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Pranayam: Act, Don’t React

By Bhavanjot Kaur

“If you want to progress in your life and grow, act not to react.”
-Yogi Bhajan

My teacher recently shared in class that the Buddha said that inescapable physical or mental discomfort is the ‘first dart’ of existence. As long as we live and love, some of those darts will come our way. First darts are unpleasant, but then we add our reactions to them. These reactions are ‘second darts’—the ones we throw at ourselves. Most of our suffering comes from second darts.

This made me think that while we cannot always avoid the first darts of existence, we do have a choice in how we respond to our environments, which can eliminate additional suffering that often comes with these second darts—our reactions to that which we cannot control or change.

Our vital life force energy or prana is naturally occurring, but we have the ability to deepen it; experience it from a more expansive awareness, consciousness and mindfulness through the practice of pranayam, or conscious breathing. We can make our lives better by tuning into our breath and the spaces in-between, and responding to our environments rather than reacting both on and off the yoga mat.

“You cannot make your life a reaction to others; you must make your life your own.”
-Yogi Bhajan

Sometimes, no matter how long we have practiced yoga, we will have days that I recall Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa referring to as ‘fractal’—those days when anxieties are high, we are quick to tears or anger, our mind is scattered or filled with a seeming endless stream of thoughts that will not quit. I think it is safe to say that we all have those days when we are perfectly imperfect—when we are triggered by life’s circumstances.

Rather than responding from a calm and peaceful place that we know will result in feeling good for us and those around us, we instead react in an unconscious negative way. Lord knows, I have had my fair share of those days and then some. Sometimes things have to get a little messy first before we can fully understand the gift of experience and awareness we are being given.

As a matter of fact, I had a messy day like this recently and I felt like a piece of you know what. Even with all of the yogic teachings I have to turn to, and even with all the words of wisdom I have heard time and again from my teachers about guilt and shame being a wasted energy, I still could not seem to let it go.

Instead of doing all the wonderful things I could have been doing for myself, I instead put on my internal boxing gloves and instead of beating the thoughts out of me with some heavy pranayam breath work, I got in the ring and had an inner boxing match with me, myself and I. Yep, I beat myself up with these negative thoughts and bad feelings about myself. It was a dragged out, knock out match. I lost the fight. My mind won. Darn it.

Then, within this inner exhaustion, my soul said, “STOP!” and like magic, voila, I began to see the rainbow after the storm. I came to the realization that this experience came for me as a perfect example of a second dart. I experienced a first dart from someone else in my environment, and then I suffered a second dart by my reaction to the first dart in the moment and thereafter.

When all was said and done, I was double and triple punished by my own reaction. I was grateful for this deeper awareness of how much I suffer double or triple and so on because of my own reactions to my environments. While it feels somewhat rudimentary, it also clicked within me at a level much deeper than it ever had before.

It got me to thinking that the space in-between the first dart and the second dart is where the yoga is for me right now in my journey—that space in-between the inhale and the exhale, and that space between one posture and another. In a rather timely and eloquent way my teacher said recently, “We should notice the in-between, not just the in.” I think it is that space where I find the calm, the peace and the grace—the quiet of my mind and the place where I can enjoy the moment, bask in the uncertainty and trust what is to come.

The more that I tune into this space on my yoga mat, the more expansive and vast it becomes. It also grows as I tune into it off of my yoga mat and out in the world. My experience on and off the yoga mat is no longer mechanical and predictable, but instead full of creative possibility. These seemingly small spaces of time in between can feel infinite the more I tune into them. 

The in-between is that split second when I am faced with something abruptly and I can react to the situation, or I can silently say to myself, “STOP. BREATHE.” And then respond from a conscious place, if at all.

“The idea is to just stop. Just wait. Don’t react. Therein lies the whole Universe. Just don’t react.”
-Yogi Bhajan

I have found in my practice that the meditations that you need will often reveal themselves at the perfect time. Recently I came across a meditation that I had yet to practice, called the Meditation to Act, Don’t React. It is a meditation that can be practiced for eleven minutes a day and inspires valuing the breath, or praanic energy. It sounds like the perfect remedy!

My teacher recently shared that our bodies will breathe on their own, but that it is different when we breathe mindfully. It sounds so simple, but it is something you have to work at and after years of practicing yoga, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I suppose this is why I go back to my mat knowing that each day is a new opportunity to find the spaces of quiet awareness in-between the mindful practices of conscious breath and movement on and off the yoga mat.

“A person who calls himself spiritual must be above action and reaction, no matter which religion he belongs to. He must have a spring of strength in his life and in his self so that he can resurrect, he can excel.”
-Yogi Bhajan

Bhavanjot Kaur is the owner and founder of Hamsa Healing Arts located in Centerbrook, CT. Bhavanjot is a Kundalini yoga teacher and Radiant Child Yoga Teacher. Bhavanjot is a Reiki Master practitioner and Teacher, Craniosacral therapy practitioner, Raindrop therapy massage practitioner and she also offers sound therapy with a 32" Paiste Symphonic Gong. Bhavanjot is a consultant for essential oils, medicinal mushrooms and CBD oil. She is mother to a delightful seven-year-old little girl who overcame a rare childhood kidney cancer, which inspires her work with Lucy's Love Bus and the Connecticut Cancer Foundation.