OBSTACLES TO PRACTICE

Wanting to start yoga? Get back into it after an absence? Have you been meaning to start meditating? Walking/running regularly? Painting? Writing?

I know. Habits are hard to break, and hard to start, too. Many of us play a little mind game to get ourselves going, and it usually helps. But harder still, is maintaining. We all have ups and downs, and can come up with a million reasons why it’s easier to stay put rather than get moving.

In one form or another, I’m sure you’ve heard the Isaac Newton quote, “Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force.” Taking that first step to get moving, or to start something new, is on you. Take a breath, and step into it. Maybe you’ll feel like quitting right away, maybe you’ll find a groove and then hit a plateau. All normal.    

In fact, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the classical texts in the philosophical heritage of yoga, lists eight obstacles that keep us from starting a practice and maintaining it. I go back to this list often enough, simply to remind myself that the feeling a lack of enthusiasm  is a normal part of the journey, and not something to beat myself up about. It’s something to be aware of, yes, and then to address from a place of clarity rather than spinning into a crazy inner narrative about being a failure, not good enough, or any other nonsense.

Book 1, Verse 30: Illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, distraction of the senses, false perception, failure to reach firm ground, and slipping from the ground gained - these distractions of the mind are the obstacles.

In Sri Swami Satchindananda’s translation, the first obstacle is disease, but I’ve changed it here to illness. My own distinction separates the state of the body (disease) from the state of the mind (illness), not as a rigid separation, but as a way to categorize, and better understand them. We all have very real physical limitations, whether disease is present or not. The obstacles I’m talking about here are our perceptions about what we are capable of, or the stories that we weave around disease.

Because you see, we do weave stories around disease, around plateauing, around our work schedule, in ways that create and justify obstacles to practice. It starts, perhaps, with the story we weave around what the practice is or how it “should” keep moving forward, linearly, toward some perfect end. But of course, that is not what practicing is.

The Yoga Sutras provide not only a list of obstacles, but ways out, too. Breath. Focus. Stillness. Because, of course, these obstacles are created in the mind. Those stories, excuses, fears? In the mind.

The trick is recognizing that you are not alone in the struggle to get yourself moving, and then remembering to just stop and take a few breaths. Cut of the senses for a few moments. Clear your head just by taking three, slow, conscious, deep breaths. Get out of that story looping in your head and remember that you feel good when you move. Remember that progress is not linear. Remember that your yoga is a practice. And we keep practicing. We show up. We get to the other side of the plateau, the illness, the occasional breaks, and we show up again.