We’re emerging from pandemic isolation and re-integrating into social life. That means dealing with the strange and bewildering world of other people again. If you’ve ever met other people, you know they can bring out the best or the worst in you. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the original guide to practicing yoga written 2500+ years ago, has some sage advice about the timeless problem of dealing with other people.
According to the Yoga Sutras, there are 4 basic kinds of people you'll need to deal with in life:
In Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on this Yogic teaching (Sutra I.33), he says “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”
Keep in mind that the whole aim of yoga is to quiet your own mind. The only thing you can control about other people is the way you react to them. So, for the sake of your own sanity and serenity, yoga suggests that you adjust your attitude towards people in one of 4 ways, depending on who you're dealing with:
Happy People: be friendly towards them
Unhappy People: be compassionate
Virtuous People : delight in them
Wicked People: treat them equanimity/indifference
Satchidananda says that “If you use the right key with the right person, you will retain your peace.”
1.Dealing with happy people.
Key Attitude – Friendliness (Maitri)
Even 2500 years ago, there were people that weren’t happy about seeing other people happy. Some things never change. It's also a pretty common problem. You might be able to recall moments in your life where something great happened to someone else (they won a lottery, got a promotion, took a dream vacation) and instead of being happy for them, you felt the sting of frenvy: the feeling of being jealous or envious of a friend's good fortune. Maitri (friendliness) is the cure for that awful feeling.
The weird thing about jealousy and envy is that they don't trouble the other person, they only trouble you - and disturb your own peace of mind. When you catch yourself feeling this way, try replacing jealous thoughts with friendly ones, like “I’m happy that you’re happy.” Repeat. It might feel really unnatural at first, but with practice genuine feelings of happiness begin to grow. You can expand that into a full-on meditation and send practice being happy for your own happiness, then radiate that feeling outward toward every happy person you can think of. Repeat the following phrases, throwing as much sincerity behind them as you can muster up:
I’m happy that you’re happy.
May your happiness continue.
May your happiness grow.
May your happiness keep growing and expanding.
The best part? When you swap jealousy for happiness, you become happier! Win-win.
2.How to deal with unhappy people
Key Attitude – Compassion (Karuna)
Unhappy people. Ugh. They sure have a way of spreading around their dis-ease. Patanjali’s key to dealing with unhappy people is to show them compassion.
I was enjoying coffee on a patio a few weeks ago when a woman sat down at the table next to me and launched into a stream of consciousness rant about everything that’s wrong with the world according to the morning news. If you've read the news lately, you know there's a lot that's wrong. I really just wanted to enjoy my beautiful cup of coffee … on the patio … in the sunshine … and enjoy the moment after 16 months of pandemic-ing. I wished she would just. stop. talking. Her unhappiness was disturbing my mind. Then I remembered this teaching on compassion for unhappy people – the “Just Like Me” compassion practice – and decided to give it a try. As she was talking, I reminded myself of all the things we had in common:
This person wants to connect with others, just like me.
This person cares about other people, just like me.
This person worries about the state of the world, just like me.
This person wants to be content with life, just like me.
This person is learning about life, just like me.
And so on...
Then her husband came with coffee and sat down, and our conversation came to an end. The amazing thing is that this practice really did soothe my mind. By the time she was finished talking at me, I felt a lot less irritated. I used the compassion key – and it actually unlocked a sense of serenity with the situation.
Thank you for another winning life hack, yoga!
Here’s Pema Chodron explaining this wonderful teaching.
3 .How to deal with virtuous people
Key Attitude – Be Delighted By Them (Mudita)
Appreciate the way they use their gifts and talents for the benefit of the world, and try to imitate their great qualities. Don’t hate on the David Suzukis and Oprah Winfreys of the world for being ‘do gooders’; don’t try to drag them down or poke holes in them. Everyone has flaws. Don't let that stop you from recognizing the good in people. Appreciate virtuous qualities when you see them in others and aspire emulate them in your own life.
You don't have to do any of it perfectly. Just do something good and right because it's good and right. When you do, you've contribute to the overall amount of goodness in the world. Be delighted with yourself and everyone else that is striving in any way to make the world a kinder place. Yay, you!
4. How to deal with wicked (non-virtuous) people
Key Attitude – Treat Them With Indifference, Equanimity (Upeksha)
This is a tough one. How do you get to a place where morally bankrupt people do NOT disturb your mind? They sure disturb mine, but I'm working on it and inching my way slowly in that direction.
First, let's understand that if someone really doesn’t care about the way their actions affect other people, there is very little you can do about them. So, focus on yourself.
As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
When you cultivate an attitude of equanimity, you can still be moved by injustice in the world and motivated to make things better. BUT, you prioritize hanging on to your serenity in the process. Mindfulness meditation practice is a wonderful way to build your skill at noticing thoughts and emotions without getting swept up in them. So, when you encounter people that trigger strong thoughts and reactions, instead of responding reactively, you can just NOT TAKE THE BAIT. Mindfulness teaches you how to sit back, take a pause, and choose peace of mind instead.
Try this meditation for Cultivating Equanimity with Diana Winston:
These four key attitudes (friendliness, compassion, delight and indifference) are known as the Brahmaviharas. Keep these keys in your pocket always. When you use the right key with the right person, you unlock the possibility of serenity in your relationships with others.
"How long should you hold a yoga pose?"
Someone asked that question last week in yoga teacher training.
Meet Amar Bharti Ji (above).
He says he’s been holding his right arm up in the air since 1973. His story goes like this: Amar was an average middle-class family man. Then, one morning in 1970, he woke up and decided to dedicate his life to Shiva. He left his job, family and friends to dedicate himself to his spiritual practice.
Three years later, feeling he was still too connected to mortal life, Amar decided to make a sacrifice - his right arm. He raised it as a sign of his devotion - and never put it back down. Amar's sacrifice means his arm is no longer functional. He experienced years of excruciating pain. But the pain has now passed - and his arm is atrophied and frozen in this position.
Most of us would probably agree that 48 years is waaaay longer than we’d care to spend in any yoga pose. But you probably also have different goals for your practice than Amar does. So, how long should YOU hold a yoga pose? IT DEPENDS. On what YOU want to get out of your practice.
Do you want to relax? Build strength? Increase flexibility? Get a quick energy boost? Find enlightenment?
The key to getting the most out of your yoga practice lies in matching the goal you’re trying to achieve with the right kind of practice.
And the kind of practice you do will determine how long you hold your poses.
So, a great place to start answering the question 'how long should you hold a yoga pose?' is by identifying your goals. For example:
But before we dig any deeper into the benefits of different kinds of yoga practice, we’ll need to take a quick detour into some movement science. Here's a short video that walks you through the 3 basic styles of stretching we use in yoga practice and how they affect your body/mind.
1. Dynamic Stretching
2. Active Static Stretching
3. Passive Static Stretching
Benefits of Long Hold Times in Static Poses
Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga and Iyengar Yoga are a few examples of practices that are famous for using long hold times – but they do it in dramatically different ways to achieve completely different outcomes.
In Iyengar Yoga there’s a strong focus on alignment and on holding active static poses. This style of practice helps you:
I asked one of my early yoga teachers, Nesta Falladown, a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, how long you should hold a yoga pose. She had a long list of 'it depends' in addition to the ones we've already covered. She says:
“it depends on experience in practice, age of the student, how they
feel at the time of practice, what it is they need on that particular day,
what their state of mind is, weather, the level of difficulty of the asana,
the state of the breath …” She goes on to say that ' A short answer and good guideline is
to start with shorter holdings and build up. Start with 15 seconds
or less if stamina is not strong.
BKS Iyengar suggests holding:
She recommends reading “Light on Yoga” or “Yoga: A Gem for Women” for more specific detail on how to perform each asana from the Iyengar perspective.
If you specifically want to increase your flexibility, the current ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) exercise guidelines are to do static stretching:
Yin Yoga focuses on long holds of passive static poses and gentle stretching. This style of practice helps you:
Restorative Yoga focuses on holding passive static poses for long periods of time. In Restorative, you’re aiming to get into a position that’s completely comfortable and just relax - without stretching or strengthening anything. Restorative yoga:
Benefits of Short Hold Times in Dynamic Poses
Vinyasa Flow and Ashtanga-style yoga practices use dynamic stretching, which helps you:
Sometimes you’ll experience several of these styles of movement within a single yoga practice. This often happens under the umbrella of ‘Hatha’ Yoga. And, of course, every yoga practice with a Restorative Savasana.
So, how long should you hold a yoga pose? It depends.
Whether you’re challenging yourself to lie down and relax for 20 minutes, to hold a plank for 30 seconds, to get to the end of a 70-minute dynamic Vinaysa Flow - or to hold your arm in the air for the rest of your life as a sign of devotion – the point is to meet YOUR goals and transform YOUR limits, whatever they may be … and however long it takes.
These stretching and flexibility guidelines are in Table 5.6 of ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 11th Edition.
When I took my first intensive yoga teacher training, a classmate asked if I felt like yoga was changing me. I hadn’t really thought about it until that moment, but I remember saying “I feel like I am starting to appreciate my body for what it can DO rather than the way it LOOKS.”
That answer kind of took me by surprise. Years later, in Exercise Psychology class, I learned that it’s typical for women to view their bodies as ‘objects’ - but hadn’t realized I saw myself that way until the moment I put it into words. I also learned that yoga is especially effective at shifting people out of objectified body consciousness and that yoga people tend to be more satisfied with their bodies, with fewer body shape concerns. What I would learn over the next 15+ years of dedicated study and practice is that:
Seismic shifts in self-perception happen when you learn to pay attention to your body.
And yoga is really, really good at getting you to pay attention to your body.
The Buddha said developing awareness of physical sensations is the foundation of mindfulness training. And for good reason. You have to have a body to have any kind of experience at all! Your body, and the sensations moving through your body, are always taking place in the present moment. When you focus your attention on sensations, you aren’t feeling what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. You can only feel what is happening RIGHT NOW - which makes sensory awareness the perfect foundation for anchoring your mindfulness practice. If you’re focused on how you feel, you are present in the moment.
When you shine your ‘attentional spotlight’ on any of your 5 senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell), you are using a form of sensory awareness called exteroception. In yoga, you use this type of awareness when you feel your body in contact with the ground, consciously focus your gaze (drishti) or focus on the sound of a gong in meditation. These types of awareness practices can enrich your relationship with the world around you by enhancing your sense of connectedness to your environment.
Try this Meditation on the 5 Senses
What you may not know is that you have more than 5 senses!
Your 6th and 7th senses are called proprioception and interoception.
PROPRIOCEPTION – YOUR 6TH SENSE
This is your ability to sense your body position without any visual feedback. When you’re driving and you move your foot between the brake and gas pedals without having to look at your feet, that’s the magic of proprioception at work. A well-known proprioceptive test is the ‘sobriety test’ where you close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose with your index finger (or not). Try it.
You have probably noticed that there aren't any mirrors in a yoga studio. When you’re in Warrior II, for example, and you’re learning to sense whether your shoulders are elevated or relaxed … or if your wrists are in line with your shoulders … without the help of a mirror or any other visual feedback, you are honing your proprioceptive sense.
This process of observing and refining your body’s positional sense - without thinking about your body in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’; ‘attractive’ or ‘unattractive’ - gets you to see yourself through a lens of non-judgmental self-awareness. The more you practice seeing yourself this way, the more natural it becomes to view yourself with curiosity and objectivity rather than through a lens of criticism, judgment or social comparison. As you train your proprioceptive sense and become more coordinated, balanced and confident your sense of appreciation for your body grows too.
INTEROCEPTION: YOUR 7TH SENSE
Interoception is your ability to sense signals and rhythms that originate from deep inside your own body. It allows you to feel your heartbeat and sense muscle tension. It also lets you know when you’re hungry or thirsty; if you’re tired or have low blood sugar.
Interoception can also help you to regulate your emotions. You need to be able to correctly sense the physiological changes that go along with different emotions so that you can interpret what you’re feeling. For example, the experience of ‘fear’ feels like shallow breathing, a racing heart and increased muscle tension. Your ability to be aware of and identify different kinds of body sensations translates into your ability to notice feelings like stress, anxiety or tension and deal with them in the early stages.
This is essential to your well-being. Many modern diseases are believed to be ‘diseases of dissociation’ from the body. Anxiety, depression, gut disorders and eating disorders are some of the ailments that fall into this category. In these illnesses, awareness is skewed. If you aren’t able to correctly monitor internal processes - if you can’t tell in the early stages that something is off - it’s hard to take the right steps to restore your body’s delicate balance. Training interoception teaches you to hear your body’s ‘whispers’ now, so you don’t have to hear it ‘scream’ later on!
Norman Farb, a researcher that studies the relationship between interoception and health, suggests that as you get better at this type of sensing, you learn:
Developing presence and agency means that you practice listening to your body and giving it what it needs.
Many of us have been desk-bound for the majority of our lives, and have had to learn to live ‘from the neck up’ in a job that demands you pay attention to deadlines and schedules rather than your body’s biological urges to eat, rest, use the bathroom or move. A mindful movement practice can put you back in touch with your senses. As you get better at reading your body’s signals you can get better at giving yourself what you need to keep yourself in balance.
Here's one of my very favourite interoception practices. The Heart Rhythm Meditation
Our brains have two distinct ways of operating:
Mindfulness practice develops your ability to be in the ‘direct experience’ state. Focusing on direct sensory experience filters out your relentless ‘default mode’ mental chatter. When you catch yourself telling stories about yourself like: “I don’t have the body to wear that” or “I’m too old”, you are operating in ‘default mode’.
Mindfully focusing on sensations helps you develop your ability to tell the difference between what is objectively true (present moment sensation) and what is story-telling and judgment (your thoughts about what is happening). When you focus on bodily sensations, you give your mind a break from ‘thoughts gone wild.’ Once you’ve trained yourself to notice the difference between thoughts about reality and reality itself, you can decide which thoughts are worth paying attention to and which ones to ignore.
Your brain is a random thought generator. It is going to spin stories because that is what brains do.
You don’t have to believe or listen to every story your mind conjures up.
Practice sticking to the facts about your experiences. Focus on body sensations and functions. Statements like “I just held plank pose for 30 seconds. I am getting stronger.” or “I really let go in savasana today. I feel so relaxed.” are good examples of ways to think about your body that foster appreciation for your body by putting you in touch with objective truth and direct experience.
Learning to draw your attention inward and ‘sense yourself’ with curiosity, accuracy and objectivity - leads to greater understanding, respect and love for your body. While this isn’t the purpose of practicing yoga, it is a wonderful side effect😊
Farb, Norman et al. “Interoception, contemplative practice, and health.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 6 763. 9 Jun. 2015, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00763
LIBERATED BEING PODCAST - Interoception, Contemplative Practice and Health with Norm Farb
LIBERATED BEING PODCAST - Interoception in Practice with Bo Forbes