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Jivamukti Yoga Focus of the Month: February: Comfort in the City

Sthira sukham asanam PYS II.46 The connection to the Earth should be steady and joyful

Connection implies a relationship; Earth includes all of manifestation-all other beings and things; steady means consistent; and where there is joy there is a feeling of ease and comfort. Most people aren’t comfortable in their bodies, with their feelings, in their jobs, in their relationships or with the other people and situations they encounter daily. The cause of this discomfort lies in how uncomfortable we make the lives of others. Since we all would like to be more comfortable, more at ease with ourselves and others, it might be helpful to look into practical ways that we could bring more comfort into the lives of others and in turn benefit our own lives.

To the yogi comfort does not mean seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Whatever we want for ourselves we can have if we are willing to provide it for others first. No lasting happiness can be had for ourselves by depriving others of happiness. So if we want to be comfortable then we should do our best to provide comfort for others. As we reach out to comfort others we discover the universal shared sources of lasting comfort, and we dispel the illusion that shortsighted self-centered pleasure will result in lasting comfort for ourselves or others.

Often when we experience pleasure it is fleeting, because instead of enjoying the moment we become worried about when it will end. When we find ourselves in a painful situation we try to get out of it. But comfort is available to anyone at anytime-it can be found in the midst of pleasure or pain-if one is willing to look deeply into things. The yogic concept of comfort is that ease comes from an inner condition, untainted by outer circumstances. We could call it portable comfort-because you can take it wherever you go! The familiar example is the yogi lying on a bed of nails-in utmost comfort. How does he do it? What’s the trick? No trick, unless you call magic a trick. But magic is just a shift in perception. Yogic practices are magical practices designed to help you to be able to shift your perception of yourself and others in any given moment under any circumstance and in any situation.

The enlightened yogi doesn’t view the world as coming “at them” and they never see themselves as a victim of circumstance or being victimized by others. An enlightened yogi is comfortable with all beings, in all situations and under all circumstances. In order to begin to acquire these types of skills a necessary first step is to develop compassion, for truly the best way to uplift our own lives is to do all we can to uplift the lives of others. Yoga practices provide us with practical ways to expand our perception and try to see the world through the eyes of others, touch the Earth with their claws, or hooves or roots, and understand how we could, through simple acts of kindness create a more comfortable city for ourselves and others.

I have lived in New York City’s lower East side near Tompkins Square Park since 1983. I remember when I moved from Seattle, Washington to New York City-New York City was not what I had imagined it to be. I think my ideas had been influenced by movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s-so it was a big surprise to me when walking home one day to see police on horseback galloping down Avenue B, which was a dirt road at the time, in hot pursuit of someone, who would then detour into the park and be lost in the tent and cardboard village which had colonized it-covering most of the green lawn space. I forget exactly when it happened, but sometime during the 1980s riots broke out in the park, which resulted in the city removing all of the makeshift housing and closing it.

One day as I was leaving my building a film crew from some network news show stopped me on the street to interview me. “How do you feel about what the Mayor has done-closing the park? Are you outraged that as a citizen your only access to nature as been denied?” My reply was not what they had expected. I said, “I am glad the park is closed. Look at it: anyone can see that the park is happier-the trees are fuller and look more at ease and the birds and squirrels you can bet are relieved that they don’t have to deal with all of us people day in and day out. I think that there should be places in densely populated urban areas like New York City which are off-limits to human beings and are kept as wild places for our fellow inhabitants of the city-the many birds and small mammals and of course the trees, bushes and flowering plants.” We tie up our dogs, keep birds in cages, poison foxes and shoot bears in New Jersey-why is it that we human beings think that only we have the right to roam free? We make life very uncomfortable and miserable for monkeys, rats and cats in laboratories, and cows, goats, chickens and pigs on farms. We rationalize our exploitation and cruelty toward animals as a necessary evil, the terrible price that must be paid to ensure human health, happiness and comfort. And yet we are still self-centeredly complaining about not being rich, happy or comfortable enough.

Perhaps we could start taking responsibility for the suffering around us and see that we actually do have the power to bring more happiness, joy and comfort into the world for ourselves and others. In whatever circumstance, wherever we live, the secret to our own comfort is to be kind to others and do what we can to make them more comfortable; then our own comfort will be ensured. -Sharon Gannon

Take your yoga practice off the mat and into the world by providing more comfort for others. Here are a few ideas:

. Veganism. Eating a vegan diet is undoubtedly the most powerful way that we as human beings can contribute to creating a kinder and more comfortable world for ourselves, other animals and the planet. . Animal Rights. Respect non-human animals as fellow Earthlings, not as a lower life form existing to be enslaved and exploited by us. Don’t perceive animals as exploitable. Extend rights to all animals by not participating or supporting any type of animal exploitation, be it for food, clothing, research or entertainment. . Provide fresh water for feral cats and other wild animals-put a pan of clean water on your balcony or fire escape or on the sidewalk next to the stairs of your building or in a park or vacant lot nearby your house. . Feed a colony of feral cats and alert a local TNR (trap neuter release) organization that will help these cats. You may even want to take a training from them to learn how to provide a more comfortable life for a feral city cat. Trap Neuter Release programs are humane, effective solutions to outdoor cat overpopulation. TNR involves spaying and neutering feral cats, returning them to their territory and providing for their long-term care with shelter and food. Urban Cats ( and Neighborhood Cats ( are two such organizations based in New York City that can provide information and education to anyone (world-wide) who is interested. . Walking dogs-your own, or take one lucky dog out of a shelter for a 20 minute walk-this is certainly a way to uplift someone’s life. . Fresh air for cats. If you have a cat, take him or her to the park for an afternoon to enjoy the sights and sounds and to soak up some vitamin D. Put her in a carrying case. The first time you try this, be prepared: she will probably be scared-keep her in the case. Eventually she will become accustomed to this outing-then taking baby steps you can put a halter on her and allow her to come out of the case and walk around. Most cats in NYC never are able to touch their feet upon the ground and never are able to experience being in fresh air and sunlight. . Provide nutritious food for pets. Don’t feed your cat or dog commercial pet food-prepare their meals yourself using a variety of nutritious and organic fresh foods. . No more zoos! Living in a cage is no life! Boycott zoos and all places where animals are kept captive to provide entertainment for human beings. . Free the fish. No more fish bowls/aquariums. Envision a free world, see a world where there is no SeaWorld! . Plant trees, bushes and flowers. Devote space in community gardens to grow food for wild animals-like plant fruit trees or berry bushes or flowers for insects and birds. . Feed the birds. Perform random acts of kindness, like: always carrying some bird seed or a few walnuts in your pocket-so when you leave your apartment on your way to where you are going you can surprise the hungry birds and squirrels you pass, who are for the most part ignored by most human beings, by giving them a surprise meal. . Save the birds. Glass windows can be dangerous for birds. Make them safer with decals, dot patterns, nets or opaque covers and put pressure on architects to design safer building for birds. An estimated 90,000 migrating birds crash into glass windows in NYC every year. Crashing into glass windows is the second leading cause of death to birds next to habitant loss-with US casualties, alone up to one billion deaths a year. . Leave some places off limits to human beings: encourage your city planners to make natural areas or section of existing parks inaccessible to human beings. . Limit the human population. Stop having so many children! There are 7 billion human beings on the planet now and this number is increasing by the minute. At this rate of growth the planet will not be able to provide enough basic resources and a comfortable life for anyone. As the human population increases the Earth’s diversity of species decreases at an alarming rate.

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