situation.
Let’s talk about knowledge: envision your base of knowledge, everything you know and will know, as a sphere. You are the light.
As shown in this diagram, the most area that can be shown by a single light shining on a sphere (barring any fancy reflectors, etc, for our example) is one half of the total sphere. Our light illuminates one half of our sphere of knowledge, meaning the maximum realization on our own is one half of all the things, real or otherwise, we can know. The other half is in darkness. How do we go about illuminating more of our sphere? We have to add more light – additional lights. We only have our one. We need help from the illumination of others. We all see things differently. Sometimes our light shines in the same area, and we are at a mutual understanding. Sometimes our light can come from slightly different angles – a shifted perspective, and perhaps one of us can view some aspect of the object that is out of sight for the other observer. By combining our views, we both can benefit from a larger view, though it is harder to understand someone else’s view, because it is not immediately present to ourselves.
Try this: go for a walk with someone. Practice mauna (meditative silence – no talking) on this walk. Notice all the things that stand out to you, that you find beautiful or striking, but don’t try to point them out to your companion in any way. Simply admire them and appreciate them, and move on. Once you have completed your walk, go somewhere and have a cup of tea and begin talking with your partner, sharing your experiences from the walk. It does not matter if you remember all the things that may have struck you in the moment – simply allow those things that come easily and stand out most apparently to surface and tell your companion these things. Take turns. Each of you share things that most stood out to you. How many of those things are the same? How many things does your partner mention that you may not have even noticed? You both walked the same path… and yet you have entirely different viewpoints and different things stick in each of your memories. Who is right in their recollection of the environment of your walk? You both are.
Experiencing life is this way – constantly, every day. Things that seem very important and apparent to us may not have any importance in someone else’s sphere. The same things exist, but only certain areas are more illuminated than others. We have to selectively illuminate areas of our sphere that are important to our personal plans and that we view as serving our needs. The things illuminated in one person’s sphere are more than likely very different than the things illuminated in another person’s sphere. This is something to consider when we feel ourselves becoming upset in a situation. Perhaps the person we feel we are upset with has forgotten something that we felt was very important. Rather than directing anger or frustration towards that person, we need to (calmly) make it known how important the ‘thing’ is to us, and redirecting the energy towards making the experience a mutually beneficial interaction. Just because you’ve been thinking about … (what?) for the last two weeks, this ‘thing’ has not left your mind any of your waking hours, How could this other person forget about it??!!! (Maybe they have been thinking about some entirely different thing these past two weeks; maybe the ‘thing’ is just not that important to them… and that’s ok. It’s ok to have different wants and needs, to have things that are important to one person and not another.)
The important thing (ha) is that you have things that you find important (remember – they are important to you, perhaps others, but not necessarily). Keep those things in sight. If you set a goal for yourself, or sankalpa – setting an intention for yourself within your heart or mind, and you work towards that intention. Your asana practice is not necessarily the solution, though through your practice, your mind may quiet and calm so that pieces of the solution present themselves to you. Through your yoga practice (breathing techniques, meditation, asana…) you allow yourself to become more aware of the presentation of these gifts of illumination – these small “aha!” moments that bring clarity and meaning and give direction or reaffirm our choice of path. Pay attention. Start with your breath and work your way up from there.
Yoga to change your perspective (turn your world upside down!):
Try some inversions. (Check out this great article on inversions!)
Figure out what inversions are best for you right now.
Under certain conditions, inversions should not be practiced (read above article for a list of contraindications).
If you feel that inversions are for you, right now, try one (or all…) of the following inversions (yes, they all are inversions, classified as having the head below the heart):
Standing forward fold – First stand tall in mountain pose, recognizing the breath entering and leaving the body. Inhale your arms up, and exhale, hinging at the hips and allowing your upper body to hang loosely, lengthening the spine. You can bend your knees as much as you like (try it – it feels great!). Just hang out for a while, adjusting how you hold your arms, shoulders, etc, and deciding what feels best for you today. Stay as long as you like, but remember to come up slowly, with the breath. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, come out of the fold and sit quietly, drink some water.
Legs up the wall – (see detailed instructions here )
Downward facing dog – http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/downward-facing-dog/
Shoulder stand - http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/supported-shoulderstand/
Enjoy turning your life 'upside down' for a bit!
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