Make no mistake, yoga is not designed to give you a yoga butt, to make you into a gymnastic acrobat, yoga is not stretching, unless you mean stretching your mind, it does not make you a better person than the person next to you on the bus, or your workmate who doesn’t do yoga, or your family member who drives you nuts with their opposing views to yours. There’s a great saying – “If you think you are enlightened, go spend the weekend with your family.”
What it does do, is lead you to liberation, to stillness, to equilibrium, to heart opened connection with yourself, with others and ultimately, one with everything that is, and then maybe enlightenment, sounds good right!
Like all good things, all great undertakings and journeys, these things take time. I think there is a misconception that if we practice, and often we think we only need to practice a little bit, that things will all of a sudden come up roses. If we repeat the positive affirmation enough times, if we go to yoga once a week, if we meditate a little bit, if we practice for 6 months, a year, our lives will suddenly and amazingly change for the better.
They are great starts, and yes, even a little bit of practice is better than no practice, the Bhagavad Gita says that “No effort upon the path is wasted, no gain is ever reversed, and even a little practice will shelter you from great sorrow.” But often, when the wished for results don’t come, either fast enough, or in a form that is palatable to us, aka sweet, we ditch the practices, ‘oh, that didn’t work for me’, ‘naahhh, not really my thing eh’ or some such statement.
Have you ever met or heard of a virtuoso musician that doesn’t practice, a famous architect or landscape gardener that hasn’t continued creating and growing in their work.
Did you know that Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, or that it took Mozart ten years to write something that became popular? I love this quote from Michael Jordan, the most famous basketball player of all time, who incidentally was dropped from his high school team – “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He continued to practice and play, and he succeeded at his work, his chosen skill.
The moral of the story being, that if you want to succeed in your practice, if you want the fruits, then you have to stay in the game. Staying in the game requires effort, it means sometimes failing, it means sometimes seeing no results for a long time, this is the work of practice.
The Yoga Sutras are very clear on this, Sutra 1.14 says that the practice must be consistent over a long period of time, and then it becomes firmly rooted giving a solid and stable foundation. Buddha says “Practice mindfulness diligently, to attain the goal of awakening. Your piano teacher will tell you how many hours you need to practice a day to gain mastery, so will your violin teacher, your sports coach, your yoga teacher, your meditation teacher, your mentor, your guru, your personal trainer.
Ever heard of the 10,000 hour to mastery theory, I worked it out, it’s approximately 2.5 hours a day for 10 years! I am not sure if this means 2.5 hours of actual playing, meditating, or painting a day, though I am pretty sure that it does and that most masters in their fields do this and more. But I think it also means to be in love with your practice, to commit to it whole hearedly, to know that consistency always gets the best results, and that there are no shortcuts, sorry folks but there are just not.
I have read loads over the years, this new technique, that new (also conveniently quick and easy) way of meditating or becoming enlightened, or the ever present 5 steps to happiness, 9 ways to create a more meaningful life, 7 days to Nirvana, we’ve all seen them, over and over and over again. My experience is this, there is only daily practice, even when you don’t feel like it, even when it’s hard, you don’t have time, you’re sick, your kids are sick, your husband has left you and the cat’s just died.
It is actually in the worst of times that a daily practice is so important, and it is here that the fruits of our practice clearly present themselves. It is an anchor point, a calm within the storm that is always there, because it is within us, it is internal, it cannot be taken away from you. So much of what we do is external, always looking, always touching, hearing, tasting, doing, thinking. Our beautiful and expansive selves need a break from all of that, and what better way than to just sit, quietly, contemplatively, developing equanimity, balance, calmness and poise. Learning to control the mind is so useful, because if we do not control it, it will control us. The ego mind is a gnarly, wiry beast that will have it’s way, and as so many of us know, when it does, it easily leads us down the slippery slope of anxiety, stress, worry, depression, repetitive thoughts and behaviours that don’t serve us and definitely do not bring contentment.
And that my friends is what it’s all about, contentment, not happiness. Happiness is elusive and it’s transitory. We have moments of happiness, just like we have moments of anger, or sadness. We often mistake elation or pleasure for happiness, but true happiness is an abiding contentment that is not affected by our daily trials and tribulations.
Happiness is not the point of meditation, or of any practice. Life is like a landscape, there are hills and valleys and stretches of clear paths in-between, there is no escaping this, even retreating to a cave, there is still daily life, eating, sleeping, surviving, but we can walk the middle path, the landscape goes on around us, but there is always that part of ourselves that is not affected, that is content with what is.
For me, yoga has been the best practice, we often think of yoga as being a physical practice, but really it’s a psychological and spiritual practice. The ultimate goal of yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind, only then can true meditation arise, and from there we can move from individuality to universality. It is a life science that covers all the bases.
For me it is a life practice, not something that happens only on my mat. It is how I want to live in the world, connected, aware and awake. Yoga teaches us to live, not in the past and not in the future, it teaches us to live in the present, which is the only moment we have, right here, right now, this moment.
There are many ways to meditate, to still the mind, to practice – Yoga, Buddhism, Christian Contemplation, Zen, Sufi whirling, Chanting, Tao, Qigong all offer pathways, methods of meditation. Choose a way.
In the famous words of Sri Pattabhi Jois – “Do your practice and all is coming.”
And get a teacher, I have a teacher, she has teachers, they had teachers and so on. Successful athletes, singers and dancers all have teachers, coaches and mentors. Don’t rely on You Tube videos, books, the 10 best ways lists, get yourself to a class, or course, get a teacher, learn slowly, systematically and fully, make it daily, and enjoy the fruits.
©Joanne Maria Vernon 2015