It’s with great embarrassment that I must announce that in the middle of my big ultraspiritual blissorama yogathon I’ve been hit with a wave of seasonal depression almost as potent as the frigid Canadian variety the escape from which was secretly one of the motives behind the timing of my trip to India.
Anxiety and depression have always been a part of my life, but they once possessed a control over my faculties of discrimination and perception that has lessened more recently. I owe this most significantly to my yoga and mindfulness practices. As my body has become a bit leaner, a bit more mobile, a bit better at processing and preserving energy many of the obstacles preventing me from acting out of my best intentions for myself have become less powerful. My body used to get stolid and hard when I needed it to move and used to quiver and tremor when I needed it to be still. It now does more or less what I ask of it, at least on a gross, superficial level. Languor, lassitude and timidity, which for a long time had seemed like permanent aspects of my personality, are now like occasional house guests, drifting by every once in a while, taking up some space, leaving a bit of a mess but then departing. In India this quality is known as Tamas, the energy of inertia, dullness and heaviness. Ultimately it is the quality of decay, the quality of destruction inherent in all life. It is necessary and essential, but if you are immersed in the qualities of decay before it is rightfully your time to decay, Tamas in your body will take on the quality of dysfunction, disease and depression.
There are many who are dismissive of Hatha Yoga as a spiritual or even a psychological discipline, particularly the vigorously physical version of it which I practice and which has become popular in the west. To many it seems worldly, competitive, even vain. Even among eastern spiritual circles it is often felt that ideally one should practice detachment from the physical body, a detachment which is most effectively realized while immobile. But vigorous physical yoga is, for me, the most important part of my spiritual practice. Ordinarily, this quality of Tamas has a great hold on me. Hatha Yoga’s ability to burn it off is what gives me the energy, focus and mental space to practice still meditation, and, ultimately, mindfulness in every day life.
The practice of mindfulness in everyday life is another remover of obstacles. If we can act with discrimination and skillfulness, without reactivity, then we can act out of our best intentions for others and for ourselves. I used to snap at people when I got depressed, I used to try to elicit guilt and sympathy from people by manufacturing catastrophes, I would puff up my own ego with arrogant assertions all the grander the less I really believed them, and if I couldn’t muster the energy for drama I would simply check out and drift into a private world of nauseous fantasy. Of course I still do all of this on occasion, but now it all feels less like a Shakespearean tragedy and more like The Comedy of Errors. My reactivity is softer, slower, a bit more honest, a bit more playful. So now, when I get depressed, I’m less likely to create additional situations which will depress me. For me this is yoga in action.
So things are better now. But de-cluttering your life of obstacles doesn’t mean you can stop the natural ebb and flow of things, the perpetual transition between states of potential and actualization that characterizes the material world on every level. Your emotional life will expand and contract as long as you have one and for me, winter has always tended to bring me into a state of contraction. My hibernating instinct kicks in and I start to feel introverted and withdrawn. I had intended to leave Canada and chase the sun this winter to avoid it, but I’ve unexpectedly found myself in Northern India for longer then intended and Northern India gets gloomy, dark and pretty darn cold in January.
So here I am, depressed in Yogaland, and it’s ok. This week I’ll be heading to the desert in Rajasthan for a bit and then eventually to Goa for some beach time. I’m excited to travel a little and then refocus my energy on my practice in a tropical place.
But I’m lazy and don’t feel like writing anymore.
So that’s it for today.
I love you all.