A couple days ago I was having a conversation with my wife, well it was more about me discussing how I would like a newer house, a vacation home, or to live somewhere else. The typical future oriented ranting that I do from time to time, mind you it was not negative, but it was relatively pointless in many ways. If you read this blog you know I try to study Buddhism, practice yoga, and meditate, all in an attempt to be more focused in the present and quiet my mind. Well back to the conversation with my wife. After I had went on for some time about things I might want in the future, she said to me “I choose to be happy” and then she said “It really doesn’t matter where I live or how much money I have”. Well there, and without any obligatory condemnation of my 10 minute diatribe about things I might want in the future. I don’t think she was trying to imply what I was saying was pointless or incorrect in anyway, instead she was just stating her own views.
This comes from someone who has never studied Buddhism, doesn’t meditate, and isn’t all that focused on self improvement from a philosophical perspective. It occurred to me that try as I may to enhance my state of mind, there must be a predisposition to happiness or what might be considered mindfulness. Why do some people with little or no training in mindfulness seem to effortlessly live in the moment, and do it with a high degree of happiness? This predisposition is not based on social status or wealth, as you see examples all around you of people that don’t have two nickles to rub together that are perfectly happy. Maybe it has to do with a persons background, but I’m beginning to think it has something to do with genetics.
Don’t get me wrong those of us who study what the Buddha taught, meditate, and practice yoga are probably those that need it the most. This may be why we were drawn to these things in the first place.
Look around you there are plenty of examples of those you can model yourself after, and they are real people that live among us. They enjoy life the way it is, and ask little of this world to be happy. Some might even consider these people enlightened, or at least a lot further down the road than I am.
In the meantime if you’re like me you need all the mindfulness philosophy, yoga, and meditation you can handle.
I was reading Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar a couple days ago, and historically the actual act of performing an asana is only a fraction of what yoga is all about. Even if you have never studied the origins of yoga one must appreciate there is something different about yoga. It is not like strength training, although strength is an important component of yoga. It is not like Pilates, although core strength is very important. It is not like distance running, although breathing is key to performing an asana. Maybe the difference between yoga and some forms of exercise I have mentioned is in the purpose. One runs to build aerobic capacity, for overall fitness, and to get the runners high. If you perform Pilates you are building stronger core muscles and getting a great workout at the same time. Strength training or bodybuilding is about increasing strength and size of all the muscles in the body.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is not my intention to disparage any form of exercise, and clearly my list of reasons one engages in a form of exercise is not exhaustive. Maybe all one can do is express things from their own perspective. For me yoga does more than exercise my body, building strength and flexibility. My purpose for practicing yoga includes:
- opening my body up, removing stress, and calming me
- a prerequisite to meditation, making it easier to sit
- brings me into the now
- makes me want to take better care of myself
- seems to interconnect with other interests like Buddhism
- supports an interest in a more ecological existence on earth
Back to the question is yoga exercise? Sure in the sense that it strengthens the body, increases flexibility, enhances blood flow, and aerobic capacity. It is also therapeutic for the mind, in bringing calmness, a sense of accomplishment, and a lifetime of challenge. If you have been practicing yoga and still feel it is just another form of exercise and nothing more, then I challenge you to read a few pages from Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar or The Power of Ashtanga Yoga by Kino MacGregor to get a little historical perspective.
No more excuses, take your socks off, and get on the mat.
Being the over planning person that I am, I scheduled Monday through Saturday mornings for yoga and meditation. Yes I actually created an appointment in Outlook which of course syncs with my phone, but there is one problem today is Wednesday and haven’t hit the mat yet this week. So I have managed to make some sort of excuse three days in a row. Maybe I just have an issue with mornings, but I’m not sure that is the issue. Well if this is about excuses then early in the morning could qualify as one. Here is the definition I found of excuse used as a noun:
“A reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense.”
The above definition best describes how I have justified not pursuing goals by providing some reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify my behavior. Does any of this sound familiar? Make great plans and then fail to execute, and come up with various excuses which of course you know are pretty much bullshit. So what do we do about this common phenomena?
- Realize you are doing it. This is generally pretty easy because the excuses are accompanied by periods of guilt and self loathing.
- Once we realize it, then stop it! Move on with your plan and stop using the excuse.
- Analyze your excuse and determine if the goal was unreasonable or you were not committed to it.
- If after you have analyzed the excuse and the goal then decide if the goal is worth the effort and move on.
Remember that most excuses are a way to avoid something that is uncomfortable, and that would probably be enjoyable once you actually got started. Examples of this might include getting out of the door to go running, attending a party, and yes performing your yoga practice. All three of these are perfect examples of activities that once you start them you find they are very enjoyable, but often your mind says I don’t really want to do it. So this hesitancy to move forward is probably a trigger for creating an excuse, so remember if there is some minor discomfort associated with an activity then push forward and don’t allow yourself to make an excuse.
The world is filled with people that have failed to achieve their dreams and goals as they fell prey to their favorite excuses.
In my last post 10 Ways to Get Back Your Missing Mojo the 10th way was “Get in touch with your own thoughts”. I know some things that work for me and am more than happy to share them including meditation, walking, writing, and yoga. I am keenly aware that these might not be your thing and if you don’t already have a way to get in touch with your own thoughts you are going to need to find an activity that helps you clear your mind. Maybe you find that peace of mind from running. I know a lot of people that run and they tell me that it clears their mind and provides an opportunity to analyze an issue with new found clarity brought about by the physical nature of running, especially when done alone. Here is a key, if that activity can be done alone and provides some sense of peace you stand a much better chance of analyzing your thoughts and making choices more inline with what you really want. You cannot really generate any introspective insights while interacting with other people or engaging in activities that don’t by their very nature lead to clarity of thought.
So why do I need to understand what I am thinking? Doesn’t all this seem like a lot of work? I’m pretty happy the way I am or maybe I’m not. Here are a few reasons why self analysis and introspection can enrich your life:
- Understanding that you may be repeating patterns of destructive behavior is right up there on the top of the list. If you never take the time to analyze why you continue to do these things they will be repeated until they bury you, destroy your relationships, or both.
- Your insights will lead you to making choices instead of oscillating back and forth or standing still. This will ultimately assist you in determining what is most important to you and moving in that direction.
- These activities or disciplines that lead you to self analysis will be themselves provide benefits such as improving your physical and mental health. So for instance if yoga is my way of connecting with myself I will also become more flexible, stronger, and mindful. Maybe those moments of clarity come from running and I will improve my cardiovascular endurance and muscle tone. Maybe I like to paint and it allows me to express myself in a way I could never do before.
- Introspection will lead you to be more present by increasing your awareness. If you analyze your thoughts you will begin to realize that many of them are focused on the past and the future, and you will begin to understand how this is destructive in appreciating today. Once you reach this realization you begin to live in the now and less in the past and the future.
Here is a list of activities that may depending on your interests lead you to introspective thought:
- writing poetry
- writing fiction
- Tai Chi
- listening to music
- playing an instrument
You say well I would never be interested in writing poetry, and I would say have you every tried, or I can’t do yoga I have no flexibility. Don’t limit yourself to what you do today especially if you don’t already have an outlet that provides an opportunity to think. Give yourself a chance to understand your thoughts and behavior. I understand we are all very busy and have a to do list a mile long, but if you don’t take time for yourself no one else will. Carve out a little time each day to listen to your own thoughts.
After suffering a fair amount of anguish and getting myself all worked up about things going on at home and at work I came to a simple realization that I was taking everything too seriously. The not so amusing thing about this is that it had been going on for some time now, maybe a couple of years. I look back and haven’t taken a vacation in almost 3 years, focused intensely on a number of goals, which I achieved, but all this even made me more focused. I also realized that not only did I skip vacations, I quit playing golf, and quit playing guitar. What was interesting is that these things were replaced with more study and physical fitness activities. The truth was I forgot how to have fun, or do something just for the hell of it.
Most of this stems from a kind of all in attitude, or taking things too far. So it is good to exercise on a daily basis, but when all your free time is devoted to it you become very one dimensional, and yes a bit too serious. So not only did I forget how to have fun, but I myself was boring everyone else to death. While it is always nice to move in a new direction, sometimes you abandon things you really love. I blame myself for this all or nothing approach, and all to serious attitude. So another side affect is that you become judgmental, because everyone else doesn’t share your enthusiasm for blogging, Buddhism, meditation, or yoga. Becoming too focused also narrows the acceptable things you are willing to experience because they can’t possibly compete with your path to enlightenment.
- The world did not come to an end when I skipped my yoga practice yesterday
- Enjoying what you are doing at work will not cause you great harm
- Instead of rushing off to meditate or exercise, it is perfectly acceptable to show some interest in others first
- While it might take a bit longer to learn something dictated by your quest, you are probably a better person for being less inwardly focused
- You don’t have to be 100% dedicated to something to make progress, meaning you don’t need to quit doing everything else that made you happy to pursue a goal
- As much as it pains me it is not necessary to accomplish everything on your list, especially on a weekend
- I have been taking everything way to seriously, from my exercise routines, to my Buddhism studies, and my elimination of vices
All this seriousness and laser focus only made me more judgmental which resulted in anger and resentment instead of understanding and compassion. I couldn’t live with the fact that I was flawed and had weaknesses, and maybe even liked some of the things the common man or woman did. So I vow to lighten up a bit, have a beer, skip a few workouts from time to time, and maybe try to enjoy things a little more, and yes become less serious.
Have a great weekend!
Should you engage in your yoga practice first thing in the morning or later in the day? Many of the experts out there would say first thing in the morning is the best time, and if that’s not possible then later in the day is also acceptable. I used to go on that premise and once I was fully awake I would be on the mat starting with sun salutations. I also tried performing my yoga practice after work and found there are pros and cons to both approaches:
- You get it done first thing in the day, and don’t have to worry about something else coming up.
- Yoga done first thing in the morning sets the stage for morning meditation by breathing and stretching before sitting.
- Both the yoga and meditation enhance your frame of mind as you start your day.
- Early in the morning is usually quieter for both yoga and meditation.
- You are the least flexible first thing in the morning.
- You must make time for it and you may have lots of things to take care of first thing in the morning.
- You are the most flexible later in the day. I found this particularly true for me as I was much more flexible at night versus first thing in the morning.
- After working all day you may really need some physical activity and yoga is a great way to re-awaken your body, especially if you have a job where you sit all day.
- It sets the stage for an evening meditation session.
- It is more likely that something else may come up and you end up skipping your practice.
- If you are also performing some other form of exercise you will need to determine how to fit this in. I personally had to move my strength training to the weekend so I could concentrate on yoga during the week nights.
I am currently performing my yoga practice in the evenings as soon as I get home from work, and when I’m done I spend about 20 minutes meditating. I would also note that while I don’t practice yoga in the mornings I do other forms of exercise and about 10 minutes of meditation. My strength training routine had to change as I went from a 6 day split to a 3 day split, with the majority of this being done on Saturday and Sunday. This leaves me 5 days a week to devote to yoga in the evening. I guess you have to ask yourself, what works best for you and your lifestyle? Can I get up early enough and have the uninterrupted time needed to perform a morning practice or is it more convenient to do it after work? Neither of the approaches is optimal for people with demanding careers, but choose the least objectionable one and make sure you make it a priority.
I was sitting on the yoga mat today meditating as is my custom in the morning after my yoga practice, and I had a couple of thoughts. Like so many of you I find myself thinking about my next conquest, role, position, material thing, or maybe just what lies ahead that day. I always try to turn off the noise when I meditate, either by forcing a thought pattern that will override all these future oriented thoughts, or sometimes I just try to sit and listen. I’m getting to be about 75% sucessful at this most days, but it’s not yet perfect. If you cannot just sit and listen to the sounds around you and drown out the chatter in your mind then you might try focusing your mind on the following themes:
- Now – Think about now just sitting on your mat, tell yourself there is only this moment. You might repeat the phrase “live in the moment, now is all we have” or something like that.
- Compassion – You may also consider just thinking about compassion. You might say to yourself “I will be compassionate with everyone I encounter today”. In addition to this you might say to yourself “I will seek to understand and not judge”. Again use your own words, just focus on the theme of compassion and the words will come.
- Grateful – A third method I use is to just spend some time reciting a running list of what you are grateful for. This might include your family, spouse or significant other, children, friends, pets, dwelling, your work, your health, or anything else that you are grateful for.
Often I use all three themes during meditation. When it is all working you feel in the moment and you are enjoying just sitting there. You may find that this is one of the most wonderful moments in your day, when you are really present and not working towards something or for someone else. You will also find that sitting on the mat as I call it prepares you for the challenges of the modern world, making it all a bit more easy to be mindful during whatever chaos comes your way.