Photo: François Haffner
Identifying a clear-to-you reason to practice.
Part 3: Personal Practice: Begin Yours
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
She’s such a great artist. She’s so good even if she’s just drawing a fingernail it has all the pain and the joy of the world in it.
Overheard on Wooster Street, SoHo. June 21, 2010
First, something to add to your practice when you want more: How to cultivate your natural ability to focus.
Step 1 Over the next day or two, watch and listen for what speaks to you.
For this part of your practice, you want to find an image, a song or some words. It can be anything, ANYthing.
Step 2 Set a deadline – a maximum of two days but preferably one 24 hour period, and watch for it. If you decide “OK, I’m going to try this today,” but then you forget about it, don’t rush into it or blame yourself for forgetting. Do wait a week (absolutely, a week!) then try again.
Step 3 Before your practice, look at the image your found, or read the words or listen to the song; pause and try to feel your whole body. If you’re thinking things, notice it, but (and this is simple – don’t make it complicated by thinking about it!) don’t follow the thoughts.
Let your attention come back over and over to the image /words/ song.
After a minute or two, begin your practice.
Yesterday on Personal Practice:
It begs the question: If I thought it was such bullshit, why did I keep going?
Which brings us to bullet number two
It helps to have at least one clear-to-you reason why you want to practice.
Truth is, if you’re in the place where you think something else will provide a better solution to whatever it is that you are trying to get at by practicing yoga
you probably won’t want to push on with a personal practice.
It’s just too weird.
You will like mixing yoga classes into your fitness thing if you like the other people in the class, or the teacher; if it’s free with your club membership or you enjoy “a good stretch.”
And there is nothing wrong with that.
But let’s say you could be interested, maybe.
When you’re in a class, someone is saying sort of lovely things about, like, the nature of the universe and intentions and very cool, flipped-out emotional stuff. That same voice tells you to breathe or remember who you love, or what hurt you when you were small, or the danger the planet is in, and it all feels like it has an arc.
It arrives somewhere, and when it’s good, which it often is, you feel, well, complete.
Which is way not likely to be how you feel when you begin to practice by yourself.
The only thing that keeps you practicing by yourself is having a clear, makes-sense-to-you (even if you can’t explain it) reason why you want to do it. Otherwise, you will give up easily, as I said, with some relief, because it’s too weird.
You’ll say you tried but you didn’t have time, or your kids interrupted you, or your partner was mad you weren’t helping with the housework. You’ll say, “it was nice, but-” and you’ll say maybe you should get back to it. In the future.
I may not have wanted to, or even been able to explain
why I kept going to yoga classes and began to practice every day on my own. But (and not because I’d thought about it) I did have one reason I totally understood. It’s a fairly common reason people show up in yoga classes:
Nothing else was working.
Yoga may have been weird, but it wasn’t asking very much of me except being reasonably close to on-time, and I didn’t have a better option.
I’d tried everything,
So there was nothing to lose.
Believe me, even if I thought my nice-guy yoga teacher was strange, he wasn’t the idiot my doctor seemed to be. The range of painful-to-frightening symptoms I brought to her office over the course of several years got the same HMO distracted response from her.
It got to the point I thought if I came to her office with an arrow sticking through my body she’d say, “It’s peri-menopause.”
It’s only a decision.
Making fun of yoga, smack-talking yoga even as I got deeper into it, is what I call stable self-conflict. At the same moment I was mouthing off about my indifference and laughing about my teacher’s presumed incompetency, I was continuing to go to class.
I was even getting private lessons sometimes.
Yes, I bought my own mat, blocks, a strap, and a videotape of a brief morning yoga sequence by Rodney Yee which for several years during this same point in time I followed every day.
The way things are.
Doing one thing, saying something different, and really not knowing what you’re thinking is exactly the state of being yoga is designed to address. This state of being doesn’t get in the way of yoga, it’s the raw material of yoga, and nobody ever runs out of it or needs to go get some more.
Human beings generate stable self conflict as though it were a by-product of breathing, just like carbon dioxide. It’s natural. We could stop taking ourselves so seriously. We could be good-natured about it, but we’re not.
We get all caught up in talking about it, explaining it, putting ourselves down and criticizing other people.
It boils down to crankiness, as simple as breathing less oxygen than we need, because we spend too much time inhaling our own off-gassing.
Look, it’s not about fitting in.
It’s really ok not to have a personal practice. Frankly, yoga is good exercise. Yoga teachers are a pretty gifted crowd, and other people who do yoga are often sweet enough or in good enough shape to keep you coming back now and then.
It’s just that, no matter what it is, when someone else is providing your structure and motivation, you’re getting whatever general benefits a limited situation can offer, or the very specific benefits someone – not you – has decided are the answer to problems as they describe them.
You won’t know more about your own life or understand yourself better than the person-you-really-do-not-know who is in the front of the room. You may, over time, find relief in becoming the person a leader invents for you.
Tomorrow: The Deep Stuff. You’ll find out more, understand better, and see results that matter to you the more consistently you stick with it.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.