One of the questions I am most frequently asked is how I stay inspired to practice yoga.
The last time someone asked me about inspiration, I answered, “You mean beyond the basics? You mean, what do I do beyond meditation, mantra, asana, time in nature, studying, journal writing and going to therapy? Really, I got nothing other than that.”
And we laughed.
The question also assumes something that may or may not be true for me, depending on the day—that I am actually inspired.
Truth be told, I am not particularly inspired about yoga many days. I am, however, committed.
Come to think of it, the thought of having to be inspired to practice seems like way too much pressure to put on myself.
Let me back up. As far as practice goes— be it an asana practice, a study practice, a meditation practice, a dietary practice, etc.— there are two primary distinctions to consider. Are you established in practice and struggling within your established practice? Or are you struggling to establish yourself in practice? For instance, are you on your mat more days than not and the endeavor simply feels boring, repetitive, dry, frustrating and/or disappointing in some way? Or are you finding everything other than practice to do with your time and attention like laundry, Facebook, phone calls, emails, happy hour, etc.?
I consider myself established in a few practices. I don’t have to drum up a big story about why I do them, nor do I bring a lot of lofty ideas into the process. I sit in meditation, I write in my journal, I exercise, and I study simply because I am committed to doing those things. Within that, some days I want to practice and some days I do not want to. Some days I find the process enjoyable, while other days I find the work boring. Many days, my feelings are more neutral and unexamined. That being said, regardless of how I feel about the practice, most days my various practices seem to lift me up and carry me along in some way that I appreciate. Whether it is the dive into Self, a dose of endorphins from exercise or a bit of OCD-type satisfaction from checking something off a list, I am not exactly sure where the appreciation arises from, nor does it matter much to me. Practice seems to move me in a positive direction, whether or not I felt inspired to do it.
I suppose my inspiration-meter is set pretty low, when you get down to it. One nugget of new understanding, one insight about myself or someone else or Life itself, and/or one point of clarity and I feel more interested, if not inspired.
Many times the inspiration comes in the little things for me. For instance, I recently went to a yoga class and the teacher taught this one thing with a strap that I am getting lots of mileage from in my home practice and that is sure to show up in my intensives and trainings. A few weeks ago, a teacher gave me a tip about using my obliques in a specific way that has been a game changer and gave me tremendous fuel for study, practice and teaching. And so on. Sometimes all it takes is a slightly different twist on the poses (or a practice) to stimulate my creativity and curiosity.
I should add that, many times, long-time practitioners of any discipline may need to step outside their chosen discipline for inspiration. The number of long-time yoga teachers who are bored with teaching who think they need to do another training to get re-inspired far outweighs the number of long-time yoga teachers who, when feeling a bit dried-out in terms of inspiration, decide to plant a garden, take a dance class, get a puppy, or go on a non-yoga-related vacation. To be clear, I am not advocating a life of diversion and distraction, but simply a change of pace, a new vantage point, and a break in routine. Sometimes coming up to the shallow end of the pool is needed. Sometimes a deep dive is required.
It all depends.
If you are struggling with the inspiration for practice, to get established in practice in a way that is committed, reliable and generates its own momentum for continuity, then perhaps a different approach is needed. As always, to get a good answer we need to ask a good question which, when it comes to practice, means getting honest about where we actually are, not where we think we should be.
Strategies like 30-day challenges, goal-setting, coaching sessions, and one-on-one accountability structures can go a long way to helping folks get from “I want to, but I don’t,” “I want to, but I just can’t” and “Even though I love yoga, I don’t practice it,” and so on. I don’t use those tools currently, but when it comes to practice I am all for whatever works.
A few moments spent reflecting on your own personality can go a long way toward overcoming your current challenge, whatever it is. Do you work better alone or with a group or one-on-one? Would making a date to meet a friend at class help? Would committing publicly in some way help? Do you work well with rewards?
Maybe you are setting the bar too high for yourself in regards to your expectations for yourself. I can’t tell you the number of times I remind people that the 15 minutes they actually do is better than the 2 hours they do not do. The principle of “just do something” seems obvious enough and yet, sometimes we fall into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking and/or self-criticism and fail to recognize that regularity over a long period of time bears more fruit than do the grand gestures that start and stop.
Well, I am rounding the corner on 1000 words now and so will bring this entry to a close with some shameless promotions that may support your commitment, if not your inspiration:
Keep the faith.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."