In early August I found myself more anxious, negative and more. I began to inquire and become curious. After a little bit I quickly realized that my yoga practice, in particular my meditation practice, had become inconsistent. I was consumed by the busy schedules and long days of summer. Additionally, I was internally challenging meditation and its benefits to me on a subtle level. On an early afternoon in August, I sat down at my computer and wrote a bit about how the pain of not practicing was too strong for me and I was ready to commit again. As I read through this again today before posting I cannot help but be reminded of how important sitting is for me each day. Note: if you don't have time to read the story, scroll down to the list at the bottom that shows my own personal experience of the pain vs. benefit for me when I am NOT practicing vs. when I AM practicing. It is powerful.
Written, Aug. 11, 2016 - The Pain of Not Practicing
Today I feel compelled to write; I want to share with you a little more of my story, specifically my yoga journey and the positive impact it has had on my life. The title of this post comes from a personal story that I have heard Rod Stryker talk about more than once. Rod Stryker is the founder of ParaYoga and the author of The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom (which I often reference). In order to set the stage for my perspective of not practicing vs. practicing and the impact on my life I would like to provide additional background.
In the article, "The Secret to Making Positive Life Changes" found in full at the Huffington Post here, Rod Stryker explains that making changes in life are hard for so many of us and "it's all about pain" he writes in the article. Rod explains, "In short, as long as you identify change as being more powerful than not changing, odds are that you won't change." He says, "our desire to avoid pain is why we find it difficult to start or sustain a new habit or achieve our goals."
In this article he tells the story of his earlier years of practicing and his discussion with his teacher about his practice. Rod Stryker says it best when he writes (find full article here):
Despite all the benefits it provided me, despite being aware of how much better my life was whenever i did it, I failed to do it consistently. Curious about how to overcome my resistance and convert my enthusiasm for it into a regular practice I approached my teacher.
“What do you feel like when you don’t do it,” he asked.
“Not so great,” I said. “I feel less clear, less inspired, less confident, less comfortable.”
“Great,” he said. “Keep that at the forefront of your mind. The more mindful you are of the pain of not doing it, the less likely you are to not practice.” I remember thinking, “That’s it? ‘Recall the pain of not doing it,’ that’s the secret to practicing regularly?” It took time, but I would eventually learn that my teacher had asked me to apply the critical element that determines practically all human behavior — the desire to avoid pain. Our desire to avoid pain is why we find it difficult to start or sustain a new habit or achieve our goals.
This story has stuck with me and is the biggest reason why I get on my mat and why I find a daily meditation practice. The pain of not practicing is significantly stronger than the challenge to actually practice. In recent personal reflections I am have realized that there is a powerful correlation to happiness when I am practicing versus my suffering when I am not practicing.
As I have mentioned before, Rod Stryker's Four Desires book is my compass and has helped me remain calm and confident on good days and hard days, especially when I felt so sad and alone when my own issues were challenging me. My dharma code (purpose) was created from the exercises in this book and continues to serve me and keep me grounded in me. Your dharma code is meant to serve you in big and small challenges. I have personally felt the positive impact of a daily practice in my day-to-day experiences and healing of my heart as I climbed out of a very low time of my emotional and spiritual self when my disordered eating issues were very prevalent.
I share this story and thought on change with you because it is one that has greatly impacted me—specifically in the way that I live my life and my perspective on the importance of a daily practice. However, in the last three months, my daily practice has been challenged by my mind telling me that I am too busy, and to try to see if I can tap into that inner teacher without quieting my mind. A part of me feels that this little blip of inconsistent practice is the rebel in me asking, "does this practice thing really make a difference?" After three months of real data from my own experiences, my conclusion: daily practice matters most definitely!
What am I noticing without a consistent practice? I have listed below my key disturbances when I do NOT practice and the positive effect of when I DO practice. Again, as I read through this list I am inspired and encouraged to keep showing up for me each day because the positive effects are much more enjoyable; why would i want to suffer? Again, it is easy to see here that the pain of not practicing is definitely greater than the challenge to find the time to practice.
Inconsistent Practice vs. Consistent practice:
1. Busy Mind (ALL over the place place) vs. Steady Mind
I have recently noticed that my mind is a lot more distracted and less one-pointed. For example, the last call that I had with my coach I used the metaphor of me on a track with ten lanes, and each lane is one of my competing priorities. What is a girl going to do? My head is spinning and I care about them ALL. How can I move forward with all of them? I know, make a spreadsheet? Or, how about work harder? Or better yet, let me get my post-it notes out because that always solves the problem. Fast forward one week later and I am realizing that my mind has not had the opportunity to be quiet every day for a while (mainly because I do my practice at night and I am so tired I fall asleep or create more anxiety by trying to stay awake just to meditate). This obviously needs to shift (and already has to the morning most days).
2. Anxiety/Fear vs. Faith
I have a lot more anxiety in the last couple months. I know I am not alone in this regard because of all that is happening in the world and in particular, in the United States with the intense political scene. However, from my point-of-view, feeling jumpy and worrying about every the little thing is starting to creep up. I go from normal thinking to the worst-case scenario in literally 5 seconds. I have to walk myself off the ledge by actually feeling what it feels like to know everything is okay. That technique has saved me—but I know that I can do more than that. I know that when I have a consistent practice, with the minimum of a daily meditation practice, the ease and faith in life become more effortless. That is something worth stopping this busy life for.
3. Anger vs. Peace an Love
When I am not practicing I feel angry fast. I am annoyed with my kids faster than normal and I am quick to yell and focus on the stuff that actually doesn't matter. Does it really matter if they pick up their pajamas or if we are late to school? Of course I want them to be responsible and I will have to figure out a calm and consistent approach to that issue, but getting angry by mumbling under my breath or simply expressing anger to the kiddos is not valuable to them or my physical body. It immediately puts me in the fight-or-flight stress response and that isn't good for anything, especially as I know my cortisol is low and I am battling hormones (more on that another day). I notice when I am meditating daily, I don't give as many shits about the small stuff. You know that book, Don't Sweat The Small Stuff? Someone should write a meditation version that says, When You Meditate You Won't Sweat the Small Stuff. :)
4. Self-Doubt vs. Strong Intuition
When I meditate daily, I begin to trust my intuition and inner voice. Thus, when I am not meditating I have SO MUCH MORE DOUBT. I vacillate a lot more what to do next, the little things, or choice A or B. However, when I take the time to find quiet in my mind, my inner teacher and voice is much more present in my waking moments and non-meditative moments. Thus, I can make the choices that are in my highest good. I am fairly confident that this is the case because answers arrive so much quicker when I have been connecting to something higher than me. I trust in me, I trust in life and I trust in others.
5. Negativity vs. Gratitude
This one is pretty easy to explain, but comes with a recent story. When I wake up and/or have missed my meditation for a day or two, I find myself focusing on what sucks. You know what I am talking about—that buzz-killer negativity. For example, yesterday morning I woke up and within seconds of me sitting to meditation, my littlest one was up and I was on full-on mommy duty. I also knew I would not get a break all day/night because he was just getting over a fever and we would have another low-key day (translation – no gym drop-off or preschool that day). What happened for me was a quick shift of realizing what was in front of me and I immediately complained to my husband about what he didn’t do to help me that particular morning. Oh wait, did I forget all he does every day or the fact that I was complaining about things so small that would take me a total of ten minutes or the fact that he was about to leave to an important meeting within the hour? I could feel his energy shift (rightfully so because I was not being kind) and then realized, wow, that is a lot of negativity coming from one lady. I made the choice to fight back and find gratitude and grace in my day. My point here is this: When I have time to quiet my mind, set my intention for the day and feel the gratitude of life just by being, I can easily slip into living my gratitude. This positively effects my day and those I come in contact with. Yesterday, the first few hours felt like an uphill battle for me and I know now in reflection how important this time is for me and for the family that I oh so love.
Thus, as you can see, it doesn't make any sense to "do one more thing" without finding the time to sit on my butt and quiet my mind. One of my yoga teachers, often reminds me, "tush to the cush!" and rightfully so. My practice can be as short as 10 minutes to as long as 30 minutes. The longer I have been practicing, the longer I prefer to sit for 20-30 minutes and/or twice a day. However, it truly doesn't take long to tap into that place inside of you that is unchanging and ever present. When you quiet your mind, you can quickly tap into that part of you that has peace in your heart always and is connected to something higher than you.
Because of this and because of how quick the benefit of practice is, I have committed to a 10-minute practice every day, simply to gain confidence in my ability to set aside time for my meditation. I can already see a difference and sometimes those ten minutes are the high of my day. The ten minutes give back greatly in the positive impact on my entire day and days to follow. I can immediately notice a difference when I begin to practice again and the cumulative effect of practicing days and weeks in a row can be felt. Not only do I notice it, but also my close friends and husband can tell a noticeable difference in me. My husband will sometimes hand me my bolster and ask me to "meditate." I think he gets it sometimes more than I do.
So with all of that, I ask you one question: Do you want a steady mind and more peace, love, and faith in your life? If you feel that even one of those areas in your inner world and life could be positively impacted, then I strongly encourage you to find even just a couple minutes to sit and quiet your mind or simply think about making that change in your future (I know we are all ready for change at a different pace).
Where can you find meditations? A lot of people have said they really like the MindSpace and the Headspace app for mediation and there are free meditations everywhere. If you are a beginner I would be mindful of what you select, knowing that the most accessible meditation for almost anyone is the meditation on the breath. I enjoy Rod Stryker's meditations from his Four Desires CD and I am sure there are many more available. Additionally, I plan to offer a free meditation in the coming month to make this simple meditation easily accessible to you. Feel free to reach out with any questions you might have on resources and tell me how you are doing if you are trying something new, I would LOVE to hear!