I first studied the word “equanimity” while reading Bhagavad Gita for the first time, which includes this passage from chapter 2, verse 48: Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjun, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yog.
After that, I began to see yoga as a practice of deepening my comfort and steadiness in all places of my life. I began teaching my yoga classes with this in mind, as well. Slowly, this philosophy slipped into my life.
I could suddenly stay present and breathe during a child’s tantrum. I could sit, crowded in the back seat on an airplane. I didn’t have to instantly address any and all of the discomforts of my body. I wasn’t ignoring my body, I was simply deciding whether or not it was okay to stay present a bit longer with the discomfort, and in the meantime, explore the sensation.
When’s the last time we’ve really dropped into what hunger feels like? Generally, we rush to satisfy it.
When’s the last time we’ve really tasted the meal we grabbed to satisfy our hunger? Generally, we’ve moved on to the next thing.
And the next, and the next.
Equanimity is a bulwark against living a life on auto-pilot, chasing one comfort and relief after the next.
Equanimity is not a passive word. It is not complacency or apathy, or even “it is what it is” — all of which connote a shrug of disregard toward the current circumstances.
With equanimity, we focus our attention and light on the events taking place within and outside of the body. No sound, scent or sensation is excluded from the practice. Rather, everything is included — pleasure, pain, delight, sadness, frustration, contentment.
A practice of equanimity in our American culture could not be more challenging, nor could it be more needed. We live in a world where every itch must be immediately scratched, every hunger satisfied, every desire met. Our culture teaches us that certain aspects of our humanness are unwelcome in this space, through that role, or with this person. We have little practice in being and remaining wholly connected to and at one with ourselves.
Lately, I’ve been taking hot yoga classes.
For years, I had sworn them off, as they are uncomfortable to a whole new level than a regular yoga class. I never used to understand the fascination. To me, it always seemed a little ridiculous to have to add the element of heat. Part of me still believes this.
And yet, I’m engaging with this renewed interest of mine from a place of practicing equanimity. I’m bringing myself into discomfort, consciously, so I can strengthen my relationship to it.
So, when sweat is dripping down my face, I resist the urge to wipe it off immediately. I might choose to do so, I might not — but if I do, I reach for my towel with mindfulness and engagement, rather than swiping or slapping at my brow.
When we are led to come out of a pose, I go as slowly as I can, releasing the discomfort by the moment rather than all at once. This goes double for poses I dislike (I see you, Eagle Pose!).
When we’re given the suggestion to get a sip of water, I ask myself if that’s what my body needs, rather than just following a direction.
Equanimity is a practice of waking up to everything around us, noticing with equal attention both our comfort and discomfort, being neither attached nor averse to either. And then, making choices that are aligned with our best interest, rather than simply repeating past behavior or following expected routes.
Equanimity is ultimately a practice of living more fully and awake — because the longer we can stay present through and experience the inevitable uncomfortable moments of life, the longer we will be able to stay present to experience the joyful ones as well.
And living life this way is yoga.