Book: Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic
Author: Darren Main
|Image source: Amazon.com|
Where do I begin! I think I flagged every page of this book and highlighted almost the whole thing. It is full of great insights in simple terms that anyone who has practiced yoga for a bit (I’d say at least a year or so) could grasp. As I read this book, especially the deeper I got into the eight limbs, I kept thinking to myself, OH, my mom should read this, or my husband should read this, because I thought so much of the information was so impactful for me and truly spoke to the essence of some significant life questions…I wanted to share these insights with them. However….I do think, that unless you are on the edge of exploring yoga and willing to accept yoga for more than just a physical practice, this book may come across as a bunch of ‘hoohie’ (which is why I haven’t yet asked my husband to read).
Atman and the Ego
OK – and I must admit, I did have a hard time with the beginning of this book as the author discussed the concepts of Atman or our true Self and the concept of our ego being an ultimate lie, false belief, mistaken identity. I wanted initially to think Atman it’s our inner most thoughts, but actually I don’t believe that is an accurate description, because our thoughts are continuously tainted by our perceptions (ego). So, through reading the book, I’ve associated Atman (true Self) with our spirit (I was raised catholic, so this is probably the best analogy my mind is allowing me to come up with).
Since reading about what our ego does to us, I’ve consciously noticed myself in many different scenarios coming back (at least in my mind) to the question of is this ‘me’ or is this my ‘ego’, my false perceptions that have given me a certain thought, feeling, emotion, etc. For example, I think many of us are very hard on ourselves for not living up to expectations. I have begun to question who set the expectations, why do I feel the need to live up to them, will I feel guilty or ashamed if I don’t perform to certain expectations. Right now, I’ve just started to explore this a bit, asking myself challenging questions. Having an internal dialogue with myself, maybe it’s my Self (spirit) and my ego bickering with each other.
It was interesting for me to realize it is the ego that keeps us searching for more, more success, more satisfaction, more of everything (money, prestige, beauty, etc). It really doesn’t matter what we do, what we attain, we are always searching or waiting for more to come our way. Some of us do this by going to school, getting a job, getting married, having babies, etc. Or in my case, replace having babies with going to school to become a yoga teacher. I do think, other than the desire to want to share yoga with others, that part of me is still searching or yearning for something that I haven’t yet found. I am still struggling with the concept of letting go and to stop searching. I do appreciate Darren’s words, “we spend our lives looking and searching in every conceivable corner of the world for that one thing (or group of things) that will bring us the fulfillment we desire above all else, only to find that it is glowing deep within. It’s the very act of searching that makes us lose ourselves. It’s the very belief in deprivation that makes us feel deprived. It’s the very act of trying to succeed that guarantees our failure, because even when we do get what we think we want, we realize we are still unhappy, and the search begins all over again.”
Guru and Sadguru
I was very appreciative of the section in the book which discussed what a Guru is and should be (contrary to popular belief) and what Sadguru is. I have always heard Guru with a negative connotation, and I have found it a bit strange that people would have a shrine to the Guru, with their pictures and candles. I do not view yoga as a religion (I do believe it can lead some to a spiritual path of choice by awakening their mind to be more present and aware of themselves and their surroundings), so I associated gurus as individuals people worshiped. Worshiping individuals can lead to closed mindedness of others ideas, thoughts, etc if it doesn’t align with the principals of the one they are worshiping (contrary to the choice in one’s own spiritual path).
Guru means ‘darkness to light’. Ideally a guru is a guider and a teacher, someone who has already walked the same ‘yogic’ path, and maybe they are a few years ‘ahead’, or maybe they have years of experience. Again, my mind wants to break this down to a simple word, Mentor. It helped me when Darren brought in actual spiritual/religious guiders in the past as examples throughout the book, in this instance he described Buddha and Jesus as Guru’s of their time.
Sadguru is the ‘great teacher, the universal teacher that is within all beings’. Darren describes this as the small voice in our head that guides us through life, again sometimes we fight with it, but when we listen and surrender to it, we can often have life changing moments. Ultimately a Guru helps guide one’s Sadguru, and ultimately wants the student to find light on their own through their Sadguru.
Darren is very clear that yoga can lead to a path of spirituality and yet it is not a religion. I think this can be difficult for many people to understand, and I also find myself somewhat stuttering when I try to describe to people who ask me this question, ‘Isn’t yoga like a religion?’. To some extent, people need to experience the ‘change’, the moment their yoga practice goes from physical to spiritual in their own unique way. It is quite interesting actually, for me I’m not sure I can pinpoint it exactly, but it was the awareness of my body and mind, and more so how my body is a tool to access my mind.
I also enjoyed reading the many references Darren made between yoga principles, and various other religious moral codes. For example, he compared the yamas and the niyamas to the Ten Commandments. He makes a very valid point that the Ten Commandments are black and white, do not kill, do not lie, etc. They are an absolute and necessary moral code to live by. Since taking teacher training and reading Darren’s book as well as other resources, living by the yamas and niyamas is a great addition to my life, they are structure (which I am a big fan of) and yet they offer the ability to move through life, make mistakes, offer the idea of new beginnings and forgiveness. This helps with the guilt emotions that Darren references that can be related to rules that are too black and white. Not to say there shouldn’t be guilt associated with serious ‘sins’, however the guilt tends to spread to other areas of our life, if we stay too late at work or don’t stay late enough, if we eat junk food, choose to sit on the couch instead of going to a yoga class, if we don’t call our mom every day, if we don’t give our pets enough attention (ok…those are a lot of my guilts).
“Because of the guilt imposed by strict moral codes, we project responsibility outward. Once we begin to let go of guilt and rigidity, we can again stand in our power to choose. Rather than feeling like a victim of the world, we can own our lives and our choices, and when a certain behavior is not working, we can choose differently.’ ~ pg 77
Cultivating Good Habits
“Because so many people live high-stress lives, their yoga practice is more about repairing the day-to-day damage inflicted by such a toxic lifestyle rather than about evolving and growing.” – pg 96
I don’t consider my lifestyle ‘toxic’ per say, but there are definitely some toxic tendencies that I have as a result of the lifestyle I lead. For example, working until the last possible moment, rushing to the metro, nearly bumping into people with my big yoga mat bag on the way to the metro, easily frustrated by the tourists that ‘stand’ on the left side of the escalator as I am rushing down to catch the next train that I hope will get me to the next station at the exact time I need to get there in order to briskly walk to the yoga studio…just in time to roll out my mat for a practice. OH, and by the way if I had an extra few minutes I may have scarfed down a granola bar so that I have some energy to get through the class, and then worrying I didn’t shut my phone off because I wouldn’t want to disturb anyone else. Whew! Seriously – that is toxic to think about and not very yogic.
“…but not purifying the lifestyle is like trying to run a race in high heels. You could do it, but it would be difficult and inefficient.” –pg 97 I am all about being efficient; I love ‘process improvement’ in my professional life, why wouldn’t I want to do this in my personal life as well?!
This book is an excellent resource for explaining the eight limbs of yoga, including the yamas and niyamas in a modern way with real life examples that many ‘urban’ individuals can very much relate to. To summarize some great advice that Darren shared:
· Cut yourself some slack
· Be in the present moment
· Create awareness and acceptance of oneself
· We have choices
· Learn to sit still
· Be mindful
· Neutralize our samaskaras (helps us dissolve the illusion of our ego)
· Choose peace