I’ve recently had a couple of yoga students ask me about establishing a personal yoga and/or meditation practice.
In their experience, it has been very difficult to get something steady happening and although they know they feel the benefits when they do their practice, still, time has a funny way of creeping in and squeezing out the little space they’d set aside.
I totally understand!
For many years, from when I started my own practices of yoga and meditation at home in the late 90s, I struggled to keep a regular practice going. The lure of a warm bed on a winter morning, tiredness from staying up late, extra early work starts, inertia or lack of inspiration, and commitments of various sorts always seemed to interrupt any regular routine I could get going.
Still, for some reason, I persisted.
Creating a new habit is never easy. And there has to be a very good reason for it. The D-word is definitely involved – Discipline.
But what I’d started to realise over my years of on-again, off-again personal practice was this. During the ‘on’ periods of regular practice, I simply felt better. Inside and out. Stronger in my body. Clearer in my thinking. More balanced in my emotions. Loved, somehow.
Every time I gave myself the time for ‘attending to myself’, something was shifting and changing in me. And it felt good. I wanted more of it.
Still, there would be times when circumstances would intervene and my regular practice would be interrupted or stalled for days or weeks at a time. Usually this had to do with travelling for work or pleasure, when all routines go out the window.
At times like this it is so important to go easy on yourself. I have been caught in the self-judgement trap many times, in the “I must do this or I’m not an authentic yoga and/or meditation teacher”, or, “I must do this or I’ll be a failure/not measure up/fall short of my ideal…” etc.
There are great merits in being disciplined and following through on personal commitments, but here’s something else I’d have to add.
If you are going to seek to establish a regular practice, here is the number one rule:
Do it for the love of yourself.
Self-judgement, striving to be some version of ‘better’, forcing through resistance… I’ve done all of these and believe me, they are not enticement enough for the long-haul.
It is LOVE that calls me to my practice in the mornings. Love of the experience. Love of the quietness I find inside, and out. Love of the little discoveries and insights that pop up. Even, these days, love of the resistance… noticing it and accepting its presence as just what’s shown up today. (Sometimes, on days like this, full of resistance, I might just lay down on my mat for a 20-minute savasana. Hard to resist in savasana. :))
We can all seek to improve our lives through many means, and there’s nothing wrong with with having fitness or health or achievement goals. Yet so often these efforts at self-improvement, advancement of skills, etc are based in some sense of personal inadequacy. Of not being good enough as I am.
So I’m not offering specific tips for establishing your regular practice. You can google search a million articles on setting up a practice space, finding a regular time of day, ways to establish habits, practices to follow, etc. It’s all easily accessible. (and if you want personal help with practice design, I’m always happy to assist, just ask.)
The only thing you can’t google is your own true motivation for establishing a practice. Try making that your practice for a while and see what comes up. Sit quietly for five minutes a day for a week or so, and ask yourself – “what is my motivation for wanting this?”
If sweet and simple love for yourself is not high up on the list of motivations, then I’d give you a week of trying it out before something else grabs your attention as the thing that will improve your life.
When love is the motivation, interruption of a regular practice is not such a big issue. Love becomes the practice. I know now, for instance, that no matter how many times in future I find an interruption or stop my practice completely for a period of time, that I will always return to it. Probably for the rest of my life. Here is where I touch directly into my most honest and bare self, free from all distractions.
I gotta say – it’s a self-generating love machine, my practice. Sound good? Think about it, wouldn’t you get out of bed for a heart that welcomed you in love and kindness?
Below is a quote from Bob Sharples that I resonate with… you could substitute any words for ‘meditate’ in this quote. “Don’t do yoga to fix yourself…” “Don’t eat carrots to fix yourself…” “Don’t watch TV to fix yourself…” etc. Really, love is the central theme, the generator of energy, the vanquisher of fear, the source of an inspired life. Find the way to love yourself, genuinely, (and I’d suggest that meditation is an excellent portal into this), and everything else finds its proper place in life. At least that’s my humble experience.
“Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather, do it as an act of love, of deep warm friendship to yourself. In this way there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement, for the endless guilt of not doing enough. It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot. Instead there is now meditation as an act of love. How endlessly delightful and encouraging.”