Why do people give-up or struggle to get back to their yoga, even when they know it's what they really need?
Helping yourself and finding the answers might be simpler than you think.
Yoga - when we apply ourselves to its practices, its positive values and approach to life - brings great health, happiness, wisdom and love. Yoga (including the practice of meditation) can cure disease, reverse the effects of ageing, balance the nervous system, connect us to our loving heart and bring us vitality and emotional resilience to live life to the full.
The benefits of yoga and meditation are there for everyone - ask anyone who's been practicing for a few years and they'll tell you how it sustains their life.
Yet paradoxically, it's often the case that many people start yoga, with the best of intentions, enjoy it's benefits for a short time, even grow to love it and then let it go. Often without ever really stopping to question how or why. Sound familiar?
Everyone has Problems with Yoga
The truth is that everyone encounters problems with their yoga! Yoga's systematic, inside-out process is cleverly designed to test us out. To coax each of us to reach our best potential by rising above whatever challenges us, both on and off the yoga mat.
We can expect that there will be negative circumstances that have the potential to get in the way of our yoga - if we let it. Usually within the first three months of starting yoga, and regularly thereafter, most people will run into something that challenges them to keep up their regular practice.
When we find ourselves challenged in continuing our yoga classes or doing our home practice, we need to take a moment to stop, be honest and notice how our thinking and behaviour patterns are contributing to the challenge. This is part of yoga.
Challenges can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Sometimes they're obvious - we might get sick - and sometimes they're more subtle and show up in our thinking or attitude. More about these challenges later in the blog.
By just being aware whenever we're finding yoga a challenge is a fantastic first-step - in doing so, we can consciously overcome it. Then rather than giving-up, we summons our wisdom, strength and courage to meet the challenge. We gently persevere, find a way around it, minimise it's impact, get some support or modify our approach.
The secret to happiness and freedom through yoga (like life) is found in how we overcome our challenges. Those who benefit the most from yoga are those who find a way around their obstacles and continue to practice. Take this example.
The Stress of Life
Say you've had a particularly stressful day at work, where nothing seemed to go your way and just before you're ready to leave, your boss gives you another project to add on to your already-over-loaded workload.
You normally go to a yoga class after work but today you feel totally over it. Your mind is numb and you don't feel like doing anything else apart from crashing on your couch with your favourite glass of cab sav. Somehow, you know that yoga would really help you out but today you feel like you've had enough. What do you do?
First of all, you acknowledge and accept that you're being challenged!
Rather than react and give-in to frustration, you take a moment to pause, take a deep breath and decide to make a start on your new project in the morning, when you're fresh.
You listen to your wisdom (that you'll feel better by doing your yoga) knowing that it will uplift you and shift your gloomy mood. You gently acknowledge and put-aside the tempting thoughts to bail-out and you take the next step towards leaving work on-time to get to your yoga class.
When you get to your class, you find that your teacher gives you just the right words of encouragement you needed to hear to help you put things into perspective. You feel happy again and you feel good about yourself having made the effort. And the next time it happens, having gained some inner strength from last time, it's that much easier not to give-up your yoga for the sake of a challenge.
Ok. I realise that this might sound idealistic and that sometimes things might not be that straightforward. But you get the gist. There are ALWAYS thoughts, feelings and attitudes that you can work through and wise, helpful choices that you can make, to help yourself when it comes to yoga. Or anything else for that matter.
More About the Most Common Obstacles
The good news is that you don't need to spend too much time problem-solving your yoga challenges. Yoga philosophy takes care of that.
The recognised authority on yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali written around 2500 years ago describes the obstacles and mental distractions (as well as solutions) that are likely to arise on the yoga journey. They are common to everyone. They are a natural, predicable part of the yoga process so we can take some comfort just by knowing this.
Here are the six main obstacles to be aware of and ways to overcome them.
Any sickness or disease means there is energetic instability in the body/mind and yoga is about recalibrating and balancing this. If you are unwell, it can be easy to assume that you shouldn't start or continue yoga. On the contrary, some yoga will generally benefit. Yoga can take many forms and with a skilled teacher, can be effectively targeted and safely modified to suit a range of illnesses and ailments. As a guide, if you have a headcold/flu, continue to practice gently, unless the symptoms are in the chest.
Before you decide to give-up your practice, speak to your teacher about what they can recommend. At Momentum, we are used to accommodating students and are happy to have a chat to your treating doctor, specialist or physio about your needs, knowing that sometimes medical professionals have a limited understanding of the full range of potential yoga practices that can safely help you.
2. Sensory Overload
The colours, sights, sounds and responsibilities of modern life draws our attention continuously outward, external to our body. Living this was takes up a lot of energy. We become mentally distracted, our nervous system remains on hyper-alert, our focus of attention weakens as we try to take too many things on-board and we tend to feel disconnected and 'lose' ourselves.
Yoga and meditation is supported by moderation. Too much of anything becomes an obstacle to practice. Moderation in eating, drinking, talking, working and exercise, as well as sleeping and rest is important. Notice the areas of your life where you tend to over-do things and start to bring it into better balance. When we're in balance, it's easy to be kind to ourself and to do only what is important or needed, rather than everything we tell ourselves we 'should'. The energy you save is invaluable and can then be put to good use in your yoga or meditation.
A lack of energy or feeling of inertia happens to us all from time to time. When you notice this, first of all it's important that you adjust your routine and make conscious choices to manage your energy inputs and outputs - eat regular, nutritious meals, get a good night's sleep, have a good balance of work-rest-play and reduce your social interactions.
Yoga postures, movement, breathwork and relaxation is designed to replenish rather than reduce your energy, so bear this in mind. The sooner you can start or return to yoga, the better you'll feel. Don't be tempted to wait for life to be perfect for yoga, as it often isn't!
Thinking things like "Yoga won't work for me or or I'm not flexible enough for yoga" or "I don't need to do yoga today" are very common mental misconceptions.
Doubt arises when we don't have faith in ourselves or trust in the potential of yoga. Most doubt is not true and is just a veil of the mind that can be proven otherwise.
To address your doubts, talk to a trusted friend or yoga teacher to allay your fears. Draw on your courage to try, practice and keep practicing, until you see through your doubts.
Being impatient, careless or hasty with your approach to yoga can also be an obstacle. Doing so may mean that you injure yourself or because of high expectations, feel disappointed and don't continue. Remember that yoga is a journey, with many gems along the way, so consider having a realistic long-term approach.
Be prepared to go carefully and to take things step-by-step. Remember the race between the hare and the tortoise? The tortoise always wins the race in yoga too.
Having a defeatest attitude towards yoga can be one of the more subtle obstacles to yoga that lurks away underneath the surface. Check your attitude on a regular basis. Remind yourself of the things you have to be positive about! Remember how far you've already come in your yoga (and in your life) and call on the support of your family, friends, fellow students and yoga teacher.
If you choose to be positive, then positive benefits will flow to you.
Freedom from suffering is one of the basic tenets of yoga. And it is often our suffering and lack of well-being that first brings us to yoga. By gently persevering through our challenges we can and will experience greater freedom in the body, mind and heart through yoga - but we have to trust and give the process of yoga a real chance.
After 10+ years of practice myself and having stepped through many challenges, I can honestly say that the rewards are totally worth it! But more about that another time...
Best wishes as you meet and overcome your yoga challenges.