Remember Your Why
The two requirements to yoga are practice and equanimity, yet one of the biggest laments I hear from people is how hard it is to keep up a practice. Why is that? How can we get beyond this?
I sometimes wonder why people aren’t coming to yoga in droves; why meditation, breath work and relaxation aren’t part of our everyday curriculum for growing up sane, happy and healthy in the world. Maybe it's because people don’t understand what’s available, what’s possible. They don’t realize how much more potential they have; how beautiful life can get.
You won’t see commercials on television showing you how different your life could be, how much richer and deeper your relationships could go, how incredibly alive you could feel on an ordinary day. Instead you see advertisements for every kind of happiness you can buy, from a shiny new car, or iPhone, to the right hair color and a prescription for the latest, greatest pharmaceutical complete with 3 minutes of side effects. And our curriculums for growing up include learning the basic skills we need in order to be able to buy said happiness.
My point is, the benefits of yoga (beyond the physical) are not something we hear much about in mainstream culture. Suffering is what brought me to yoga in the first place and suffering was the catalyst to stay steady in the practice for so very many years. Honestly, I couldn’t hardly stand myself. Anyone who knew me well would never guess it because I was adept at putting on a happy face and keeping it there (part of my ego structure). But inside I was a mess and I was desperate for a way out.
Yoga promised freedom from suffering. No-brainer. Put me in. And that’s the honest truth. That’s what kept me riveted to the practice. It was a life raft. There were no therapies, no drugs and no other treatments for what I was dealing with. Wouldn’t it be great if they came up with a drug that allowed us to clearly and permanently see our ego and simultaneously realize our true nature? But we already have a cure for that ailment. It’s called practice. It has many side effects but as far as I know, they’re all good.
As a catalyst, suffering can be a good thing. I can’t even count the times it was suffering that helped bring about changes - really liberating changes. But you don’t have to be a mess inside to improve your life and strive for greater consciousness and freedom.
I think people get away from their practice and lose their way because after a while they forget the why. They forget why it was they wanted a regular practice in the first place and they forget what is possible. I’m going to share with you what the first step is, in getting a lasting spiritual practice going, or getting back a lost practice. I know this was my first step, so perhaps it’ll work for you.
One thing that has always been key for me in keeping my practices sincere, authentic, and inspired is to read. When you consider the amount of time you spend reading the news (usually bad news) and taking in all kinds of confusing and negative messages, wouldn’t you want to balance that with reading material that will inspire you to move in your desired direction?
In lieu of surrounding yourself with enlightened people, consider dotting your home with enlightened teachings. It’s all there for you to drink in. Make it easy on yourself. Have some easy reads placed strategically where you might sit for a short break in your day.
I love reading about the freedom of yoga, which is the freedom of awareness/consciousness/waking up. I’ve found strength, clarity of purpose and direction in a wide variety of books and in the years I’ve been a yoga teacher, I’ve often quoted from that broad collection of material. My reading has always been a big part of my daily practice.
So if you want a different kind of life, if you want to explore the potential of a full out yoga practice, you may want to monitor your intake, what you’re watching on your computer, on your television, and what you’re reading; adjusting and balancing it to support what it is you truly want. If you want to find lasting inner peace, if you want to live your life awake and aware and alive, surround yourself with that.
Begin your “practice” by finding yourself some inspiring books to have nearby; to read a passage or poem from each morning before you begin your daily grind; to read a passage after dinner, maybe share it with someone who appreciates it. Find ways to strengthen and clarify your why. That’s a great place to begin, (or to begin again). Your reading can be your practice.
To keep a physical practice of asana going strong, one thing I used to do is write myself a note. Immediately after an especially succulent experience in asana, meditation, or relaxation, I wrote myself a note from my radiantly alive, awake and aware self to my auto-pilot hypnotized self, reminding me of the great value of the practice. Reminding myself of my why. Then I folded up the note and tucked it into my mat. My promise to myself was that if I ever thought of skipping a practice, I would at least read my note to self. And a few times I did just that. And sometimes, just reading the note was enough to remind me and set my course for the day. Other times, reading the note was enough to put me into the space I needed to be in to come to my mat for asana.
I also kept a journal nearby. For years I had a journal just for catching quotes from books I’d read. They would be inspiration and fuel for my practices. Now I am never far from my journal and I have one journal for everything, my thoughts, my plans, sketches, my quotes and my musings on them.
Some of my earliest inspirations came from reading The Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, books about Ramana Maharshi, and Autobiography of a Yogi. More recently I’m reading The Yoga Sutras (for about the millionth time!), Bhagavad Gita(always), and a new book by Tias Little, “Yoga of The Subtle Body”. What about you? What were your most inspiring reads? What are you reading now?