Remain A Witness: Vipassana meditation

yoga and meditation-breathe-vipassana

This week I have been revisiting the valuable tools I learned through Vipassana Meditation.  Vipassana is  considered the form of meditation Buddha used to attain enlightenment.  It is a simple, but profound practice of focusing on the breath and sensations of the body.

The practice was lost for hundreds of years, eventually reintroduced on a global scale by a man from Burma, Goenka.  He began 10-day Vipassana meditation courses for sentient beings to learn the practice.  The amazing thing is: it is all run by donation.

When you arrive, you are treated exactly the same way as every other person there.  You are given a simple bed and 3 meals a day.  Without the thought, "I paid for this, therefore everything should be a certain way," we dampen the ego and use the time on retreat as if we were a monk - with all our food and lodging provided.

I sat my Vipassana course in Dharamkot, India, a village just north of the Dalai Lama's temple 2 years ago.  The first few days of the retreat solely focused on the breath.

The breath is considered the vehicle to better understand the voluntary and involuntary functions of the body.  By tuning into the breath we come in closer connection to all the functions of the involuntary body (our heartbeat and other organs that continue to work without our mind consciously telling them to).

After focusing the mind through the breath to a single pointed focus, awareness is then brought to sensations.  The idea is, as humans, we experience craving to pleasurable sensations and aversion to painful sensations.  However, there is no way around experiencing both.  Our job through the practice is to become a witness to both of them, and simply watch.

Whether a painful or pleasurable sensation arises, we learn through the body, it eventually passes away.  By having a direct experience of this impermanence on a physical and cellular level, we can have a greater understanding of the nature of life.

Everything is impermanent, especially the body.  The body is continually dying and renewing itself on a cellular level.  When we understand impermanence within ourselves, we let go of our strong attachments to the things and people around us and eventually to the strongest attachment of all: life itself.


Why I Practice Yoga

yoga and meditation-compassion-8 limbs of yoga

This piece of writing came to me the morning after a dream. In the dream, someone very close to me died, and I was left to console those left behind by this person. I was forced to think and talk about the nature of life and death - something we rarely talk about openly in Western culture. I realized the ancient sages and yogis that fully devoted their life to their yoga; their salvation, were fully connected to the brevity of their life and the impermanence of their body. I realized at my most deep level, this is why I practice yoga.

--------------------------- I practice yoga because I know one day, I am going to die. I say yoga, because it is more than an asana practice. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali describes 8 limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Practiced together, they are a way of life.

I know my body's impermanence. I practice yoga, I live my yoga, for my soul. I live my yoga so my soul will progress in this life, and have less lives to live.

Compassion and kindness. Kindness and compassion.

We come back to this Earth to cultivate compassion and kindness in our lives. We take on this body again and again to live out our karma, open to our sankharas and tear through samsara.

When I feel lost, yoga is my saviour. It reminds me to lean into life, and draw my aversions closer. It reminds me to close my eyes and find that ever-renewing source of silence. Yoga pulls me out of the limitations and pains of this body world, drawing me ever closer to my heart.

And when my body is in pain, yoga is my friend. Yoga comforts me, accepts me as I am, and allows me to rest. Yoga opens me to a greater capacity to love myself.

When I am afraid, yoga holds all of those fears and lets me decide when the time is right to open that door. Yoga eases me into facing those fears and shows me the light that exists on the other side.

When I am lonely, yoga reminds me of the power and beauty in my alone-ness. I learn to steep in that beauty until I become strong.

When I feel disconnected, yoga reminds me of devotion and prayer. Devotion to something much bigger than myself that I may never fully understand. Prayer to intimately connect with that divine mystery - that powerful force that listens to where I am, where I have been, and where I need to go from here.

When I am faced with discomfort, yoga reminds me: this is an opportunity to grow.

When I feel incomplete and imperfect, yoga reminds me I am whole, and perfection only arises from that wholeness

And in those times of peace and wholeness, yoga opens me to bliss. Yoga realigns my body and lifts my spirit back to what is my natural state.

And through all of this, yoga reminds me to reconnect to my breath. A reminder to come back to my own aliveness and to find gratitude there. Gratitude for all of the lessons and the pain, because those lessons and pain made me into who I am today.

My yoga is more than a practice. My yoga permeates my breath, it is with me in my dreams, and it reminds me to open to the world each morning I wake.