10/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Yoga Pose Of The Week: How To Find Your Inner Calm

"Your trials did not come to punish you, but to awaken you--to make you realize you are part of Spirit and that just behind the spark of your life is the flame of infinity."

The state of the world can seem overwhelmingly complex and frightening. It's easy to get sucked into mental chaos, get used to it, and stay there for the rest of your life, believing that's all there is. But contrary to popular belief, it's not outer chaos that's the problem. Stress and worry come from the ego mind's desire to organize, categorize, and control the outside world. It's not the world, it's the thinking that's the issue.

For example, India is one of the most outwardly chaotic places in the universe. When I first made the journey, it was like visiting another planet. Cows, pigs, and dogs are everywhere, the air is full of dust, everything is covered in a layer of dirt, very little that's mechanical actually works. People--normal, middle class working people-lie down and take naps on the sidewalk when they get sleepy. A cacophony of bells, car horns, people yelling and praying, music playing, and motors running fills the air perpetually. The appearance is chaotic and seems like a delirious dream, and yet the feeling I have (and many other thousands of visitors who return again and again) when I'm there is one of utter peace and harmony with the universe. And what I find exceptional about the people who live there is their rare capacity to embrace intense chaos--or what would seem to be chaos to a visitor's eye, and enjoy life with an unmatched depth of gratitude, unfettered by the circus of life dancing all around them.

It seems that inner surrender is the main thing. You can try to separate yourself as much as want. You can work on attracting situations conducive to inner peace, but it's not really much of an accomplishment to maintain some semblance of tranquility in a climate controlled, well decorated, padded room. What happens when you're forced to walk from your front door to your car? Or visit relatives? Or go to the market? You can't control everything and everyone. And how embarrassing is it to lose it, flipping your lid at a parking attendant after you've spent 20 years in meditation practices? If you can't maintain inner calm amidst chaos, you need more practice, because chaos is precisely where you need inner calm.

Yoga practice can give you a taste of deep inner peace, but there's no reason to limit your experience of bliss and a quiet mind to yoga class. When you're surrounded by your normal chaos, it can be a battle, but that's the most important time to practice what you learn with yoga practice. If you can stay aware of your mind's thoughts and reactions, the outward chaos loses its power over you. This is an aspect of true freedom: unwavering peace despite the conditions of the world.

Unwavering peace might start in a silent forest on an untroubled rock near a placid lake, but you must learn to extend it into your daily life. That doesn't mean controlling or changing the world, it means loving the world and accepting the world (including yourself) exactly as they are. If you want to change the world or yourself, and you have that ability, go for it. Surrender to that change and be that change. If not, learn to accept what is. Happiness arises from acceptance of yourself, others, the world, and this moment.

Pose of the Week: Samakonasana (sideways splits)


Sit with your legs as wide apart as you can comfortably. Then, keeping your hips on the ground, lean your body forward between your legs. You can use your arms on the ground in front of you for leverage or comfort. Try to drop the backs of your knees to the ground. Take 5 deep breaths in this position, or more, surrendering as you maintain awareness of your breathing.