Cultivating Equanimity through Yoga

Every day life gives us opportunities to develop equanimity. Every day we are faced with people, events or situations that challenge our sense of inner peace or at very least our perceptions and habits. If you reflect upon your week, how many times did you find yourself having an emotional reaction to someone or something? And, did your reaction influence your mood, your thoughts or your actions, perhaps long after the event was over? I know that just the number of times I was interrupted while trying to write this article was a test of my equanimity!
In the physical practice of yoga we try to develop equanimity when challenged by a new or difficult posture. But in fact, the lack of equanimity or reactiveness that we feel is more a state of mind than a state of body. In a posture that requires strength, flexibility and balance like natarajasana or Lord of the Dance pose, we may feel very destabilized by our inability to gracefully hold the posture for as long as the others in the yoga class or we may find ourselves holding our breath, clenching our jaw or feeling anxious. But in reality these reactions are nothing more than the physical response to the distress signal set off by our expectations of what should be not matching up with what is. The difference between simply holding a posture or doing a stretch and practising yoga is the ability to approach sensation with calmness, challenge with composure and no matter what, to keep breathing!
In fact, developing equanimity is one of the most important aspects of yoga. Equanimity (upekṣhā) is known as one of the four sublime attitudes of classical hatha yoga or bramaviharas. The brahmavihāras  (lit. "abodes of brahma") are a series of four Buddhist virtues and the meditation practices made to cultivate them. They are also known as the four immeasurables (Sanskrit: apramāṇa, Pāli: appamaññā).[1][2]
According to the Metta SuttaShākyamuni Buddha held that cultivation of the four immeasurables has the power to cause the practitioner to be reborn into a Brahma realm (Pāli: Brahmaloka).[3] The meditator is instructed to radiate out to all beings in all directions the mental states of loving-kindness or benevolence, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. Equanimity is defined as:
Learning to accept loss and gain, praise and blame, and success and failure, all with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others. Equanimity is "not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal. It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind—not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness or agitation."[12] - Wikepedia
This practice of equanimity begins with ourselves. Our reactions, pleasant or unpleasant are the perfect ground to cultivate equanimity. In being mindful of our reactions we can eventually get to the root of our behaviours and start to weed out that which throws us off-kilter and perpetuates suffering. When we can understand and accept what is going on inside of ourselves, we become better equipped to understand others and so develop a compassionate outlook. As we continue to practice this we make room for the blooming of loving-kindness for all beings and consequently contribute to and are nourished by the harvests of joy.
The practice of yoga gives us a framework for exploring our reactions. Some postures may be deeply satisfying and delicious while we may develop aversions to the ones that we find difficult or uncomfortable. Often the greater challenge within a yoga posture is not so much to hold it but to let go of the tension that we are hanging on to that is creating resistance to it and to let go of the judgements we have about our abilities and our bodies. As our yoga practice deepens we start to become more aware of these holding patterns and reactions within our bodies and minds and begin to let them go, allowing the wisdom of each pose to unfold.
In accepting that our experiences both on and off the yoga mat are subject to change and that sometimes we have very little control over these changes, we begin to tread upon the territory of equanimity. In being open to our experiences without being attached to outcome we can begin to free ourselves from the confines of what is good and what is bad and instead be content with what is. This contentment, or Santosha (Sanskrit), gives us the ability to be the alchemists of our lives; to transform our fixed and perhaps limiting notions into endless opportunities for self-discovery and for exploration of the world around us.  We acquiesce to the idea that perhaps the universe has a plan for us that is so much bigger than we could imagine for ourselves that we can only see a part of it from where we are standing. But if we develop the ability to stand back and observe our experiences from a place of peaceful acceptance or equanimity, we can receive the gift within each one.
Sonia Baillon, certified yoga teacher, IYF


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