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Halloween Special: Yoga and Death

Yoga, in many ways, is a celebration of life. Through practice and devotion we cultivate skills that make living life easier and more joyous. Yoga and life's turbulence that we all experience prepares us for hardships -- and we become prepared to face sorrowful times with compassion, grace and complete serenity. We acknowledge that certain things are beyond our control. Death is inevitable. It's a dreary fact of life but an absolute truth.

Yoga practice -- asanas and coordinating breath -- may not in themselves prepare us for the big sleep, but ancient yogic scriptures create a dialogue that helps us along in the later stages of life.

In yogic philosophy, life is divided into four stages called ashrams. Most human beings face death in the fourth and final ashram, denoted by ages 63-100. This ashram is called the Sannyasa stage (english translation: renunciation). In this stage of life, the focus of the individual should be on spiritual matters. The 'renunciation' comes from the action of individuals in this stage, of renouncing material and worldy pursuits to focus completely and solely upon ultimate spiritualism. Those in the fourth ashram practice celibacy to focus completely on devotion to the gods through bhakti and/or meditation. Krishna, in the sacred Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, describes the Sannyasa stage:

"The giving up of activities that are based on material desire is what great learned men call the renounced order of life [sannyasa]. And giving up the results of all activities is what the wise call renunciation." The Bhagavad Gita goes on to elaborate on true annunciation: "It is not those who lack energy or refrain from action, but those who work without expectation of reward who attain the goal of meditation. Theirs is true renunciation … For aspirants who want to climb the mountain of spiritual awareness, the path is selfless work; for those who have ascended to yoga, the path is stillness and peace. When a person has freed himself from attachment to the results of work, and from desires for the enjoyment of sense objects, he ascends to the unitive state."

Yoga practice (vinyasa, hatha, or the like), which connects the breath to movements of the body, increases bodily awareness. This increased self-awareness and self-acceptance of our bodies is crucial in steering elder yogis away from the five stages of death most layman experience. It's called the Kubler-Ross model, and the five stages of impending doom are as follows: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Yoga can help us launch over the first four stages and accept the cold hard fact of death before we even enter into our final ashram. Total renunciation of worldly goods should be the goal of all yogis afraid of their final destination. Swami Vivekananda elaborates on this unconditional surrender and selflessness:

"Renunciation is the ideal preached by all the great Prophets of the world. What is meant by renunciation? Unselfishness. That is the only ideal in morality; perfect unselfishness. Here is the ideal: when a man has no more of his little self in him, no possessor, nothing to call ‘me' or ‘mine', when a man has given up that little self to God, destroyed his selfishness -- in that man God is manifest; for him, all selfish will is gone, crished out, annihilated. That is the ideal. We cannot reach that state yet; nevertheless, let us worship the ideal, and slowly struggle to reach it, although it may be with faltering steps. It may be tomorrow, or it may be a thousand years hence, but that ideal has to be reached, for it is not only the end but also the means. To be unselfish, perfectly selfless, is salvation itself, for the little self within dies, and God alone remains."

Yoga helps us live our lives to the fullest, and as a result we become happy, spiritual creatures. Yoga has helped set me on a path in which all of my life dreams have been realized. Now, what more could I want for? A larger house? A larger designer bag collection? I feel fulfilled. I feel as if I could die tonight and be perfectly okay with it. No amends are left due to repair. I have resolved all regrettable actions of my past. I can die happy, joyous, and with a sense of fulfillment. Can you say the same?

By: Amber Jennings (G+)

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