Commitment is not something that comes easily to me. There were years that I moved every single year and the longest I ever stayed in a job was 5 years. Don't even get me started on romantic relationships! As soon as the going got tough, I got going..... that is, until I found yoga....
My daily spiritual practice started after a Vipassana retreat at the Goenka Center in North Fork, CA. The teacher S.N. Goenka who gives dharma talks via audio and video during the retreat said something like, “if you sit everyday for 1 hour for 1 year, the habit will be so engrained that it will no longer feel like you are forcing it, but that you can't do without it”. And, so I sat everyday for a year. I would not say that I was meditating because I was mostly struggling with the physical posture.
Yoga and Vipassana meditation had come into my life around the same time but I was only practicing yoga in classes. It wasn't until I started a Teacher Training program at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco that I committed to a daily personal practice of yoga at home. Again, it was an outside source that compelled me. One of the requirements of the program was a daily practice and so I began!
A quote from B.K.S. Iyengar eloquently describes the fruit of discipline:
“Discipline is a safety measure. It appears in the beginning as regimentation, but the moment you labour with love, discipline disappears and passion for the ultimate aim sets itn. Until then, one thinks of it as discipline. But for use, we discipline ourselves to reach that passion of the ultimate goal. When transformation takes place, discipline suddenly vanishes and you become part and parcel of that object for which you and I are struggling.” - Yoga Rahasya, Vol. 22, No.1; 2015
In the beginning, I did need to drag myself to class or my personal “mat” to practice with discipline. But, commitment was born because the practice ALWAYS met me where I was, listened to how I was feeling, and delivered what was required. The practice was always there. It had “my back”. It provided a refuge.
“For me there were only two ways on the precipice – either I have to fall in or I have to fall out, to accept or say good-bye. The moment I crossed the precipice, it no longer was a discipline – it became a passion, an urge to pursue. Then I experienced freedom. Freedom comes when the discipline revolutionizes the discipline as a passion for the art.” - B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga Rahasya, Vol. 22, No.1; 2015
It snuck up on me, but after years of daily practice, my yoga is no longer a discipline but a way of life. My practice is as necessary as food or water or air. There is no question of whether I will be practicing, only how and when.
For years I have had a regular practice of pranayama/meditation that I do first thing in the morning and then I do asana practice later in the morning or day. In the past year I have been having a lot of physical pain and migraines. I would wake up in the morning in pain or with the feeling that a migraine was coming on but continue to do my regular order of practice starting with pranayama/meditation. I observed that the pain would often times get worse, rather than better. By now, I have faith that pain and suffering as a result of the practice are “user error” not the practice itself. What I realized is that I had given myself over to discipline at the expense of the true practice. The practice should always meet us where we are vs. serving a reality that we wish for.
So, the next time I woke up in pain, rather than going into pranayama/meditation I did some asana practice. It felt strange to be doing a more physical practice so early in the morning but low and behold I was able to alleviate or manage the pain. Sometimes, I would do pranayama/meditation later in the day or sometimes I would be content with whatever I did as my “practice”.
In nutrition, we are encouraged to eat a balanced diet. It would be great if we were able to eat a balanced diet everyday but the reality is that we will still flourish if our diet balances out of the course of a couple of days or even a week. So, one day we may eat a lot and another day we naturally eat less. One day, we are feeling heavy and eat a more cleansing diet; another day we are genuinely hungry and eat a more nourishing diet. If you have ever read anything from Michael Pollen, the Omnivore's Dilemna, we humans are naturally designed to flourish with variety. If we eat the same exact food every day for years, our bodies will suffer, even if the food is “healthy”. We were designed to eat with the seasons and conditions.
Yoga or any other spiritual practice is like food. In the beginning, it may feel like you are forcing a discipline of a healthy diet upon yourself. But, over time, I am certain that the benefits of the practice on your life, your energy, your relationships, your livelihood will convince you that it is worth the commitment.
When we are wasting less and less energy on negative states such as desire, anger, greed, infatuation, pride and hatred, then we have more energy to tranform and grow. The amazing thing is, the more energy we are able to conserve, the more that we want to give that energy to others and the world. It is truly the gift that keeps giving.