2 Important Lessons From The Far East

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You probably played the game “telephone” when you were a kid. To play, everyone sits in a circle and someone whispers a word into the next person’s ear until that message travels through the whole circle. When the message reaches the last person, they say it out loud and everyone laughs because it’s not what they heard.

Just like the game of telephone, many of the sacred practices that originated in the East have changed from their original, authentic structure. This is understandable, to a degree. Cultural differences might require some changes to get people to adopt the practices or be able to better engage in them. However, there’s always a price when sacred knowledge is altered.

When kept true to their origins, practices like yoga can literally save people’s lives.

Whether you’re into yoga, pranayama, or Malla Khamb, if you’re on a path that draws you to Eastern spiritual practices, it’s important to understand the following distinctions:

  1. Kriyas are more than daily disciplines

In the West, meditation is often seen as a discipline. Some people have even gotten into the habit of meditating daily. Meditating is great – it’s the habit that presents the problem. A habit is a compulsion; you can’t be present and engage in a habit at the same time. When a practice becomes a habit, its effects are non-existent.

To be effective with any practice, you’ve got to be present like it’s the first time you’re doing it, even when you’re doing it day after day. Although it’s normal in the West, it would be a mistake to approach a kriya as if it were just another 20-minute block of time on your calendar.

Another difference between a discipline in the West and a kriya from the East is that kriyas are intentionally crafted for benefit beyond the physical; disciplines aren’t.

How many times have you repeated a positive affirmation or mantra and nothing happened? We’ve all done it. However, it’s not the words that have the power.

Where kriyas get their power

Traditionally, spiritual teachers create their own kriyas for their students. These kriyas aren’t just random actions and breathing patterns, they’re derived directly from ancient scripture and designed to help the practitioner become the essence of what the scripture teaches. These kriyas have a profound impact on the practitioner’s life when done with absolute presence.

One of the most powerful kriyas is the Sudarshan Kriya, created by Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. This kriya has been taught to more than 6 million people in 152 countries worldwide, helping people relieve stress and access reservoirs of energy and inner silence in life.

“Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) is a special breath technique that calms the mind and energizes the body,” explains Art of Living.  “Sudarshan means “proper vision” and kriya is a Sanskrit term for “purifying action.” Here purifying means to make sattvic —  balanced, centered and calm.”

People experience profound results from this kriya, not because they go through the motions but because they’ve been trained to be present with what they’re doing.

  1. Yoga is not just physical exercise

While you can grab a beer and head to yoga in the West, that wouldn’t happen in the East. Not only is beer not part of yoga, but yoga itself has been misunderstood in the West.

Yoga poses, known as asanas, are just one aspect of the larger system designed to achieve optimal living. Yoga can only be fully understood when its history and philosophy are understood (and lived).

The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali are considered the core teachings of yoga. Known as the father of yoga, Patañjali, a Hindu scholar, condensed the messages of many traditions into 196 aphorisms known The Yoga Sutras. These principle truths express how people can develop greater focus, clarity, and self-awareness.

This article from Elephant Journal does an excellent job explaining the depth of the Yoga Sutras, and is worth reading.

Commenting on the difference between these Sutras and the Ten Commandments of the West, the author explains that the Sutras provide more than a list of dos and don’ts. The Sutras aim to help people develop a powerful set of interpersonal skills like patience and fearlessness.

The author writes, “what does life look like when we become kinder to those around us, supporting and promoting family members, friends, and colleagues? What does it mean to have the emotional energy to show people that you generally care about them and respect them, and that you are truly there and present for them? When we take the yamas into our lives, the results can be absolutely transformative on so many levels.”

The physical aspect of yoga is designed to prepare the body to live fully into these principles; both are equally important.