why now

In yoga we often focus on the present moment. Whether we are honing in on how our breath is moving, how our body feels in an asana, or how we react when that person says that thing- we are training to observe what is happening here and now.

This practice can be incredibly calming and empowering. Moment by moment we take notice of what comes and what goes, riding the wave of life with less and less friction. Through observation we learn about our selves. We learn what we can control and what we can’t. We are less overwhelmed. Slowing down, letting the moments decompress helps to find feelings of peace- we’ve heard all this before right?

But what about the past and the future? With this emphasis on the present moment what does yoga philosophy say about the past and future?

I had been thinking about this lately, but was inspired to write this down once a friend expressed the view that focusing on the present denies the past and future. Then, if there is no past or future how can there be a present?

I picked up my book that interprets both Kapila’s Samkhya philosophy and the Yoga Sutras. It was written by my teachers Margot and Bill Milcetich. I can’t say I have any sort of answer to my question, but here is something to get the ball rolling.

The past. The Yoga Sutras outline five modes of the chitta. Chitta can be described as the house of our intellect, ego and mind. One of the modes is memory. To me, this seems to addresses the role of the past. Margot and Bill’s book states that memory is, “the reconstruction of the past that is useful in the present.” Our past experiences create our lens through which we see the present.

In the Secret Life of the Brain, a 5 part pbs series, it is interesting how the adult brain uses emotions from past experience in the present. Watch it here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/brain/episode4/index.html

The future. This was a little harder for me to suss out. My knowledge of the text didn’t point me to a specific passage that spoke directly of the future. The only thing I can think of here is that the second chapter on practice is intended to alleviate our suffering. This chapter is a guideline of work we can do in preparation for a future moment that opens the possibility for us to suffer less.

If you have any insights on yoga and the ghosts of past, present and future please comment below. I know I will be bringing these questions to a future satsang.

For now, my experience tells me that focusing on the present moment allows me to be alert and clear for the daily decisions I need to make. My thoughts have space to be thought and (potentially) understood. This practice is preparing me to act appropriately in the way is required of me.

Where I feel the present moment focus falls short is if we use it as a way to escape our responsibilities. If we forget the lessons that are there to be learned from past experience or if we pretend that a future issue is not impending. I don’t believe this is how the practice is intended to be used, but the possibility is there to use the idea of the present moment to escape or postpone our real work.

photos are extinct moments/documentation of movement

photos are extinct moments/documentation of movement


5 thoughts on “why now

  1. andreabussinger

    Hey Elaine! I’d like to reply to this in a coherent way, i’m a little bit sick so we’ll see how it goes… Last week I did a mindfulness training… as you know mindfulness is all about being present; It has been scientifically shown that focusing on the present engages the prefrontal cortex which disrupts habits of ruminating on the past and present, hence reducing anxiety. Interestingly the presenter seemed to assume that “mind-wandering” was always negative, until someone pointed out that mind-wandering can also mean creative ideas, planning, or pleasant nostalgia. The presenter then changed the term to “negative mind-wandering”. Ha! But, I would say that the increase in prefrontal cortex activity is good for many reasons, including promoting feelings of calm, but also the ability to see multiple solutions and perspectives.

    1. Elaine Hullihen Post author

      Thanks Andrea- it is always helpful too look at things in context and remember that our tools are not just black and white. I’d like to hear more next time you are in town.

  2. andreabussinger

    Also, I think reflection on the past is certainly useful, since it teaches us about the future… and is important for things like having perspective, learning from our elders and being rooted to tradition.


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