Excellence Reporter: Dr. Chapple, what is the meaning of life?
Christopher Key Chapple: Life must not be outsourced. Life must be claimed. Yoga provides tools to cultivate human agency through awareness and action.
Yoga begins with breath intimacy, a fourfold process. The inhale breath draws energy from the universe, both pure and troubling. The hold of the inhale breath allows suffusion of this energy into the cells of the body, into the fascia that guides and shapes the connection between muscle and bone. The exhale of the breath signals an engagement through the motion of body and thought with the world that surrounds and comes to define us. The hold of the exhale brings us to a point of balance and equipoise. We can hold the world in abeyance before taking the next breath.
We can offer obeisance and appreciation to the three moments of time: past, present, and future. And we can pledge obeyance to our better inclinations, resolving to shape life through the five great vows (non-violence, holding to truth, honesty, sexual restraint, and minimizing possessions), the five great cultivations (purity, happiness, rigor, studiousness, devotion), and the four noble qualities of friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
We live to explore, discover, celebrate, and enjoy. The human being can be endlessly curious. We can arrive at small and large forms of knowledge, profound states of understanding, and therein find bliss.
As children we feel a great sense of freedom expressed through running and singing and playfulness. Becoming young adults, we establish ourselves in the world. We find a trade or profession, and find passion and love. As adults we build a life, hopefully a balance of service and family, work and connection. As elders we sink into an informed happiness that arises from experience, from knowing that what needed to be done has been done.
When I was young and awkward and restless, Yoga asana brought a healthy dose of stability to body and breath and thinking. Meeting Guruani Anjali and committing to her teachings for more than twelve years through daily practice and weekly group classes and meditations, was priceless: to find a person dedicated to the uplift of others from a place of utter selflessness is a rare gift. Nurturing teachers equip us to enter the world with the tools needed for a meaningful life. About a year into formal Yoga training, Gurani Anjali offered the following wisdom that provided a frame for the good life: “Recognize that your life has three pieces: your family, your work, and your spiritual life. Give your best attention to all three.”
We find and make meaning in relationships. My wife and two children (and now their spouses) are like bedrock: all things are built on our love and trust for one another. My work as an educator and author constantly provides nourishment, bringing important connection with so many different people, and the opportunity to share the wisdom of Yoga in so many different ways.
The third component, spiritual practice, takes daily tending, every morning beginning with tribandha pranayama, eight surya namaskars, thirty asanas, alternate nostril breathing, japa, meditation, and text recitation and study.
From this point of stability, life unfolds each day, full of meaning!
~Christopher Key Chapple, Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University, is found erand director of the LMU’s Yoga Studies programs. He trained in classical Yoga with Gurani Anjali at Yoga Anand Ashram in Amityville, New York, and completed his academic studies at Stony Brook and Fordham, training with, among others, Antonio deNicolas and Thomas Berry. He has published more than fifteen books and is a featured philosopher on YogaGlo.com.
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