Despite incessant resolutions to commit to my practice, I have long struggled with creating a daily sadhana that sticks. The stereotype of a committed yogi, though, is one who wakes before the sun and spends hours on their mat followed by a long meditation, incense burning and sitar music playing in the background. Right?
There is this idea that a daily yoga practice – whatever that means – is imperative to the process. But it’s also really challenging to do that in the midst of, well, life. But here’s the thing: practice can take many different forms. It might not always look like getting on a mat and making funny shapes with your body. It might not even look like sitting in lotus position with your eyes closed.
It occurred to me that it’s worth taking a look at what “daily practice” means. So I turned to some yogis that I admire to see how they incorporate the practice into their lives. The spectrum is pretty darn broad – from multiple hours on a mat each morning to a few mindful minutes of interactions with a toddler and many places in between.
The responses were fascinating to me. And somewhat reassuring. What I learned is that it seems less about what you do and more about the intention and awareness you bring to it. Patanjali, of course, might argue with me on that. He’s can be pretty persnickety about discipline and routine. But, then again, he didn’t have traffic jams, Snapchat or any of our other modern trappings to distract him.
I thought perhaps hearing from those who do live in the here and now and are able to integrate a regular yoga practice into their lives would be more helpful. I’ll be sharing what I learned from my yogi friends in a series of posts over the next few weeks. To be fair, though, I figured I’d start with myself. Here’s what my practice is looking like these days:
What daily practice looks like for me:
Being someone who likes the idea of having a check list, I created one for myself recently that seems reasonable. The idea is that, each morning (which, realistically, ends up being more like four times a week), I meditate for 15 minutes and chase it with some reading from one of the dozens of books lying around my house. You know those books – the ones I consistently buy about yoga and spirituality only to have them sit on a shelf? Yeah, those. I figured it was time to dust them off and delve in.
My meditations are still largely “silent list making time” but I try not to judge the process. And if you ask me what I read this morning, I wouldn’t be able to tell you (I do know it was Pema Chodron, one of my favorites). But I am trusting that the process is working. And that the messages Pema is sending me are sinking into my subconscious more readily, since I’ve prepped my brain with 15 minutes of quiet first.
Also on my checklist is getting some asana in between three and four times a week. Right now, the asana is a bit disconnected from the other practices. On a longer check list I’ve developed is creating a consistent home practice, to tie everything more neatly together. Right now, I do a home practice every week or so. Other than that, I head to the studio to get my fix.
Is the practice largely spiritual or largely physical? A balance of both?
I used to be a gym rate. But once I started doing asana regularly, I gave up my gym membership. Today, the only physical exercise I do is asana and walking my dog. When I go too many days without getting on my mat, my body gets cranky. So the physical aspect of yoga is important for me.
That said, the physical is only a side benefit. Expanding my capacity for understanding and compassion for others and the world are where it’s at, in my opinion. Bottom line: I do yoga to be a better person. And maybe to catch a glimpse of God one day (here’s hoping). And, as I’ve said before, the physical aspect of yoga can be an act of devotion and transcendence under the right circumstances.
Why my practice is spiritually meaningful to me
I grew up without religion. Though Jewish by ancestry, I’ve never practiced it. For a long time, I considered myself an atheist. But in studying yogic texts and spending time in the presence of knowledgeable teachers, I began to believe in something more.
As I understand it, organized religion is intended to provide some sort of ethical construct; a paradigm for self-improvement. Though I would say I’ve always had a strong sense of trying to do what’s “right” (whatever that means), yoga has provided me with a better framework for understanding how to live in alignment with my values.
How long I’ve been doing this practice
I haven’t been using this particular check list for all that long – maybe a few months. But it feels like something I can keep doing indefinitely. If I get more ambitious, perhaps I’ll add to it.
How I determined this was the right practice for me; how and why it has changed over time.
Like most yogis, my gateway was asana. For many years, my practice was only physical. Teacher training taught me about the other eight limbs. I toyed with meditation, but began a more regular practice only about five years ago.
It’s been hard for me to realize the benefits of meditation – mostly because I was attached to a particular outcome (visions of God, ecstatic trances, the usual). Looking back, I realize meditation has given me insight into my own patterns and drama (as my beloved Greg Marzullo would call it, my “hustle”). I’m still dramatic, but now I often have a moment of clarity before the drama ensues. Sometimes, I am even able to minimize the drama or disconnect from it entirely. I recognize the pattern for what it is, rather than seeing it as the only reality.
What happens if I skip a day? Or a week. Or month. Because – life.
I’m going to tell you a secret about myself: I am inherently commitment-phobic. And maybe more than a little lazy. So I skip days. A lot.
But I’ve also been practicing yoga a LONG time. So I cut myself slack. After a few decades, I am pretty convinced that this yoga business is going to stick for me. So if it ebbs and flows, I don’t get too worried about it. I know I’ll get back on my mat, on my cushion, and to my books. And I’ll probably do it sooner rather than later.
What would you suggest to others who are trying to develop their own practice?
I would start with identifying your objectives. In my opinion, that can help determine the shape your practice should take. Once your clear on that, consider the eight limbs of yoga and play around with a mix of them that: (1) support your objectives; (2) resonates with you; and (3) fits into your life. It may take a bit of trial and error to see what works best.
By highlighting what individual practices might look like, I am hoping to provide inspiration and food for thought – not a specific recipe that has to be followed. Take what you need, discard the rest and come up with new things all on your own. Just don’t tell Patanjali I said that.