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How Yoga Can Help You Make a Change

Over the years, I've formed the habit of turning inward during times of transition and confusion, and asking for a helpful teaching. Much of the time, it's the same teachings that come up again and again. Below, I offer you seven core yogic instructions that will help you navigate radical change.

1. Recognize that change is inevitable.

Buddha's second Noble Truth is called the truth of impermanence—meaning, change is inevitable, continuous, and unavoidable. Everything changes. Just realizing that fact can protect you from that most disempowering of reactions to change: "Why me?"

What the Buddhists call impermanence, a tantric yogi would call Shakti—the intrinsic, dynamic power of the divine. Shakti is the intelligence of the cosmos, the creative force within all of life. On the deepest level, the endlessly change-full nature of life is the hallmark of Shakti, the cosmic, divine feminine energy that continually brings things into manifest being, keeps them going for a while, then dissolves them. Every moment, every enterprise, every cell is part of this flow of creation, sustenance, and dissolution. This flow is happening on a microcosmic level and at a macrocosmic level simultaneously. It's happening through the ups and downs of your life, the flow of growth, decay and renewal in your cells and in the world, in the flow of thoughts and emotions in your mind. If you understand the divine nature of the process of change, it becomes easier to greet change with honor, surrender to it, and even partner with it.

2. View the change as an initiation.

In traditional societies, every phase of life was regarded as an initiation into a new way of being, and marked with a ceremony that often asked the initiate to step into the unknown in some way, whether through a prayer vigil, a night spent in darkness, or even answering questions that tested their skills. Nowadays, we don't always do the ceremonies, but we still undergo initiations. Changing careers, moving to a new city, deciding to go back to school or drop out of school are all initiatory experiences, in that they ask you to step outside of habits, test your skills, and, for a time, inhabit the unknown.

More, each of these changes will subtly or even dramatically redefine you. You won't be quite the same person after you step out of the old situation and into the new. The change itself, if you go through it consciously, is the doorway into the next stage of growth-one that propels you into a deeper relationship with yourself and the world. An example: Twenty-four-year-old Frances accepted a job offer to teach English in Seoul, then freaked when she got there, overwhelmed by loneliness and culture shock. What convinced her to stay was recognizing the ways in which being a foreigner freed her from old self-descriptions and helped her find a new way of being herself. When your life is changing, consider the ways in which the change will expand you, teach you about yourself, show you both your limits and your capacity to move beyond them. The more you can accept this as an initiation process, the easier it is to discover the gifts in change.

3. Practice meditation to stay steady through uncertainty.

The deep uncertainty that arises during processes of change is perhaps the most daunting part of the experience. Why? Because a true change process will involve surprises, reversals, false starts, and periods of coming to a dead halt. In these moments, you're likely to experience fear, anxiety, anger, irritability, sadness, grief, and the physical and psychological contraction that often goes along with feeling uncertain and unclear. Your gut tightens and your mind begins spinning one of your victim stories: your worst-case-scenario story, or your "I just don't have what it takes" story, or your "I'll never get what I need" story. And your next move is nearly always some form of escape. You turn on the TV, or eat something, or call a friend to complain.

But the real antidote to the discomfort of uncertainty is to move into it rather than away from it. You connect to the way the discomfort feels in your body. You let yourself feel it. You let go of the story that inevitably accompanies feelings of discomfort. And you just stay present with yourself, with your feelings, without resistance or expectation. The more you can be present with uncertainty, the more you can let the change process take place naturally and effectively.

It's much easier to stay steady through a big change process when you have a meditation practice because meditation teaches you how to keep going back into your center, the core Awareness that is your contact point with the Self, and that aligns your individual consciousness with the heart of the universe. Your meditation practice can be as simple as attending to the breath or repeating a mantra, or as subtle as tuning into the awareness that knows you're thinking, or as physically centering as breathing into the heart. The important thing is that it connects you to your innate sense of Being, the Presence inside you.

11/9/2011 5:00:00 AM