This blog relates some of what was said during a recent conversation I had with a Yogafurie Teacher Trainee, whose name is Claire. We were discussing Yoga, namely practicing Yoga at home. She asked me, “How can I build a life that includes some of everything?”
Clearly, the motivation is there; we’re discussing this, there is a desire to bring Yoga into the home for this person. For her, it makes a lot of sense as she has joined Yogafurie’s Teacher Training program. In fact Yoga is the missing piece in life’s jigsaw for lots of different people, and for lots of different reasons.
I asked, “What is everything to you?”
Claire told me a little more about her life. Like most of us, Claire has a full time job, looks after a house, has a relationship that needs time, care and attention, and a social life. Trying to add a Yoga practice won’t be easy – will it?
We talked a bit more about Yoga and the different styles of practice like asana (postures), breathing exercises, meditation, chanting etc. It emerged that Claire (again like many of us) really enjoys asana and reading about Yoga. Yoga’s philosophies and ideas really resonate for her. She’s not the type to sit and meditate on her own at home, but can enjoy meditation in a group. It’s just not something she’s ever felt that drawn to.
There’s no “spare time” as such. We all, already have very busy lives and Claire is no exception. But Claire could identify some time that currently has no particular use – her daily commute to and from work. She also identified some time that she could redirect from reading fiction novels, which is one of her favourite pastimes.
We put together a plan for Claire in the end. By sacrificing some of her reading time, She made space to practice Yoga asana 20-30 minutes per day. Her daily commute – almost an hour in total – would now have a purpose: reading Yoga philosophy, which she enjoys doing anyway. And Claire bravely agreed to find a local meditation class and aim to get there on a weekly basis.
There was a little more we discussed but I think you can now see that Claire arrived at a workable solution, perfect for her needs and preferences. In fact, I’m writing all this because Claire’s story demonstrates all the key elements in building a successful personal Yoga practice.
Firstly – and really most importantly – there was a desire to integrate Yoga into daily life. People need this driver. Of course, the Buddha taught that desire in general is the first, foremost and biggest problem in life. It certainly can be, because it fluctuates. Today one might feel motivated to practice, tomorrow one might feel like doing something else instead. Hanging one’s hopes on desire is therefore perilous. The Buddha would teach that it’s more useful to spend time realising that the reason to practice is that it’s wholly beneficial. It’s subtly different to practicing because one feels motivated to do a wholly beneficial thing. Having said all that, we have to start somewhere. Wanting to make a start is definitely the best way to get something going.
Secondly, Claire identified the things she does and doesn’t like, and her plan includes her favourite asana work and the meditation which is rather less appealing. There was a clarity in the division between these, and that’s important. Yoga means “union” – we’re searching for the common ground between all of life’s opposites. One of the most divisive pairs of opposites in our lives is the distinction we make between the things we like and the things we don’t like. When we avoid dislikes, we sometimes look back later and wish we’d got involved. When we stick with things we like, we can again look back later in regret if things haven’t turned out the way we hoped. For this reason, a successful personal practice can’t only include the things we like. But we can’t overload ourselves with miserable things we don’t enjoy either. Finding the middle ground in personal practice is the first step in seeking unity in all of life’s paradoxes. Successfully including a little bit of what you fancy and a little bit of what you don’t is what makes practice into Yoga.
The third thing was Claire’s openness to a realistic assessment of what’s already going on in her life. We could talk about what currently takes her time and what can and can’t be compromised. This step is the most practical, because it delivers a clear idea of how much time might be available. It’s also the first test of motivation, because it will involve some personal sacrifice. We are all already maxed out, we all have a full schedule. It’s interesting to reflect that the word “sacrifice” comes from a Latin word meaning “to make sacred”. A spiritual person might see this as bringing a blessing, or an auspicious cosmic assistance to their Yoga efforts. For an agnostic person, making “sacred” might mean making a heartfelt commitment. Whether the energy of success comes from the sky or from the heart doesn’t matter; either way, the person is recognising the value of the investment that they or the Fates and Powers are making right now.
These are the steps to designing your own personal practice plan, which can include going to led classes – it doesn’t all have to be solo home practice. But designing a plan and seeing it through are potentially two different things, and the rest of this blog is devoted to how you might go about delivering your plan and achieving your goals.
Claire said one other thing that I haven’t yet related. To give you the background, Yogafurie teacher trainees meet regularly outside of the course framework as a community space on zoom. This is a chance for everyone to chat about things, share information, and to get peer support. Claire explicitly asked for some accountability through the community space sessions.
I want to point out how brave it is to ask for help. It’s brave in three different ways, for different reasons.
It’s brave for the obvious reason that it’s an admission of the need for help. We’ve all had the experience of not asking for help when we needed it with something, and how much more difficult the task then becomes. We don’t ask because we don’t want to say openly that we need it. In that moment, it take a brave person to speak up and say, hey, can I get some help here?
It’s brave for the less obvious reason that, by asking for help, one is publicly committing to the work. I know that Claire is going to give this her best shot, because she’s asked me to be part of it. This is a very strong statement.
Finally, it’s really brave because the plan includes things Claire likes and things that are less appealing. It doesn’t even fully play to personal preferences, and yet here we are, planning to make a start and offer accountability. Do you have to have access to a Yoga teacher to get that accountability? No – you just need access to someone who’s going to be honest, even if there’s something uncomfortable to be said!
Bravery is an outward sign of the commitment needed to turn motivation into results. It’s obvious that the person has thought about the task in hand. We’ve already noted that motivation alone – desire basically – is an inherently unstable approach. Bravery is the unconscious recognition and personal preparation for the rocky and unstable road that may lie ahead.
But we still don’t have all the elements. We’ve got the desire to work, and a realistic plan for that work. The ramifications of what we’ve signed up for are clear because we’re showing bravery and asking for someone to check in, to provide accountability. But the work itself still isn’t being done. The work is done over a long period of time, day by day, bit by bit. Seeing it through is an act of self-discipline.
Discipline is another word that has a Latin root – this time in a word that means “to become a disciple of”. You may have heard the expression – often quoted in Yoga circles – “you are your own best teacher”. This is where the rubber hits the road: when you commit to your personal practice, you become your own disciple. You have set the plan, you have played the role of teacher. Now you can follow as disciple and see where it leads, or you can abandon your teacher (yourself) and do something else instead.
It’s important to realise that no one will judge you if you do decide to ditch your plan. Yogafurie teacher training is not like that: we empower our trainees to make their own decisions about how they will bring Yoga into their life and the lives of others. We read an important Yoga text together called the Bhagavad Gita. In it, our hero (Arjuna) is coached by his mentor, who is the god avatar Krishna. “All paths lead to me”, Krishna tells Arjuna. We are all free to make our own choices, and all will eventually bring us home. But some paths are quicker, quieter and more pleasant than others!
We’ve already said that you are your our own best teacher. By the same reasoning, you are your own best student too. If you don’t follow through on your plan, then perhaps the plan isn’t right. Don’t fall into a spiral of self reproach: instead just ask, “Am I actually motivated?”. If the motivation is there then try the planning process again. People are often over-ambitious about the amount of time they can make available. Maybe you just need some simple adjustments.
In summary, this is how you can put together and deliver on a personal Yoga practice:
– Think about how motivated you really are. If practice is a “nice to have” then things might go awry! If however practice is a “must have” then you stand a really good chance of success.
– Yoga comprises asana, pranayama (breathing), meditation, chanting and personal study (doesn’t have to be philosophy, could be podcasts about Yoga or the lives of prominent Yogis etc). What comes easily, and what would take some effort? Pick a mixture of things that will both challenge and excite you.
– Look honestly at your life. Is there any spare time? Is there any time you’re willing to redirect from something else? What investment are you prepared to make in this? Now you can divide the time you have between the activities you’ve chosen.
– Get an accountability buddy, someone who will ask you how you’re getting on. Look for someone who will point out to you where you’re doing well, and where you’re doing not so well. It could be a Yoga teacher, or a family member, or a friend.
– Do your plan, on every day you said you would. Will there be some epic fails? Yes, of course. But if you and your buddy find there are more days missed than executed, the plan is not working. Now you need to look at how motivated you are, and whether the plan needs to be adjusted.
Remember, all paths will “take you home”. Be ready to try again if things go wrong: Yoga is the state of mind that includes all pairs of opposites. Success and failure are really not as important as just getting the hell on the mat today – whether the mat is worn out from hours of daily use or stashed shamefully in a cupboard for the last ten years. What’s gone really is gone, so unroll the mat today regardless of what you did yesterday. And let us know here at Yogafurie how you’re getting on.