Small Sigh, Big Shift

By Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver

“Busy mind — busy life.” Sigh.

“It’s your mind that propels your frenetic pace.” Sigh.  

Swami Nirmalananda writes that our minds mess with us.  Our minds compel us to perpetual motion.

When I lead yoga philosophy discussions, I ask participants to find a phrase or sentence in a teachings article that resonates with them.  Maybe it’s something they relate to.  Maybe it’s something that provokes a reaction.  One such line jumped out at me Swamiji’s May article: The Inner Threshold. “You do things, lots and lots of things, simply because you want them to make you happy,” Swamiji writes.

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Yes, I do lots and lots of things.  But I thought I did them out of love and responsibility.  I’m sandwiched between my elderly parents and my disabled daughter.  Also, between my paid jobs and seva duties, I’m still working full time.  Initially I didn’t agree that my mind compelled me to do all these things to make myself happy.  I was wrong.

I discovered this when I looked a little deeper, tracking back.  All the things I do come with an identity.  It is linked to an expectation — a “pay off” of sorts.  I am a devoted daughter, a loving mother and wife, an effective employee, a good yoga teacher, a dedicated sevite.  My expectations of my actions — devotion, love, effectiveness, dedication — are all about using these identities to give me something.  In other words, what I do makes me happy with who I am.  My mind is messing with me, no doubt about it.  Sigh.

When I get wrapped up in the do, do, do, my mind needs help.  I need to remember who and what I REALLY am — Shiva!  Swami says that it’s as easy as taking a breath and allowing a deep yogic sigh.  It’s her quick fix for May.  And it works, of course!

Every afternoon I stop the madness by doing at least 20-30 minutes of Ujjjayi Pranayama.  Yet when I need a quick fix, as I do often, I can do a yogic sigh.  It’s a technique from the Vij~nana Bhairava, an ancient yogic text in our Kashmiri Shaivism tradition.  Having learned it in Meditation Teacher Training, I often teach it in my introduction to meditation classes.  Swami calls the space after a long sigh, before the breath moves again, a “divine pause.” She’s right.  It’s heavenly.

In that pause, time stops.  My mind stops.  Swamiji calls it a “magical, mystical moment of complete stillness.”  Bahya kumbhaka is the pause after an exhalation, before your breath moves again.  It’s the pause that refreshes.  Swamiji says when you linger and relax into the pause, you hover “in the threshold between inside and outside.”  She calls it a surrender, a melting, into your capital-S Self.   I don’t see my activity level changing any time soon.  I have responsibilities.  I have dharma — duties to perform.  As I carry them out, what can change is my state.  With a sigh, I gain access to who I am at my core.  The “pay off” is the calm and clarity arising from within.  I recognize who I am inside.  I don’t rely on recognition from others or even from my own small-s self.  And all I have to do in the midst of my busy life is take a breath.  What a sweet way to live! Sigh.

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