When Devi and I ran the North County Yoga Center, a subset of our students were serious athletes: world-class runners, volleyball players, tri-athletes.
It was amazing to hear an Ironman champion sweating away in downward dog say, “This is hard!”
Huh? What about swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles without a break?
To me that’s beyond hard. Yet the same people who competed in the Ironman were challenged by a basic yoga class.
How is that possible?
We get good at what we practice.
It’s really that simple. Whether we’re running up hills in the blazing sun, playing arpeggios on the violin, baking sourdough bread, or teaching kids to read, we get good at what we practice.
If we practice intentionally for about 10,000 hours you get more than good.
We gain mastery. That’s what K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University discovered. Now there’s more news on the power of practice.
The practice principle doesn’t just apply to externally observable skills. It also applies to inner states of mind. That’s what the research in the relatively new field of contemplative neuroscience suggests.
Contemplative neuroscientists study the brain science of meditation. What they’re learning provides hard scientific support for the discoveries that yogis, mystics, and meditators have said for centuries: meditation practice works to change your brain.
“We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways,” says Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin.
Davidson and his research team have hosted scores of Buddhist monks and other meditators for brain scans. “Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different,” he says. “It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.”
The deepest habits of mind—and the ones that limit you the most—were encoded in your childhood.
These patterns of family karma are well grooved in the neural structures of your brain. That’s why you can regress to feeling (and sometimes acting) like a seven-year old when you talk to (or even think about) your parents.
That’s why family gatherings can be both so heart-warming and heart-breaking. It’s those well-grooved patterns at work.
Scientists call these patterns neural structures. The yogis had another name: karma.
We all have family karma, patterns of thought/emotion that shape how you show up and interact with the world.
Some of these patterns are working for you. Others . . . not so much.
They’re limiting you, and constraining your fulfillment.
Your patterns of family karma are not fixed.
We have the capacity to transform family karma patterns through specific meditation practices and mindfulness exercises. The key word is specific.
Through meditative practice we can free ourselves from habitual patterns of family karma and re-engage with life with greater wisdom, courage and compassion.
It’s all a matter of practice.
Remember, there was a time when the Ironman champ couldn’t run a mile. Transforming family karma through meditation is the same.
The key is practice— a well-designed sequence of practices that change your brain—and liberate your soul.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Illustration by Eric Klein