One day, I was sitting outside and watching the trees sway in the wind. It was a windy day. The branches and leaves were tossed around in every direction.
I thought: what if the branches and the leaves had consciousness? Like us, they were conscious of their selves, and what if they had a plan, an expectation, to grow in a certain way, toward the sun.
Then, wind comes along, and starts dancing with them, bending them this way and that way. They would probably become very agitated with the wind. “No, I want to grow that way, I don’t want to be bent this way,” the trees would say. Imagine how much stress they would be in!
Yet, they are not. Instead, they allow, they go with the flow, with the wind and other elements.
How are we different? We are tossed around in every direction in our lives, and often against our plans, expectations, and desires. We refuse to bend, we resist, we fight under pressure, and sure enough we get stressed out.
It seems the crux of the problem with stress is having all these plans and expectations.
People, who take things lightly, who have no expectations of the outcomes, like the trees, welcoming any change that comes, are usually less stressed and more happy.
It seems that stress happens when the mind resists what is. What is here and now is different from how you expected it to be. Your plans, assumptions, expectations and desires get in the way of what is. If the present moment does not match any of these, you feel stressed.
How do you deal with it, using yoga? There are three yogic strategies of dealing with stress.
First, yoga wisdom tells us that we are not the mind. Just as much as we are not the physical body, which is only a vessel. If we see that the mind is only a wonderful tool, or a mechanism, that allows us to deal with the outside world and have experiences, but it is not who we are, we could break away from mental problems: plans, worries, fears, and expectations. These are all part of the mind, and if you are not the mind, then do not worry about being stressed. The mind is stressed, but YOU are not.
Next time, when your mind gets stressed, just say: OK, fine, let the mind be stressed, I know I am not the mind so I’ll just watch it, let it do its thing.
This type of reasoning is called Discerning Intelligence (Buddhi), which helps us deal with stress through understanding what stress is. Often, we call it Non-Attachment: to the way things are, to outcomes, to any results of your actions, to any plans, or expectations. Instead, we learn to become a mindful witness of how the mind works.
Second, yoga wisdom teaches us to be in the present moment, and if you observe the present moment, you will discover that, in this moment, there are no expectations, plans, worries, assumptions, or even thoughts.
Clap your hands hard to make a sharp ringing sound. Now notice what thought you had in the very moment of the resounding clap. Probably none. No thoughts, no stress.
Finally, we feel stressed because we own our expectations, assumptions, desires, and plans. These mental constructs are generally made up by our minds for our own benefit, meaning they are created for some personal selfish gain no matter how small. Here are some examples: we expect to catch our flight on time; we assume our life’s partner will share our passions; we plan to make enough money to support ourselves and our children; we desire to be acknowledged, respected, and loved. All of these are common wishes. Yet, all of them contain a selfish core.
Yoga wisdom says that if we make our actions selfless, we would not attach to our expectations, assumptions, or plans. They are not ours anymore. If we are truly selfless, we catch a plane to go somewhere to be of service to others; our passion is lived for our family and friends, not only ourselves; and we make money to help others and to contribute to society. When our plans and desires do not work out, we do not take it personally – they were not intended for personal benefit from the beginning. Being selfless is the yogic way of living a stress-free life.
If you take a yoga class, you have a great opportunity to practice being stress free.
You can practice being present in the moment. You practice so you can have a healthy body and a peaceful mind – perfect tools for making a difference in the world. You can practice non-attachment to the outcome of the yoga class. If something comes out of it, great. If not, that is fine, too. Instead, focus on the process of practicing, on the process of breathing, the process of living, of working, of eating, and so on.