An Economical 45 minute Practice

14 Jan

Shopping for our Souls

If there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud of the global financial crisis, for me, it’s that I’ve become a choosier consumer as of late. Sure, the years of yogic living went a long way towards curing me of the belief that I could shop my way to the good life, but the bottom had to fall out of the economy before I eased up on the spiritual materialism.

You know what I’m talking about: spiritual materialism is, at it’s most obvious, a fascination with mala beads, statuettes of Ganesh, eco-friendly yoga mats, and designer yoga togs; it’s the impulse to continually expand an already sizable library of spiritual reading material, CDs, and DVDs; and it’s the burning desire to be at every workshop, yoga conference and retreat in the hopes of gleaning some practical wisdom. I know I’m not alone in this because American yogis are estimated to spend almost $3 billion USD annually on classes and products.

Spiritual materialism probably goes hand-in-hand with an increase in spiritual choice—which is a good thing in and of itself. Yoga practitioners today have an unprecedented range of options available to them: there are more brands of yoga than ever before; many North American cities now have a yoga studio on every corner, while places like New York have two, three or more per block; saints and sages can be seen at stops on their world tours or accessed online; and book stores everywhere have entire shelves devoted to yoga and meditation. It’s all right there at our fingertips, and that’s a real blessing.

Don’t forget, widespread access to yoga is a relatively recent phenomenon. Eastern spirituality and the practices of yoga really came into the North American consciousness less than 40 years ago when India became both pilgrimage site and playground for throngs of hippies seeking mind-expansion and a good time. Ram Dass wrote his landmark bestseller, Be Here Now, in 1971 after meeting his guru, the Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba. David Williams, the first non-Indian to be taught the Ashtanga Yoga system of asanas from K. Pattabhi Jois, brought the first vinyasa yoga practice to America in 1975. Still considered a part of the counterculture, yoga only moved fully into the mainstream in the 1990s.

The thing is, too much choice can be a curse, and easy access to abundant options can give rise to a number of pitfalls. These include:

■ apathy (“I’ll start yoga, painting, and gardening when I retire.”)

■ indecision (“Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kripalu… where to begin?”)

■ over-ambition (“I’m just starting my fourth yoga teacher training.”)

■ superficiality (“Been there, done that, got the chakra T-shirt.”)

In this age of almost infinite choice, the art of choosing wisely is a practice unto itself.

In the Yoga Sutras, the sage Patanjali recommends we cultivate viveka, or discriminative wisdom, as a way to end the pain and suffering caused by our inability to see what is real and our tendency to look for comfort in the unreal or disposable (II.26). In short, you’ve got it made if you can discern the difference between the real and the unreal. Easy enough, right?

Perhaps not. As Swami Satchidananda explains, the exercise of discriminative wisdom goes beyond simply distinguishing between sugar and salt . However, we can start to cultivate viveka by taking our time, doing our research and looking honestly at our own motivations as we make mindful choices in our lives.

In a way, we’re fortunate to live at a time when it’s all up for grabs. During times like this, the implications of our actions are thrown into high relief. Everything matters. Everything counts. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about voting with my dollars and shopping—or choosing not to shop—for the sake of my soul.

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