Adding Positive vs. Removing Negative, the Math of Yogis

Math Homework

Are the results of practice a sum, or a product?

I found myself unable to sleep recently due to stress. The job market has been more flimsy than ever, and it’s truly an employers’ market right now; jobs requiring years of experience have been going for fractions of the pay that I they were at just a few years ago. Add to that the inherent stress of fall/winter, and I’ve been feeling a little overloaded/under-accomplished lately.

Finally, with nothing else to do, I got up and started moving. My brain was too tired, too sore to really think about anything, and so I flowed through my practice, rather than tried to force my way through it. Perhaps it was the hour (far earlier than I normally practice) or perhaps it was this idea of exploration rather than forcing, but I discovered a few things about myself:

1) Cycling has made me able to seriously rock out on navasana (boat pose). I used to have to bend at the knees, and even then, it was a struggle that involved much shuddering and spasming. I’ll have to investigate how other forms of exercise affect other body parts (handstand soon?).

2) However, awesome navasana came with a price: my forward folds are atrocious. This makes a certain amount of sense; when I was assisting yoga in the park, there was a group of cyclists who came every week—one of them, in forward folds, his fingertips barely made it to his knees. I’ll have to amend my cycling practice, perhaps by reducing distance and adding a short forward fold-focused ground sequence (paschimottanasana -> salamba sarvangasana -> halasana -> urdhva padmasana foundation, branch out from there) at the end to keep my lower back/hamstring flexibility.

3) I think. Way. Too. Much.


The times I have been most successful in initiating action have largely been due to my brain being too tired to hold me back anymore. I recently began writing fiction again (some of you will recall my fiction “excerpts” from my Five Feminine Archetypes article). In three days’ time, I racked up around 4500 words, and I really think they’re not half bad. Mind you, I’ve had this story in my head for at least six months; conceptually, I’ve been wanting to write this story—as in, actually push keys and make sentences—for probably around two years. Talk about putting it off; believe me, I am an expert at procrastination.

So what does all this have to do with job woes?

Many of you are aware we just wrapped up Gratitude Month. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t show your gratitude anymore; on the contrary, what I would say I learned doing this gratitude experiment is this: you can have all the happy thoughts in the world. You can love someone with all your heart—verily, all your soul. But if that love never makes it past your heart, it’s as effective as lighting a room by putting a cardboard box over the light source. Yeah, some light will peek through; that’s the nature of both light and love. But if you don’t do anything about it, then your thoughts are…I don’t want to say they’re worth nothing, but they won’t carry nearly as far as something as simple as a text message can go. A “Hey, how are you?” in four words says more than years of loving thoughts buoyed on an ocean of silence.


In our dualistic world, there’s darkness and light. The darkness is gu; literally, think “goo,” like, tar. It’s black, and sticky, and if it gets on you, it just gets everywhere. This gu likes to hang out at the corners and edges of our periphery. But as more of it congeals, it starts to seep farther and farther in, threatening to consume us. A gu-ru is, literally, “one who removes gu.” But this is kind of a poor definition for fledgeling yogis. Here’s why:

If we focus on the negative in our lives and say, “I want to remove all my gu,” then we can only fall short of that goal by varying degrees. Think of it like a bullseye; it’s physically impossible to hit the anatomical center of a bullseye—one can only “miss” by so far. But what if instead we took our measurement from how far away from the outermost ring we were towards the center? Then, we can only succeed by varying degrees. In practical, Western application, think of it like this: gu is negative energy, things that cause stress. Let’s pick an easy example: debt. One way of going about life is saying, “I have so much debt; what can I do to get rid of it?” If we do this, we can only fail by varying degrees. Even if we succeed, all we’ve succeeded in doing is removing our debt temporarily; it will return again. But if instead think of, “How can I increase my income?” which will, in fact, give one the ability to alleviate debt, then we can only succeed by varying degrees, and even should we eliminate all of our debt—the gu in this case—the room exists to succeed further.

Let’s look at another common stressor for us in the West: weight. Same thing—how many people on diet plans stress, “Oh, I lost so much weight!” and then, upon reaching one’s benchmark, they revert back and the weight returns? We see this in the marketing of yoga, too—testimonials of, “Oh, my stress, it’s all gone!” Here is a difficult truth: yoga is not designed to remove stress; it’s designed to allow the stressed to practice taking action, which—if developed as a skill—can lead one to overtaking their stress by increasing their output of positive energy. Apropos to weight loss, if instead the focus is in changing one’s lifestyle to invite more conscious dieting and increased action (perhaps in the form of exercise), then weight has more of a chance to go away. There’s not less gu; there’s more positive action balancing it out and possibly overtaking it. Math!

This isn’t to say one should neglect their debts or say, “I will be unconcerned with my weight,” no. Let’s leave that philosophy for high-level practitioners who’ve had years if not decades of working on the discipline and fortitude to make that their focus. For us, this is to say we spend a lot of time making the removal of gu our motivator—by doing so, we actually give gu strength. Gu will never go away entirely, and trying to make it do so is a path to damnation. If instead we learn to manage it through action (because who has ever lost weight or debt by thinking about it?), then we’ll see that by instead increasing our output of positive energy to balance out the gu in our life, we will be more successful than we would be by focusing solely on the removal of the gu itself. This is to say, stop not-doing (thinking too much) or finding everything that prevents one from doing, and do.


For this week, may you do something you’ve been putting off for way too long. May you measure something from the outer ring. And may you, by increasing positive output, remove some gu, in your—or someone else’s—life.


Photo: wonderferret/Flickr