When yoga teachers think about how to dedicate the tone of a class, what sort of theme or particular focus to imbue it with, they have lots of choices. Yoga encompasses and nurtures all the virtuous qualities you can imagine. Settling on a dedication can feel as daunting as any of the choices we have in modern urban life, surrounded by tantalizing and mind-boggling options everywhere from the coffee shop, to the lunch spot, to the T.V. program menu. We love choice, but also can feel that we’re drowning in it, and simplicity has its virtues.
I lived in the Marshall Islands for two years right after college. The Marshalls are a tiny island (or, truly, atoll) chain in the central Pacific, about a 4-hour plane trip on from Hawaii. I taught English as a Second Language there, made wonderful friends, and spent some of the most *content *days I’ve lived thus far. One of the most relaxing and luxurious things about life in the RMI was the simplicity of it. Upon waking, instant coffee was the first choice, and you didn’t mind that it was “bad” compared to Starbucks, because you didn’t have another choice, and you were simply grateful for a warm beverage and caffeine. A selection between 4 or 5 different “guam dresses” was the second choice, a walk along a palm-tree-lined path to school was the only next option, and lunch offered usually just two options: a pouch of steaming hot ramen (literally pour the hot water *into *the ramen bag) or eat some breadfruit and white rice, maybe along with some fresh tuna. After school / work, you could read, bwebwenato (chit-chat, story-tell) with your fellow village dwellers, or stroll along the road or beach as you watched a humblingly beautiful sunset. The darkness dropped like a blanket when it came, with the exactness of the sea as horizon, and then most of us were asleep not too soon after. Most families did have electricity, but it wasn’t reliable, and the natural rhythms life occupied there meant you weren’t too reliant on using electric light to keep yourself awake into the wee hours of the morning.
Maybe starting my adult life in the Marshalls spoiled me for the complexities of American cities, but I believe one of the reasons I’ve always loved yoga is that it simplifies life quite a bit. You can answer the big questions of life in several different ways, but they all agree with each other and are somewhat interchangeable. What is the purpose of life? To distance oneself from the ego. Or to love everyone (nearly) equally. Or to be healthy and happy, so that you can fulfill your dharma, your purpose. Three different answers, (and there are many others), but they all intersect and heavily support one another. Succeeding at one helps to unlock the others.
The past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how the core of the yoga way can be understood as self-respect. Self-respect, in its true form, frees you to empathize with and respect all others. It frees you from a tendency to judge or rank the life choices of others. It gives you a quiet contentment. It isn’t easy to achieve, but to evaluate your life patterns through the prism of self-respect allows you to clarify what is beneficial and what isn’t. Sitting down on your yoga mat is a ceremony of self-respect for your body, and rising from your physical yoga practice with a sense of calm and love is your passport to respect all others in the world. Consider using self-respect as a prism to clarify your life this week. I wish you rich and simple discoveries.