The cause of avoidable pain is the union of the Seer and the seen.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:17
Yoga is not a practice for enlightened masters. It is a practice for everyday folk like us. Yoga unites Purusha (the Seer, or spirit) with Prakriti (the Seen, or matter). Purusha enlivens and animates Prakriti, and Prakriti gives Purusha expression and context.
The persistent illusion.
Albert Einstein said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Yogic philosophy would agree with this. The first half of this quote acknowledges that the physical world is like a movie. It is a projection we are observing. Many of us get stuck here. If the physical world is an illusion, why should we care what happens there?
This is why the second half of Einstein’s quote is key. Reality may not be ultimately “real”, but we experience it as real and so does everyone around us. When we over-identify with Purusha, we have difficulty relating to other people and the experiences we are having in this world. However, over-identification with Prakriti brings suffering. That is why the goal of yoga practices is not enlightenment, but the union of Purusha and Prakriti. Yoga teaches us not to deny the physical world, but to live well within it. We do this by cultivating viveka.
Viveka means wise discernment. When we practice yoga, we quiet the whirl-wind of thoughts that bombard us on a day-to-day basis. When our mind is quiet, we are able to tune-out the distractions of the illusory world and tune-in to higher guidance. As we do, we are better able to participate in the world we are projecting. We think clearer, make better decisions, and, ultimately, are at peace. The peace that comes through viveka is Yoga.
Connecting with earth.
The Pancha Mahabuta, or five great elements, is the stuff of which Prakriti is composed. Purusha manifests from the most to least subtle as ether, air, fire, water, and earth. This may seem highly theoretical, but it is actually quite practical. This is the process of manifestation – how we birth our dreams, thoughts, and ideas.
Earth is the densest of all the elements. As spiritual beings in physical form, the earth embodies us and is our home. Humans are thoughtful, creative, and intelligent, but in order for any of those qualities to be meaningful, we must be able to bring them into form. We do this by getting grounded.
Grounding is a technique used to energetically connect to the earth. When we are grounded, we are balanced, centered, and stable. Grounding techniques not only help us bring our ideas to life, they are also effective ways to cope with stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
Let’s get grounded!
There are many grounding techniques. What works for one person may or may not work for another. We can try different techniques until we find which ones work best for us. Here are a few grounding techniques to get started:
- Spend time in nature. Even if you can’t spend much time outdoors due to schedule conflicts or unfavorable weather, get outside for at least a few minutes. Experience whatever it is you find there. Feel the warmth of the sun, the chill in the air, and even the trickle of rain on your face.
- Be in your body. Notice the solidity of the surface you are standing or sitting on, the clothing against your skin, and any sensations you notice in your body.
- Do something physical. Hatha yoga, dance, and physical exercise we enjoy connect us to our bodies and through our bodies we stay connected to earth.
- Spend time with non-human animal companions. Non-human animal companions teach us to get out of our heads, into our bodies, and stay present in the moment we are in.
- Cultivate a regular spiritual practice. In addition to nourishing us spiritually, a regular spiritual practice can give us a positive sense of routine and predictability. This can be very soothing whether we are experiencing day-to-day stress or are going through a challenging life phase.