When I was teaching yoga in Princeton, I had a number of students that made me nervous.
These weren’t just any students; they were scholars at the Institute for Advanced Study – the place where Einstein spent his final two and a half decades as a faculty member. These were some of the brightest minds in the world, and to make matters worse for me, some of them were from India, the birth place of yoga.
All I could do was present yoga from my point of view, and to my surprise, these students kept showing up. It turned out that my fear, as is usual with fear, was totally unfounded. These were people eager for a yoga practice, and as they opened up to me, I became aware of their special challenges.
The student’s minds were both a blessing and a curse. They had incredible abilities to think, to reason, and to remember. Many of them had been recognized as “special” early on and suffered under the burden of high expectations. But the biggest challenge for most, if not all, was the tyranny of their over-active minds, the curse of brilliance.
One student described his mind to me as a race car speeding around a track, a race car that never stopped. Not even for one second. And there were memories that he wished to forget, but couldn’t.
At the Institute, they feel a special connection to Einstein, so we came to use him as an inspiration, a frame of reference for our practice. Einstein was fond of play, of taking breaks from research. I used his quote, “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself” to encourage self-inquiry and to wonder if our true existence transcends and incorporates more than just our bodies and minds.
We found together, that even for the most active of minds, it is possible to step outside of the mind, to realize it as a tool, to give it the opportunity to take a much needed rest. For some of these students, who had never given their minds a rest in their entire lives, this was one of the most rewarding feelings they could have, to final get a bit of a rest. We surmised, with no proof other than observation, that the mind works even better after getting some rest and relaxation.
My classes, influence by these students, were often focused on the mind. The beautiful thing was that we were able to experiment with my ideas and suggestions together, and they were able to report the results.
We found a number of things:
1. Exercise helps to calm the mind.
2. The mind is more receptive to relaxation techniques after exercise.
3. You can bring yourself to realize that your mind in not you, but rather, it is a tool for your use.
4. You don’t need to and shouldn’t believe all of your thoughts.
5. You can train yourself to decrease, if not eliminate, repetitive thinking.
6. Your mind, like other muscles, seems to have more energy and work better after giving it a rest.
It was amazing to see the benefits for these students over time – people who I was originally intimidated by, but whom I came to realize had their own specific challenges, like any of us. I believed that the challenges they faced could be overcome, and I believe we are all capable of making these positive transformations in our own lives.
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