Inside Yoga 268 (13/5/2019)
We might think that the greatest obstacle to our yoga practice is our body, because we do not feel flexible enough or strong enough, but the biggest challenge to practice is our mind.
In our yoga practice being flexible or strong enough is not a requirement of practice, nor is it the main goal of yoga, however, it is true that we will become stronger and more flexible through practice but any lack of flexibility or strength is not the main obstacle. What yoga does ask us to do is to take back control of our mind.
It correlates too that once we have control of our mind, on a moment to moment basis, we will find we have a much better connection with our body and through this we will find our flexibility and strength improves – which might have been the reason why started practice in the first place.
Reflect on this: how many times when practising yoga do we catch ourselves distracted by thoughts which have nothing to do with what we are currently engaged in doing? It does not matter how often we catch ourselves distracted by our thoughts, we simply stop the thinking and focus again on our yoga practice. We also learn though this repeated process – and it will be repeated frequently – to return to the exercise with a measure of equanimity and a calmness of approach which steadies us. We will also notice how, as we improve our practice, the distractions are less often, and importantly, we improve our response to distractions with the above mentioned calmness of approach. Without a flutter, we carry on.
This practice in turn helps us to deal with distractions in our daily life, because being able to refocus with equanimity takes practice and patience.
Our mind can also be an obstacle because it can keep telling us – incorrectly I hasten to add – that we cannot meditate, or we cannot keep our mind from chatting away, and other such excuses which simply indulge our mind and do not control it. This is especially true with those who are new to yoga practices, because let’s face it, our mind does not want to work hard at something new, instead it would prefer to carry on with its usual hobbies, habits and indulgences. So much so, we would convince ourselves that our chatting mind is who we are and we cannot change.
We can change. Everything can change. No one said it was easy but those who have practised for some time do notice that this practice does help guide our minds, and as a result we feel the benefits. One of the first lessons the Buddha taught after his enlightenment was a discourse on the impermanence of everything. It was and continues to be a very important lesson, because one of the major obstacles to personal improvement is our mind saying: “No you cannot change, this is who you are.”
We get stuck in the misguided belief that we cannot change, that our habits identify who we are, and out of fear we dread doing anything to this label we have hung around our neck. It can be a difficult transition from holding onto habits to letting go of them, but it’s worth it, because when we appreciate that we have taken back control of our chattering mind, whether it was our distracted daydreaming mind or our negative judgemental mind, we will feel liberated and able to move forward in life.
As mentioned previously, in last week’s article, this does require practice, patience and perseverance (see https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2019/05/06/practice-patience-perseverance/) but after more than 24 years of practice I have learnt to appreciate what yoga has been teaching for thousands of years. That’s is why in the yoga sutras Patanjali starts by explaining how we approach our practice, and at that yoga practice aims to control the mind, but reducing the chattering and distractions. (See https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2018/09/10/back-to-the-beginning/ )
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