There is an enormous difference between doing yoga for fun versus practicing daily.
My whole body fights back each morning before yoga. It screams with reasons not to practice that day—plausible justifications to have a break, take it easy. My legs tremble and shake in painful protest.
There is good reason why the body does that. Whenever we push ourselves toward something different, a new venture, habit or way of life all our body sees is risk.
Our ancestors faced many risks. Staying within the confines and safety of a tribe, a cave, a territory was their best bet in staying alive.
Fear of the unknown is built into humans as an instinct, a physical reflex. All our physical body wants is for its seeds to multiply, to prolong the human race.
So when I ask my body to try something new, there is initial excitement, a roller-coaster type of sensation. We call that fun. But, then that’s it. When recreation is over, we better run back to safety. What hasn’t killed us so far is preferable to something that—you never know—might kill us in the future.
Forming new habits (or stopping old ones) is about facing this self-imposed biological obstacle. Resistance is not only physical but very much mental too.
In the run up to our annual Jivamukti Yoga gathering in New York a couple of years ago, I developed an acute shoulder injury. It lasted for weeks and didn’t seem to ease at all.
On the first day of the event I skipped all strenuous asanas, looking to avoid the shoulder area altogether.
On day two, I told the assisting teacher about my injury when she came by my mat. She nodded…then pushed and hard-aligned my body to the right position. Ouch! There was pain. Equally though there was reassurance. She was bold enough to kick me past my self-imposed line in the sand.
I limped back home that evening, showered and went to bed, expecting to wake up to an even greater injury. And yet, when I tried moving my shoulder first thing in the morning there was no pain to be found. In fact I felt lighter, healthier.
There was no time to ponder. Our morning class was less than an hour away. I packed those thoughts together with my yoga mat and made my way out.
During the short train-ride to the studio I tried to get to the bottom of this blessed, overnight healing I’d experienced. Living with excruciating and immobilising pain for weeks had softened me up enough, it seems, to be ready to believe in miracles. And yet, my science background wouldn’t let me settle with metaphysical answers like that.
Ninety minutes later, as our foreheads pushed against the mat on a headstand, our teacher posed the following question:
“What is a miracle…other than a shift in perception?”
My eyes stared upside down. I pushed hard against my shoulders and felt as if I could float to the ceiling. For a moment I believed I could. The penny dropped. My lips stretched. I cracked a smile. My perception had shifted.
That week was transformative. It taught me about the oneness of body and mind, how one relies and influences the other.
Stiffness is not confined to body muscle, but extends and reflects the mind.
The term “psychosomatic” assumed a new level of meaning.
“Body not stiff, Mind stiff”
~ Sri K Pattabhi Jois
During those days I decided to further my yoga education to teacher level.
A couple of years down the line I can attest that establishing a daily practice is hard for the body—but even harder for the mind. Harder than I could’ve ever imagined. But then again, everything worthwhile is.
“Whatever we do, so we become”
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