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The Bhagavad Gita On and Off the Mat

How I applied the Gita's teachings physically, mentally, and emotionally.

This article is all about the Bhagavad Gita. If you have no idea what that is, no worries, we’re about to dive into a (very brief) explainer.

I taught a workshop on the Bhagavad Gita for the Davannayoga teacher trainees, and in preparation for that, I dove back into the text and decided to theme my morning Vinyasa class around the Gita. I planned an Arjuna-inspired warrior flow (more on that below)!

Background on The Bhagavad Gita

DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind that this is a VERY brief explanation and that the depths of the Bhagavad Gita know no bounds. If you would like to learn more, please reach out, I’d love to geek out on the Gita with you!

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Indian text that’s all about yoga. On the surface, it is a tale of a kingdom divided; more specifically, of the ensuing war over that kingdom. On a deeper level, it is a tale of overcoming self-doubt, of non-attachment, trusting in a higher power, and knowing your life purpose and doing it with all of your might. These things become possible through the practice of yoga.

Our protagonist is Arjuna, an archer and warrior prince. He is tasked with going to battle to win back the kingdom that has been wrongfully taken by his cousin (who is a terrible king who is mistreating the people of the kingdom). As such, he must fight against his own family, former teachers, and friends. He is deeply troubled by this task. Arjuna represents us, humankind, with our ego, our self-doubts, our fears, and fluctuating thoughts.

Arjuna is counseled in this tale by Krishna, the human embodiment of divinity itself (you could call him god, but that gets into tricky territory, as this term means something different to nearly everyone…we won’t go down that rabbit hole this time around). Krishna represents higher consciousness.

The battle that Arjuna must fight represents life, and the battlefield represents the mind. In order to conquer the battle of life, we must gain control over the battlefield of the mind. Lastly, Arjuna’s opponents on the battlefield represent our negative thoughts and habits; all of the obstacles that we must overcome in order to live our life’s purpose.

Throughout the 700 verses of the Gita, Krishna counsels Arjuna on the disciplines of yoga, and how to use them in order to fulfill his life’s purpose (to fight this righteous fight). He makes no mention of asana (the physical postures), but I like to use asana as a vehicle for deeper teachings.

The Bhagavad Gita On the Mat

On the mat, we followed the trajectory of Arjuna’s struggle through a warrior-themed vinyasa flow. We explored all of the warrior postures (including Warrior 4), stepping into Arjuna’s shoes in each one. 

In Warrior I, taking stock of what we stand for and standing firmly in service of that. In Warrior II,  taking aim at that which stands in our way. In Warrior III, charging into the heart of battle with conviction and strength. And in Warrior 4 (child’s pose), taking the time to reflect, to breathe, and to take the attention inwards. 

The class culminated in Bow Pose, were we became Arjuna’s bow; embracing the idea that as warriors in this life we have all the tools necessary to succeed because we are those tools.

The Bhagavad Gita Off the Mat

So my family was in town during the week that I was teaching this Gita workshop, which I absolutely loved, but let me tell you…having family visit is a true lesson in patience. Not so much my brother – he’s as easy going as humans come, so having him here was a breeze. My mom, however, was a different story.

I’ll take a moment to tell you that I am a huge mamma’s girl. I love my mom something fierce; she’s my best friend. I lived at home for my last four or five years in New York, and if I could live at home for the rest of my life, I would totally do it. Living with my mom was easy.

Because living with her was so easy, I assumed that having her visit would be easy too. It wasn’t. Apparently, when she’s out of her comfort zone, my mom is super needy. Like I needed to plan every moment of her every day level of needy. And she complains a lot. It was incredibly frustrating.

Here I was, trying to share this incredible place that I love so much (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico) with two people I love so much, and I was meeting resistance from her. I found myself getting annoyed with her, not wanting her in my space. It was not how I expected this to go.

How The Gita Helped

I bring this up not just to rant about my unfulfilled expectations, but to share with you how the Gita helped me get through it. Since I was scheduled to teach this Gita workshop on the Friday that my family was here, so I snuck in some time during the week (very early mornings, before anyone stirred) to prepare. As I did, I came to a couple of verses in which Krishna provides what I think is a true life hack (Chapter 2, Verses 62 & 63).

The crux of these verses is this: When we base our happiness on external factors like achieving success (and avoiding failure) and experiencing pleasure (and avoiding pain), we become attached to these things in order to feel happy.

So instead of being unconditionally, radically happy in our own true selves, and then going out and having success or failure, we’re dependent on that success for our happiness. From this attachment comes desire and expectation – we’ve got to have success, we have to achieve X, things need to turn out the way we plan.

From that desire arises anger (or unhappiness, or dissatisfaction, or frustration), because we inevitably don’t always get what we want (this is important; we’ll come back to it in a minute).

From anger comes delusion and loss of memory – we get in our heads about the thing we’re upset about and we forget every other time we got upset. From this delusion and confusion, we lose perspective. We forget that the last time we got upset, whatever we were upset about was not that important, and it’s not that important this time.

Now here’s the life hack – it has to do with that bold sentence: Whenever there is anger, there is a desire or expectation that is being thwarted. So anytime you experience frustration, anger, or discontent, ask yourself “what desire is being thwarted?”

When you’ve identified the desire that’s being thwarted, you have three choices:

  1. Fulfill that desire. Is it something within your control? Can you make it come to fruition?
  2. Renounce that desire. If you can’t control it, let that shit go. 
  3. Stay angry.

As I read these verses and contemplated them, it hit me like a giant ocean wave to the face. I had an expectation and desire for how this visit from my family would go. When it didn’t go that way, I became frustrated. That frustration was on me, not my mom.

So I looked at my choices – was this something I could control? Most certainly not. I can’t change the way my mom reacts to being out of her comfort zone; that’s for her to grapple with. So I couldn’t fulfill my desire or expectation, which left me with two options: let it go, or stay frustrated. It was so easy when I looked at it like that.

I hope this life hack can be of help to you. We all experience frustrations, sadness, and anger in life. We’re human. But if we can learn to identify these feelings when they crop up and identify the source of those feelings, we’ll be able to deal with them in a much more conscious, mindful way, and hopefully, avoid falling into anger.

The Gita is full of gems like these. If you’d like to learn more about the Bhagavad Gita, please comment below or shoot me an email!

Originally published at roamingyogi.co

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