Monday, May 11, 2015

The Yoga in the Mirror

"Recognize that the other person is you," is the first of Yogi Bhajan's five sutras, and a founding principle of the practice of Yoga. A critical step on the path to self-realization is seeing ourselves in others and others in ourselves.

You have heard and read that Yoga means union. The state of Yoga is the realization of unity within and without, a felt understanding that we are not separate from God, from the Universe or from one another. In the Christian Bible there is a verse written by the Apostle Paul, describing the feeling of this union: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord," (Romans 8:38-39).

Yogis, Christians, and mystics from other traditions believe that love and unity are the true nature of reality. Based on this belief, when looking at others, we see our own face, and the face of God. But when we stop to look at the world, even just at our own hearts, there is so much strife and division. Our experiences of unity are fleeting--abundant evidence of separation and conflict appears to contradict Yoga.

Lofty ideals and spiritual experiences aside, how can we practice recognizing the other person as our self? In our day-to-day experience, is there a practical way to see ourselves, perhaps even God, in our human interactions?

In movement practices like dance and postural yoga there is a concept called mirroring; the student replicates the movement of the teacher and vice versa. The mirroring technique is also used in psychotherapy as a tool to enable the therapist to empathize with what the client is feeling. Infants mirror their parents and all of us subconsciously mirror one another. In our brains, we have specific neurons, called mirror neurons, that fire both when we perform a specific action and when we observe the same action being performed by someone else.

To further our physical, mental and spiritual growth, we can apply the practice of mirroring to our relationships and other experiences. Growth is rarely easy, and sometimes it hurts. Other times, it feels exhilarating. Using our relationships as a mirror, we'll experience both ends of this spectrum.

When we see something we dislike in another person, we experience a negative emotional reaction. This unpleasant feeling is a cue to look more deeply and recognize in that person an aspect of our self we need to heal in order to be whole. On the flip side, when we notice qualities we appreciate in someone else, it makes us feel good inside; we may feel attraction, admiration and affection. These feelings are also a prompt to appreciate the same qualities within us, to love within ourselves what we love in others. This is a blissful path to self-love and acceptance, experiencing the moments when we can say, "that's me! I love this because it resonates, because it's familiar." Carl Jung once said, "The meeting of personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."

Ultimately the practice of mirroring leads to greater depths of empathy and compassion. The field of neuroscience has proven that our mirror neurons play an essential part in our human ability to empathize. For those of us who feel spiritually inclined, mirroring can lead to a more personal experience of God, a fervent search, seeking Him/Her in the faces of everyone we meet, in each interaction.

On a very concrete level, we can use mirroring in our postural yoga practice, in our breath work and in meditation. When we feel an aversion or an attraction to certain postures, it's a cue to go deeper, to explore and find out which aspects of our self we need to integrate, eg. do inversions scare us or do they feel exhilarating? are we restless in deep forward bends? why might we enjoy twists or arm balances but dislike standing balancing postures? which thoughts tend to recur in meditation? Most importantly: can we accept all of this with empathy and compassion?

Try some conscious mirroring, maybe for one day, or one week. Whenever you can remember, stay tuned into your feelings as you work, as you interact, as you practice yoga, and find the reflection of yourself in all you see. Use all of your experience on the path of integration. All you see and do and feel is valuable on your journey to wholeness, to unity, to Yoga.

We are the mirror, as well as the face in it. 
We are tasting the taste this minute, of eternity. 
We are pain,
and what cures pain, both.
We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.

I want to hold you close like a lute,
so we can cry out with loving.

You would rather throw stones at a mirror?
I am your mirror, and here are the stones. 

-Music Master - Rumi

Image credit: Mirror Me by 60's Girl, Deviant Art

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