No one ever told us that when you start making healthful changes in your life, it may get very, very messy while you feel results.
It is very important to remember that absolutely doing your exercise every day is NOT a guarantee that you will enjoy it, be dazzled by your self or feel inspired. Even though there is a very good chance that this will happen. Consistency does not offer promises that you will feel like you are reaching your goal faster or that you are improving. Please notice the word feel.
My yoga practice showed me that I was the most inflexible person I have ever met. I was certain there was no one else in the sanctuary of serene torture called a yoga studio in more pain than I was. It was not possible. They would be suffering from aneurysms. The more I persevered, the more intense and somewhat flexible I became. Each yoga class felt like overdue notices from the library. I know I’m tight, I know I have 3 books overdue! I’m getting to it.
After I had been practicing yoga for about 8 years, I would see people at my yoga studio talk about the improved sereneness they felt from their practice and how much they enjoyed carrot juice. I was not afraid of injuring myself during yoga, but what I may inadvertently do to these people. It was really starting to affect me. As far as I could see, these yoga people had stress-free lives where they had an altar in every room and a mate that would rub their sore yoga neck while they stirred the gluten free pasta that never stuck. I wanted to pummel these Pillsbury Dough bodies that were obviously lacking normal, crusty, connective tissue. I can honestly tell you, without any exaggeration, that I hated practicing yoga for the first ten years. The pain of the stretching and being “still”, and “surrendering” to this monstrosity of discomfort was agonizing to my unrealized self. I’m sure this must read as somewhat uninspiring and I understand how you feel. I felt uninspired for a good part of those ten years too.
When you keep forcing yourself to exercise when you quite honestly don’t enjoy it, or find it really hard to do, your body will resent you and resentment is lousy incentive to stay with it.
When you do something that is really hard, so hard you want to avoid it at all costs, or give up, or embrace cynicism, it has a lot of lesson “charge” for you to experience. This means you have a lot to gain from it. The gain is not a gift it gives you. UPS does not show up with a shiny, new, lean, abdomen set because you earned it after doing the complete round of abdominal exercises and now you qualify. The “gift” it gives you is the lessons you will experience as you continue to stick with it.
When I first started practicing yoga, I worked with a raja yoga teacher in private sessions. Raja yoga works with the mind or pure consciousness, which is what the mind can be before it gets all tainted with our perceptions. Raja yoga teaches mindfulness through breathing exercises and yoga poses.
My teacher, Michelle, was so patient with me I found it nauseating. Her endless attentiveness bothered me. I could not understand why she did not find fault in me. I could certainly see it. She was thoroughly present, in a homogenized, consistent way that never seemed to crack. But that’s not the worst part; she also listened. There was an inner immobility in her presence that was palpable. You knew she was right there with you.
Eventually, I had to learn to accept her willingness to accept me as I was. (It was disarming).That was just about the most draining experience for me up to that point in my life. It was draining for my ego, which is usually quite busy deciphering my next move and especially certain someone will show up and tell me. And up until that point in my life, to me that is exactly what a teacher is all about – someone who tells you what to do. She even went so far as to hear all my ego’s finagling that would occur each time we met and I reported to her my yoga “progress” at the beginning of each session, which, by the way, she never requested: “I didn’t do my yoga this week because I felt really uptight so I focused on running and went to the boardwalk each day to discharge some of the negative energy”. I felt that exercising instead of doing yoga when I felt uptight was clever use of my mind’s energy and body’s life force and more importantly, the correct answer.
When I would finish my report, she would sit and look me softly in the eyes. Her big brown eyes always had an inner stillness to them. She would then ask me what I wanted to do during that day’s session.
I fell silent, I felt utterly disenfranchised. I was miffed. At that time in my life, I was not used to permission. I was not used to being asked what I wanted. I was not used to being seen, heard, or honored for myself, as I was. I couldn’t imagine how there could be any time for this kind of behavior or, god forbid, inner reflection with such a tight performance schedule happening that was called My Life. So when she would present such a daunting question, asking ME what I wanted, I thought maybe she just hadn’t prepared. What a navel gazer, I would think. She has no plan. Which of course, was the plan.
My life was all about the next thing to get done, to do it really well, and to make sure everyone knew that. How did I know what I wanted to do? This would take some research. And this is what we did. We researched my thoughts, what was motivating them and whether they represented me or perhaps dad, mom or society. This kind of inner excavation work blasts open the encrusted caverns of the mind that are holding the contracts we have agreed to. These contracts represent what held beliefs we cling to that we think represent who we are and what we are capable of. These beliefs are revealed to see how we hold ourselves back.
This is what happens when we get real. When we are honest with ourselves about what we are really doing in our life and whether it is working, we discover why we are doing them this way, and if this is how we want to behave and if what we are doing is even what we want.
Yoga, meditation, Q’gong, Falun Dafa, Aikido or any of the “internal arts” are gentler (yet not less challenging) forms of conscious exercise that allow us to get real in our lives. They start to help us shed patterns in our body that keep us moving a certain way, and that means living a certain way. We prefer to move along pathways in our body, just like we take certain routes home from work because we know it is the quickest and that means the most familiar. The side streets we traverse in our body create pathways that we come to rely on and use again and again. This is not good. We start to overuse these pathways when we could have many other pathways – other routes that would mean our blood would circulate to more areas of our body. It’s like having more lanes on a highway, you get to maneuver and joust into other lanes if you are so inclined. This means you can go roller blading for the first time and your shins don’t throb afterwards.
You could say that yoga increases what, in advertising is referred to as a slow saturation effect. To best market your product’s awareness you want to increase its exposure. The more you see a product, the more likely you will remember it and use it if this is what you want at the supermarket.
In the body, if you keep doing the same moves, you keep using the same motor neurons, which is your muscular programming. When you do yoga, or different types of exercise, you get new pathways wired. This affects the mind. The spine which houses the brain stem, is responsible for every move in the body and when it can move more parts of the body, the brain has more areas that can fire.
When a certain area of the brain is prodded with an electron, it coincides with a particular motor neuron in the body. When this motor neuron – think of this as a connection site to the muscle – gets fired during yoga, that part of the brain is renewed. This means the body is opening up the brain, enlivening new circuitry.
If you keep this up, it’s like turning on more and more Christmas lights on your property and it gets pretty snazzy. Your body can actually adjust to different seasons, sports, activities, endurance requirements like walking for a long time, sudden slips and falls with more capacity to catch yourself and also the added benefit of more emotional and mental stamina to live alongside others with compassion and empathy.
It’s really rather unfortunate that we do things for a reason, isn’t it? We often do certain exercises to tone a particular part of our body. Abs anyone? Or to tone our dangling bat wings under our arms, or the bulges and delineations that prop out over our belts on our pants and skirts. So often our goals are based on what we want to improve. We want to get slimmer, or more toned. Or, if we are setting professional goals, to become more skilled, talented, and progressive at what we do. It is a rare individual that is participating in an activity or learning a skill because they are truly inspired from an inner creative impulse. This means they are inspired to do it, not for any reason, but for them self. Our mind has become so conditioned, that we rarely know how to think for our self.
Remember, the conditioned mind often subscribes to behaviors and actions resembling the status quo. This is how corrupted our imagination has become.
When Michelle asked me what I wanted to do during my private session with her, I had to no idea. Yet, it was my private session, for my body.
Learning to move from our own inner promptings will reveal how we have an imaginative knowledge stored inside us that just wishes to be felt and expressed (tango anyone?). This will be felt once we start. We start by trusting our self to do what is meaningful to us, even if it’s as simple as having more energy*.
*If you needed more energy, you would start with a breathing practice to first relax the nervous system.