“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
“Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.” George Eliot
Purity is the topic of many sacred Scripture passages. Do’s and don’ts prescribe for adherents the rules for living a moral, ethical life. Famously, Jesus reformulated the ancient Old Testament laws, summarizing the Ten Commandments in such a way that their core principles—loving God and loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves—popped into focus like the picture of a unified forest replacing an individual emphasis on each evergreen within a stand of fir trees. Yoga has ethical principles called niyamas. The first, saucha, is that of purity—of cleaning up our act, so to speak. One way to do this that directly benefits both our neighbor and our self is to pause to examine our thoughts before we voice them. Think about that aggravating person in your acquaintance who can always be counted on to say no before you’ve finished expressing your question. Or about a time when you misspoke—or spoke too fast—and inadvertently offended someone.
Our thoughts often evolve in three stages: initially, a thought is unformed or only poorly formulated, containing an element of emotion that may be inappropriate, unnecessary, or unhelpful to express; we call this a knee-jerk reaction. The second iteration of a thought (there’s a reason we call it a “second thought”) may be better formed but is often still not in a format the other person will hear, understand, or accept. The third and final phase of the thought process, in terms of its verbal expression, tends to be more refined and better articulated; if we can wait for it, we’ll use more carefully chosen words that the listener will hear and accept—and that will be more likely to keep the two of us in relationship.
Learning to think before we speak—better still, to invite God to inform our thoughts before we engage our tongues—can be difficult but immensely rewarding, as the result is often improved relations with our neighbor. Similarly, cleaning up our act in our yoga practice begins when we start noticing, without judgment, where our thoughts wander while we’re in a pose. By acknowledging our thought drift we can learn to let go of distracting thoughts and to gently return our attention to our present reality. We can discern without haste what no longer serves us and intentionally let it go. Examining our thoughts before we speak or act is a practice that blesses both us and others.
Inhale I Am
Focus Pose: Heart-opening poses symbolically represent a pure spirit: heart first and foremost, body and head following. This week add an extra heart opening pose into your practice—one in which you squeeze your shoulder blades together to open your heart center. Bow Pose, dhanurasana, is a powerful heart opener. Lie on your belly, bend your legs, hold your ankles, or circle your ankles with a strap. Press your ankles into your hands or strap as you lift your legs off the mat, simultaneously lifting your chest and head as well. Your abdominal muscles will have less room to move, so remember to breathe into your back body. Let your back muscles relax and your heart energy shine forth, front and center.