Yoga is about changing patterns – of the body, of the breath and of the mind. Our life changes all the time, and patterns or habits that were once helpful become less so, even constricting or harmful – yet, because they are familiar, we cling onto them, often completely unconsciously. They become part of us, part of our self-identity. So the first step to being able to change is becoming aware, aware of those habits and patterns which we can see are now unhelpful to us and our current path.
However, Patanjali tells us that patterns or habits can never be destroyed; the only way of changing them is by building newer, ultimately stronger ones, always recognising that the old ones will still be there. And the only way of creating new habits is through repetition, painstaking repetition. This is why so much emphasis is put on practice in yoga. When we do our practice, we are, over time, creating new patterns of movement, posture, breathing and thinking.
So, if practice is so important, why do most of us find it so difficult to do? Why, even when we enjoy it, do we keep finding reasons not to do it? Most of us who have managed to do it fairly regularly for a time have found that we feel healthier, we have more energy, we think more clearly so that we can sort out priorities and solve problems better; our often negative thinking is replaced by a more positive outlook… but still it gets crowded out. How can we help ourselves to find a regular place for it in our busy lives?
Perhaps a very important first step is to be realistic about our life as it is at the moment. It is absolutely no good planning on doing a 75 minute practice if we are being woken up four times a night by a baby who then demands our attention throughout the day as well. Our changing needs and life style was accepted away back in ancient times, and in modern times was elaborated by T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar. They taught of the possibility for challenging physical practices for children, teenagers and young adults; of the necessity for practices that would maintain, support and energise, in the busiest midlife years, and that would help in the spiritual journey of people who are older and at last less busy.
The next step can be to look at our life and try to work out a way that a practice could become part of our routine – ‘making’ time for it, rather than hoping to ‘find’ time. This could be in the morning, the traditional time, but certainly does not have to be.
Then, it can really help to think about the attitudes we have towards our practice. Are we regarding it as something that we ‘ought’ to do, because others tell us that it is a good thing – or have we fully embraced the idea that it is something that WE have decided that we want to do? Patanjali gives us many ideas of attitudes that, if we cultivate them, will help us both in our life and in our practice, and in this series of short articles we shall look at some of them.
By Dr. Kausthub Desikachar and Sarah Ryan