Tamping Down Reactivity

Through the practice of yoga in its many forms, we begin to acquire the skills to view each situation as an outside observer. We can begin to take a slight stance away from whatever is happening at any given time and observe it rationally without instantly reacting emotionally.  Rather than feeling that everything is happening to me, we can start to just recognize that things are happening, and assess them without too much involvement.
This type of ability doesn't occur immediately. And I do think much of this ability comes from a meditation practice, more than an asana practice. Though, yoga on the mat does teach us to slow down, watch our minds and explore our reactivity to poses and sequences.

This practice of settling our reactive state is about slowing down and it's also about our sense of self. In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlines 5 kleshas or "aversions" which prevent us from true liberation.
Asmita is the sense of the self as separate from everything and everyone. It is the ego. Verse 2.6 is


In literal translation, it says asmita is the misidentification of the power of seeing with what is seen. And asmita itself literally means "I am this" or I am that." (The Yoga Sutras by Ravi Ravindra pg. 61-62)
Asmita is clinging to the identification of "us" and not "them." Through this attachment to our sense of self, we are able as a human race to do really terrible things to each other. And it means that tend to feel that things are "happening to us" rather than just happening. We identify with our bodies and our minds as ourselves and do anything to protect them from being damaged.

When we step back from situations, even just for a brief second of assessment or contemplation, we can see that almost everyone is acting out of their reactive state of asmita. So the next time someone is cutting in line at the post office or putting their yoga mat really close to yours, can you separate from your sense of self and from that standpoint determine the level of reactivity necessary? In all likelihood, through just a few seconds of thoughtful consideration, you will act more kindly and rationally; a simple step to making the world a better place.