Aging with Wisdom and Grace
Many of my latest writings have been about the multi-dimensional layers of being a human, like our physical body, our mind and our sense of vitality. Today I will conclude this exploration of what yoga calls the Kosha model (the framework of layers) with some discussion about the Vijnanamaya Kosha; our intuitive mind, wisdom and clarity. It is the witness consciousness that illuminates all aspects of ourselves – the pleasant, the unpleasant the beautiful and the ugly. With practice we can gain understanding, acceptance and integration of all parts of our being.
No one can explain what wisdom really means, but it often comes with life experience. It is an accumulation of knowledge, good judgment and grace. This concept can be applied to many areas of our life including our physicality, our social behavior, and our sense of spirituality.
Physical grace can be seen in one being self-possession in their physical expressions. One's posture and movements convey a sense of comfort, joy and well-being. Moving through our lives with awareness develops our physical poise, which can carry over into how we move, dress, walk, or dance. This can benefit our flexibility, strength, range of motion, balance, along with comfort and pleasure of being in our own body.
An example of this physical grace can be seen in the practice of yoga. While holding a posture we can observe, or adjust our position and embody the core qualities of the pose. We engage our inner witness in order to listen to the body and work with it to choose practices that fit our needs and limitations. Downward-Facing Dog pose is an excellent pose for this. According to Joseph LePage, the core quality of this pose is the integration of body, mind, and spirit. It helps to create a relaxed state of awareness, which is a key goal of yoga practice. With some practice, many people find it is strengthening and relaxing at the same time. I invite you to try it out sometime. You can start by using a chair and then try it on the floor if you want.
Cultivating calm awareness can be a big part of moving gracefully through social interactions too. Think of the last person who actively listened to what you had to say and talked with wisdom and understanding. How did that make you feel? People who do that are exhibiting social grace, the ability to make others feel seen, heard and connected with.
On the other hand, when dealing with difficult social situations cultivating grace under pressure is something worth doing. The breath can be a helpful tool. A breath technique you can use to calm your mind while deciding how to manage your energy, emotions and actions in a tricky situation is called the Relaxation Breath.
1. Sit or stand comfortably.
2. Inhale and exhale through your nose.
3. Pause after each exhalation and silently count “one thousand one, one thousand two.”
4.Continue this for 2-3 minutes.
Spiritual grace comes when we are guided by our inner teacher and the wisdom within us. Trusting our intuition means believing in our understanding of something without the need for external evidence or reasoning.
“Where our common intelligence can be called “instinctive,” we call this higher intelligence “insight or intuition.” - B.K.S. Iyengar, from Light on Life.
Spiritual contentment is often found in people who possess equanimity – mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain. It is a practice of integrating and accepting whatever life brings you even if it is challenging. Developing the emotional intelligence to be able to honor and include all of our emotions, not just happiness, is a means to move towards equanimity. We can consider befriending even the emotions that our culture teaches us are negative and bad, like sadness, anger and grief.
One way to embody this expression of acceptance and receptivity is with a simple hand gesture, known as a Pushpaputa mudra. Start by finding a comfortable seated or standing posture. Then place the sides of your hands together with the palms up. For a few minute emphasize the inhalations. Welcome in all of the thoughts, sensations and emotions you are experiencing in the moment. With each breath in imagine taking in whatever it is that will serve you the best. Consider what it is you would like to bring in. What are you opening your hands to? Draw out your inhalations and feel as full an inhalation as you comfortably can. Relax the hands to down and open your eyes.