"You can practise asanas to develop the body, pranayama to generate energy and make you feel good, and meditation to calm and concentrate the mind. But to change the mind you also have to practise 'attitudinal yoga': awareness of what is happening in the mind, observation of that process, transformation of that process, and overcoming the limitations that bind us in our day-to-day expressions in life."
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
How can we implement the concept of attitudinal yoga and practise it in a simple, practical way? The dictionary defines the word 'attitude' as 'a habitual mode of thought or feeling'. The way we think or feel sets the scene for how we live our lives. We think that we have no choice in whether or not we are happy, and we see the world as treating us well, or if we are unhappy and morose we think the world is victimizing us. But actually it is our very thoughts and feelings that determine everything in life. It is our attitude that influences and creates everything. Our responses, reactions or attitudes to the external environment around us influence how we feel and think. If we feel negatively, we are pulled down by our thoughts. If we think and feel positively towards ourselves and the environment, we become uplifted.
For example, if we wake up feeling low or depressed for no reason and we go outside, we notice the dirt, the cracks, the faults everywhere. But if we wake up in a good mood, we notice the bright side of life, the little blades of grass with dew glistening on them like diamonds, the birds chirping. Even though it is exactly the same environment, we notice different things depending on our mood and the mental outlook we have at that moment. If we can train ourselves to think positively, to have a positive attitude, then everything becomes light, easy and joyous. The trick is in making our minds, our outlook, our attitude positive before we go out. Swamiji always reminds us that the real yoga is to be positive in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
The first step is awareness, to be aware of our attitude, aware of our thoughts, our thinking patterns and tendencies. This can be done by meditation, especially antar mouna meditation in which we learn to observe our thinking processes. Yoga nidra is another good technique. Without knowing what and why we are thinking, it is very difficult to begin to direct how we want to think - which is basically attitudinal yoga.
The second step is acceptance. This is very important because unless we practise self-acceptance, we just slip back into another negative spiral of thinking. The practice of acceptance is itself an implementation of positive thinking. Other words for acceptance are love and compassion. Only after telling ourselves "It's OK to be the way we are, God has made us like this and loves us like this," can we relax and feel good about ourselves, and then automatically positive thinking begins. Another reason why acceptance, along with awareness, is important is because as we become more and more aware and sensitive, we become judgmental and critical of what we see in ourselves and others. We start criticizing the way we are and noticing all the faults in others. So along with awareness, acceptance is very important. It is only by acceptance that we can befriend the mind and it is only by befriending the mind that we can control it.
The third step is attitude. Once we know how we're thinking, and we've accepted that it's OK to be that way, then we can begin to decide how we actually want to be thinking about that particular person, situation or thing. Sankalpa or resolve is one of the ways that we can decide and implement a new desired attitude. This is stating your desired attitude as a short positive statement about the issue, such as "I will be more positive and loving." "I'm getting happier and healthier." "I'm becoming more and more aware and positive each day."
We can look at how to change our attitude in another way. For example: supposing you have a hateful or negative concept about someone you have to see often. You waste a lot of time and energy and also put yourself in a bad mood by thinking negatively about them. So, just find one thing - it can be a small thing - that you do like about them, and keep focusing on that aspect. Every time you see them or think about them or interact with them, remember that one positive thing you genuinely appreciate about them. Gradually your feelings and attitudes about them will change and you'll find that things are getting better.
These are the three 'A's' of yoga: Awareness, Acceptance and Attitude. Awareness and Acceptance are like the two wings of a bird that propel it forward, and propel us forward in yoga, and Attitude is like the tail which gives the bird direction, like a rudder on a boat, and which gives us direction in life.
In implementing attitudinal yoga these are the three steps:
Here's an example. When doing asana and pranayama in a class or in your sadhana session, the first step is awareness, after noticing where do I feel this, how do I feel this, ask yourself: "What am I thinking? What is my attitude towards my body? Am I critical of the shape, the structure and the flexibility of my body?" If so (second step: acceptance): "It's OK, it's normal, it's usual." Now (third step: attitude): "How do I want to think about it?" Be more loving and compassionate and positive? OK let me think, "Yes, I can do this better today, it's improving each day. Let me send some positive and loving thoughts to that part of my body. After all, it's been serving me well all these years. I've never given it a second thought except now when something isn't going the way I want it to." Every part of the body is working in total harmony and efficiency with every other part, helping us to do whatever we're doing without ever having to think about it, yet we take our body for granted and never give it any appreciation.
Every thought and attitude that is generated in the mind is also being experienced in every cell, like a hologram, so when you're thinking, "This knee is too stiff," the knee is actually experiencing that thought and becoming stiffer. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to do your asana practice on days when you're happy and relaxed, and how your body is stiffer on days when your mood is down? So, why not send some loving energy and gratitude down there to those knees and legs and feet and to every part and organ of your body. This is especially important for therapy patients whose bodies are suffering. Try it and see the power of a positive attitude, start being loving to yourself in the form of your body.
As well as your body, examine your attitudes towards yourself, your abilities etc. The SWAN meditation is an ideal way to do this. Further, examine your attitudes towards others, especially in this time of interracial violence. Are you listening to the media or someone else's negative opinion about people of a different race, colour or religion? Are they so different just because they have a different word for water or for God? When you sit down and look at their similarities to yourself, you'll find that everyone has two legs and two eyes and a heart; everyone eats, drinks and has a family; everyone enjoys and suffers and works and laughs. When they live next door to you, you probably don't even think they are different, because they aren't. Even though our attitudes may be those of our parents and forebears, we can train ourselves to superimpose an attitude that is more suitable for this day and age of the 'global village' when people of many different countries are migrating and choosing to live in other countries.
Watching oneself at the time of karma yoga is another very good time to observe one's attitudinal psychology. Karma yoga is a time when often all the grumbles and negative conditionings or samskaras really bubble up. First step: awareness. What is my attitude towards this, what am I thinking about it? For example: "Why should I do this, why should I be cleaning this stupid toilet? I paid money to come here and learn yoga, not to do some menial job! I want to go to the library and study about yoga." Second step: acceptance. It's OK to think like this, it's only my samskaras coming up. Third step: attitude. What attitude do I want? What attitude has been suggested in class? "This is a great chance to watch myself and be more aware of what is really going on deep down there, in my mind. Let me be more aware right now and explore, observe what's going on." Or you might adopt the attitude: "How perfectly, quickly, efficiently and enthusiastically can I do this job so that I really enjoy myself doing it?"
Basically, attitudinal yoga is being positive in whatever situation we find ourselves in life. Whatever we are thinking affects the vibrations of our body and our subtle being and this in turn affects the vibrations around us, which in turn affects the situations that happen around us, attracting like situations. Not only are we putting ourselves in a better mood by having positive thoughts, but we're also affecting the environment and people around us, we're making a difference. Haven't you noticed how nice it is to be around someone who is calm and loving? And all this positivity (another word for love, compassion) results in relieving your problems and sufferings and learning how to be harmonious and happy in life!