Yogi Assignment: Maitri, Loving-Kindness
I’m sitting in bed enjoying a lazy day. It’s a rare morning for me where I neither travel, practice or teach. But today I’m a lazy yogi and enjoying it!
I reached out to you, my community of yogis, for inspiration for this week’s Yogi Assignment and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the response. Not only were your stories of how the practice has helped you through difficult really moving, but I got a sense that the Yogi Assignments are really making an impact in your lives. You are translating the deep lessons of the yoga practice into substantive changes in your lives. You are practicing yoga and changing your world.
Inspired by you, this week’s Yogi Assignment is Loving-Kindness. Sometimes referred to as Maitri in Sanskrit, an attitude of kindness goes a long way to make your world a more peaceful place. As yogis we learn to cultivate a kind and loving approach to ourselves through the practice. So many students begin yoga with the same midnset of goal orientation, self-judgment and over-achievement that happens off the mat. The practice slowly shifts your heart to love and forgiveness. Then instead of beating yourself up about all the poses you can’t do you learn how to celebrate the beauty of the journey without any attachment to what the end will be. Yoga feels a lot like freedom because the practice teaches you how to let go of all the self-limiting thoughts that all too often rumble around in our heads. Being kind to yourself is one of the most improving lessons of the yoga path.
Only once you’ve really learned this lesson for yourself will you be able to be truly kind to others. As a teacher I often see students who say that they are peaceful and gentle show up on the mat and practice with forcefulness and aggression. The body doesn’t lie. It’s truth is self-evident. It takes time for yoga to remove all those layers of unnecessary thoughts and judgment. What you’re left with after many years of practice is a pure heart and a bright spirit. But you can’t rush it. You’ll have to dive deeply into the practice so that you can reveal the truth of who you really are.
A big question of loving-kindness comes up when you’re faced with someone whose actions toward you are toxic or hurtful. How do you maintain an attitude of kindness while setting clear boundaries and expressing your hurt feelings? It’s not easy. Yoga doesn’t mean you’ll have all the answers, but it does mean that you’ll dig deeply to find them and listen to inner wisdom when it arises. There is no perfect way to navigate a difficult situation. When the day is done, what matters is whether you cake from love. If your intention is to get even or seek revenge, then you’re best to let it go. But if you act with love even if you’re rejected your mind will remain calm.
I’ve had ample opportunity lately to practice being kind to people who have hurt me. Whether it’s businesses and corporations who are threatening me or friends who decided to block me and remove me from their lives, my heart has found it difficult to be nice. I’ve wanted to lash out and react, but the practice kept me sane. I could feel my nervous system getting triggered, but then I’d apply the technique of the breath, the posture and the focal point. Slowly I’d return to a calm steady place of peace. The answer I always get when I’m calm is to act with kindness. Being kind doesn’t mean having no boundaries, it means doing what needs to be done with as much gentleness and kindness as possible. It means taking no action from a mean-spirited place and trying your best to give people the benefit of the doubt. Ask yourself today what your motives are for every action and, if you’re not coming from love, back down.
Be kind. Be a yogi.