Ask Padma Q&A column

If meditation is so natural then why do I find it so difficult?
How can I be egoless and still get what I want?
When I meditate and I find my legs or back are in terrible pain, should I force myself to sit through the pain, or should I move to try to alleviate it?
How does yoga affect my creativity?  What yoga can I practice to inspire me?
How can I get through the Christmas holidays and all the festivities with my family and friends while maintaining my belief and practice of Yoga?
Why are the first injunctions of yoga, the Yamas, worded in the negative, for example, non-violence, non-lying, etc.?

Q: If meditation is so natural then why do I find it so difficult?  It seems a lot harder than other yoga practices.  I get frustrated that my mind will not shut up.  Can you help me?

A: Dear Reader:
Meditation IS natural, but so is thinking and so is having a monkey mind constantly on the go!  Like almost everyone, you have practiced busy mind infinitely more than you have practiced no mind, or clear mind.  Whatever you practice, that’s what you do.

Our human mind is naturally creative and pays attention to activity and forms, so we forget to pay attention to stillness and formlessness.  After a while we forget what stillness is, or what quiet sounds like, or how peace feels.  Then the process of remembering seems very difficult and frustrating.

The first four limbs of Yoga focus on actions we can practice and these are familiar.  It gets tougher when we get instructions like: Just Sit, or Empty Your Mind!  IMPOSSIBLE!!

Suggestion #1: Do not give in to frustration and quit.  Keep practicing your Hatha and sit for some time every day.  The more time you devote the sooner you will notice that a natural quiet starts to unfold inside you.

#2: DO NOT RESIST this quietness!  You will learn to love this space of “nothingness” you experience and find it surprisingly invigorating and refreshing.

#3: Understand that knowledge of formless awareness is just as crucial to your life as knowledge of all the world’s forms you could know.

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Q:I am a yogi and meditator, and I like to think of myself as open and easy-going.  However, I sometimes find that my more gregarious friends overtake me, and I end up somewhere I don’t want to be.  How can I be egoless and still get what I want?

A: Dear Yogi, you are so sweet you don’t want to create any ripples.  You go along, pliable and open, till you’re tolerating more and more and more and then GRRRR!  It’s someone else’s fault!

You are open to others, but are you open to your own awareness?  Open to allow yourself to LEAVE this BBQ once you’ve figured out it’s not your style?

Give yourself some credit and tune into what you are perceiving, then exercise that awareness and speak up!  Without apologies, say what you want.

Loving and open does not mean helpless and weak.  A yogi practices especially to evolve a sharp and decisive intellect for use in making choices.  And your own welfare happens to be included in the equation!

There exists a remarkable alternative to either the passive role or the dominant role in al sorts of relationships.

It’s called freedom: it’s called yoga!  Clarity with wisdom, freedom with awareness.

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Q:When I meditate and I find my legs or back are in terrible pain, should I force myself to sit through the pain, or should I move to try to alleviate it?

A: Dear Meditator,
The practices of yoga and meditation are for the purpose of alleviating pain and suffering from this human life.  Buddhism also states that while this life is full of suffering, there exists the possibility of living free from suffering.  Also, that there is a way to journey from a life of suffering to a life free from pain and misery.

This path is called Yoga, Buddhism, Zen, Meditation, Christianity, and so on.

In every style of practice there develops the concept that one should suffer and tolerate pain, supposedly to overcome it.  But that’s learning to tolerate pain in life, not to live free from pain.

You are free to tolerate as much as you want to, and you are also free to choose NOT to suffer.  This is the beginning of true spiritual work.  The first step is to know that it is possible to be free from pain.  Examine what pain is, how it is created and what methods best eliminate it, always moving in the direction of no suffering.

Explore more and more what freedom really means, not only on a physical level, but in subtler aspects of yourself.  You’ll find pain originates in the minds, and learn, through meditation, how to alleviate pain here, at its root source.

So, keep moving!

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Q:How does yoga affect my creativity?  What yoga can I practice to inspire me?

A:  Good questions!  Yoga is perfect for enhancing and inspiring every creative channel in you!

Yoga frees your spirit to enjoy and express life’s beauty and potential.  The spirit of life is infinitely creative as we see everywhere in all forms and manifestations of living beings.  You have the creative genius of life in you, just waiting to be liberated and expressed.

Chanting, especially in Sanskrit, is a precise practice for opening creative channels of all kinds.  The Vishuddha chakra at the throat is the focus of creative energy and expression.  As you chant Sanskrit, the sounds of the mantras, plus the exercise of opening the throat chakra, frees blocked expression.  Fear of chanting is based on the ego’s need to control and look good.  With practice, this fear goes away and freedom comes to you, bringing life’s natural creative enthusiasm.

The resonance of Sanskrit mantra is designed to open the Vishuddha Chakra as well as every cell in your body and every thought in your mind!  Try practicing chanting along with a favourite CD or better yet, joining a chanting group or class.  One good one to begin with: HUMM

Repeat Humm again and again in meditation and throughout the day.  Dare even to sing Humm as you go about life.  You’ll find a sweet bliss opens in you and then…..inspiration!!

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Q: How can I get through the Christmas holidays and all the festivities with my family and friends while maintaining my belief and practice of Yoga?  I feel these are conflicting belief systems.

A: Dear Conflicted:  Because Yoga has a thorough system of practice, it can become thought of as a religious belief.  This could then conflict with different religious practices.

If this is happening to you, then it’s a great time to stop and take a look at this.  Thanks to Christmas, or any other religious holiday, we have the opportunity to re-examine our own thinking.

An average way of addressing human differences is to blame, and to assume the “other” belief is in the wrong.  Isn’t this the seed of religious wars?

Yoga is radical in that it is not a rigid thought system that is in contrast with others.  It might seem that with the eight limbs, the five vices, the three kriyas, the seven stages of meditation, and so forth, that there is a lot of potential for conflict material.

We have to remember the essential message behind all the rules, the brilliant wisdom of Yoga that cuts through all the pages of all the books.

Conflict can only occur between two solid objects, two people, two thoughts.  Two rocks will crash each other.

Yoga practices are meant to evolve the awareness of the practicing yogi to be able to see that the qualities of objects, of people and of thoughts are always changing.  Yoga awareness, Yog Darshan, is the deepest vision of that which is unchanging, the ever-present blessedness of pure existence.  To see past your mind and ego’s rigidities and remember your own pure freedom is true Yoga.  In Sanskrit this is “Yogash Chitt Vritti Nirodha”.

So let’s not get caught up in focusing on conflicts, the differences, the potential for fighting.  Seeing past these forms, you will find your loved ones, living people who want to know you and want you to love them…

How can there be conflict between pure Life and pure Life?

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Q:Why are the first injunctions of yoga, the Yamas, worded in the negative, for example, non-violence, non-lying, etc.?

A: Three of the five founding rules of yoga – non-violence, truth, non-stealing, remembering the divine and non-grasping – are negations.  This is because the system of yoga is a discipline for evolving people from a mostly unconscious and crude state to a more refined and conscious appreciation of life.

The very fact that there is an injunction of non-violence implies that people can be violent.  Wording in this way acknowledges that violence exists.  This must be admitted, not only that others do violence, but that every person has the potential to do violence, including you!  People are not simply violent or non-violent types.  Each person has the capacity of action of the whole spectrum of creation.  The Buddha recognized this in his words that the world is suffering, every person creates suffering.

The first injunction of Yoga is non-violence, but although this is the first step, it already implies a high degree of refined awareness on the part of the practitioner.  One must see and understand what violence is, then know that the alternative is a possibility that can be attained, and then learn and practice the discipline that evolves oneself into non-violence.

First is to observe violence and come to know exactly what it is, how it manifests and where it comes from.  This takes a lot of self-reflection as we observe violence not only in the obvious actions of others, but also in the more subtle forms of violent words and violent thoughts of others and eventually, in ourselves.

There has to exist the capacity within one’s mind and heart to differentiate violence from non-violence.  This means we must already know what non-violence feels like.  Peace, Bliss, Joy, Love, by any name must already be known for the discrimination to be possible.

Next we must choose non-violence.  Given the knowledge of what violence is, at some point in life a person my embrace non-violence.  At this moment, this person becomes a Yogi.  This choosing is the most important and crucial step in Yoga.  Not only that one chooses to oppose the violent actions of others, but also that one chooses to oppose violence at every level, even to the subltest levels of thought, even within oneself.

This is the first step of Yoga and implies a mature and aware person who has come, through conscious reflection, intelligent decisiveness and often sheer desperation, to know that violence is not tolerable.  As long as one still accepts or tolerates violence at any level, on is not yet a Yogi.

The practices of Yoga, including following the observances, doing the physical body and breath work, studying, plus eventually learning Meditation, all help refine the awareness of how pure, precious, and blessed Life really is.

Let us practice to know the pure state of our own being which is non-violent, loving, aware and life-supporting of others and of ourselves.  And may the whole planet evolve to this awareness.

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