Sunday, August 24, 2014

Yoga, Happiness and Buddhism: Right Effort

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By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Many Yoga students and teachers begin practicing Yoga in order to increase their level of well-being and happiness, while simultaneously eradicating their suffering. Suffering comes in many different forms. You may find that you are suffering from a sense of isolation or loneliness, or you may find that your are suffering from a torn rotator cuff when you are practicing Seated Spinal Twist! Many people also suffer from a sense of despondency over how they are required to spend their time if they are not able to work in their chosen field or to follow their dreams whole heartedly. 

If you are to be able to spend your time working to create or sustain beauty and goodness in the world by following your dreams, you are truly fortunate. Many Yoga teachers, who choose to pursue a career teaching students about the different facets of a balanced Yoga practice, do so because they wish to offer their talents and skills to others in such a way that the world is uplifted. This intention is quite beautiful. When you help to nurture physical and mental health in your students by teaching a great Yogaclass, there are beneficial ripple effects felt throughout the entire community. 

These positive ripple effects may be as simple as one of your students feeling light-hearted enough to stop and help somebody in the grocery store parking who has dropped a bag of groceries. Or one of your students may find that he or she has a much stronger ability to stay emotionally centered in a seemingly unending traffic jam. Although these positive ripple effects may seem mundane at first, if you multiply these effects by several dozen students a week, you can see how your service of instructing Yoga students with right effort is helping to uplift the world.

The term “right effort” comes from Buddhism. It is one of the of the components of the Eightfold Path as elucidated by the Buddha over 2000 years ago. The Buddha was born a prince in the Shakya republic of the Himalayan Mountains in approximately 500 BCE. As the story goes, when Gautama Buddha left the resplendent protection of his father’s palace, he was shocked and overwhelmed by all of the suffering he saw just outside the palace gates. There were many people who were suffering and dying from physical illness, poverty and old age just outside the protective walls of the palace.  

As a young man, Gautama was deeply disturbed by what he saw, so he left the palace seeking to understand why such suffering existed. Gautama wandered throughout India in search of the existential reason for such suffering and for the deeper understanding of how to live a noble and peaceful life amidst such suffering. Over time, Gautama studied with numerous Yogis and spiritual masters. After many years of traveling throughout India in search of answers, Gautama sat under a large Bodhi tree and fell into a deep mediation that lasted throughout the night. 

In this meditative state, he received the answers he was seeking to life’s greatest mysteries. These answers are encapsulated in the Four Noble Truths and the eight aspects of the Dharma Wheel. Right Effort is one of these aspects. This profound system of understanding about the nature of suffering and how to eradicated suffering in one’s own life was the fruition of all of his years of spiritual searching and practices. In this way, he became the Buddha, the enlightened one.

If a Yogi or Yogini diligently practices the Eightfold Path as laid out by the Buddha, one’s Yoga practice will be deeply rooted in the wisdom of the ancient sages. This depth of understanding and practice will support a Yoga practitioner’s mental and physical health and well-being on many levels. Buddhism deeply addresses the nature of reality, why there is suffering, how we maintain suffering in our own lives and how to remove suffering so that we an live lives filled with peace, serenity and happiness. 

As a sensitive Yoga instructor, modifying the sequence of asanas to fit a specific group of students and what they need in the moment is one of the keys to teaching an uplifting and nourishing class. The underlying wisdom of the Buddha’s precept of right effort can help inform your choice of Yoga poses, breathing exercises and the inclusion of other spiritual practices when you are teaching a Yoga class. This level of sensitivity is one of the hallmarks of a great Yoga teacher. 

© Copyright 2014 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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