The Momentum of a Daily Practice

Practice, pratice, practice I only needed one class to be convinced of the value of yoga practice. I was 19 or 20 years old, and I found my way into a drop-in class being taught at the university I was attending. I don't actually remember what convinced me to step into the room; there were a couple of influential grad students I looked up to who practiced yoga, so perhaps that was the push. At any rate, what I do remember is being in a forward fold about halfway through class and being amazed at the palpable sense of relaxation I felt. It was a rare sensation for me at that time in my life, a time when I was accustomed to a psychological turbulence that resulted in a near-constant tension and anxiety.

Despite the immediate positive response, it would take me a full six years from that first class to consciously make the commitment to practicing regularly. SIX YEARS. I have no idea why it took me so long to prioritize yoga. Lord knows I needed it. But I suspect that I am not alone here; I imagine most students of yoga go through protracted periods of attempting to ground a practice. It is no small feat to restructure one's priorities, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that such a restructuring would make life, well, better.

Who Has The Time?

The most obvious obstacle is finding the time. I know no one who has an extra 30 to 90 minutes in their day that they're trying desperately to fill with a new activity. But I don't think that this is the primary obstacle, or even a dominant one; the real obstacles to daily or near-daily practice might actually be much more interesting.

The Terror Of Not Suffering

One of the reasons that yoga works is that it lessens our sense of suffering. By this I don't mean that it literally reduces the causes of our suffering (though it may do that too), but that it attenuates the intensity with which we react to our particular predicaments. Yoga practices ground us in the experience of ourselves with an immediacy that happens to make the mental chatter which pains us much less intense. And, as odd as it might seem, I believe that we are initially unnerved by this process.

Habituated as we are to letting things bother us, we may initially respond to the reduced suffering with a kind of skepticism and panic. Particularly for those of us who've gotten really good at suffering (I myself was the consummate professional) the sudden reduction, like the withdrawal from any addiction, may cause its own kind of discomfort.

Slowly but surely, we'll get over this. With enough exposure to yoga, we become more drawn to the reduction of suffering than we are bothered by its sudden absence.

Attachment to the Novelty

When we practice irregularly, we allow ourselves the space to always be impressed by the physical and emotional release that yoga practice provides, what many people refer to as the "yoga high." If we start to practice consistently, the contrast between the after-practice state and our everyday state of consciousness becomes less severe, and suddenly the effects of practicing seem less dramatic. Physiologically, we are no longer so easily surprised. This is initially a source of considerable disappointment, and might discourage us from continuing to practice frequently.

As practicing becomes part of our routine, not only will the endorphin rushes seem less dramatic, but the practice might give rise to other much less pleasurable sensations and states of mind. We will start to encounter our physical edges and limitations, and working with those boundaries will require a refined sensitivity and patience that we may not have developed yet. Our superficial ego will quickly find ways of inserting itself into the now-familiar form of practice, finding any and every opportunity to distort our earnest work on the mat into a pursuit of vanity, pride, and further suffering. It is here that I think exposure to yoga philosophy, if it has not yet entered the picture, becomes absolutely essential. Among other things, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and other foundational texts predict some of the obstacles we'll encounter on our path, and this reassurance gives us strength to persevere.

One day, not practicing will become harder than practicing. And I say that from the authority of my personal experience. It was 2006 when I started to practice regularly, and 2007 when I started to practice almost every day. I can't pinpoint the exact moment when the shift occurred, but I can honestly say that I now have a hard time going through an entire day without paying respects to my yoga practice, whether it be two hours of thorough immersion or fifteen minutes of touching base.

Gradually the momentum of daily practice generates its own power, and eventually the resistance to practicing is overwhelmed by this momentum. That is not to say that practicing becomes effortless -- far from it -- but showing up for it, at least, starts to feel like second nature.