27 Dec The Ever Evolving Nature of Practice

When pondering on what I’d like to write about at present, I felt, as I always feel, that something personal and immediate in my own current experience is surely the best way to approach my musings.

Something very much on my mind in recent months is how much my practices of yoga and meditation have evolved over the years that I have engaged with them, and actually this is something really worth delving into for all us from time to time. A big question for those of us interested in some form of practice in the realms of yoga, of meditation, of self-inquiry is this:

Am I currently practicing in a way that maximizes the time and energy I have available to me?

In other words, am I practicing appropriately for my current situation?

I always love talking to students and peers and friends about this matter, and actually talking this through with someone else really is indispensible to a point. What strikes me is that every single person I speak with on this issue grapples with it, some with more success than others. Typically, there are a few different camps we may all fall into from time to time. As you read through this, perhaps identify for yourself if you are currently in one of these situations.

  1. “I’m just not practicing enough at the moment. I don’t have the motivation to get deeply into my practice and feel kind of stuck.” This is a very common situation for the aspirant yogi and/or meditator. You feel you really want to have a rich practice life, and just know how good this is for you, but you can’t seem to find the inspiration or motivation to really get on with it with any degree of regularity. You may have the odd day where, filled with a burst of inspiration, you practice intensely, deeply, and rigorously, but then wake up the next day feeling once again stuck. The key here is to first of all connect to your sources of inspiration, remembering why you are doing this in the first place. Could you listen to a favourite teacher? Could you read an ancient story? Even just remember the feeling of inspiration you felt early on when the path seemed open and limitless and a gateway to a whole different way of being? It’s also worth asking yourself whether you are being too ambitious in your approach. Have you set yourself too tall a task in what you expect from your practice in terms of the types of practice and the time spent doing it? And finally, are you actually following a path of practice you relate to, or are you just halfheartedly getting on with it without real engagement? The key is to really ask yourself some very pointed questions about why you are having this difficulty, and amend whatever needs amending.
  2. “I’m practicing every day, but feel like there’s just no progress.” This is also very common. Some big questions need to be asked here, regarding the very nature of the path you are on. Does your practice life need shifting and changing? Or is it more a refining of your approach to practice that needs looking at?
  3. “I really, really want to practice. I’m feeling inspired and grateful that this beautiful world of teachings is out there! However, I just don’t know what exactly I should do, what’s actually good for me. It’s kind of discouraging, to say the least.” While this is a little more rare an issue that comes up, it does arise from time to time in my experience, both personal and speaking to others. The danger here is that we try to find someone to tell us what to do, which rarely works out too well.

Rather than go into detail with each of the above three issues, let’s look a little at the underlying issue that’s common to all, which is that we try to pin things down. We try to find a permanent solution to our situation that will give us a rich, unfolding practice life for all the time remaining to us. However, this just doesn’t work so well! It is nothing other than an unhelpful, learned tendency to try to create a strict structure to follow. Life does not work like this, and neither does practice.

I tend to feel that key to resolving all of the above issue is remaining on the pulse of what our practice really needs to look like at any given moment. My life so far is a good example here. I began my yogic life with a rigorous, 6 day a week Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice, and gradually added pranayama and yogic meditation over the first few years of this practice life. I also studied extensively, learned Sanskrit for a while, and really immersed myself in this world. And, it must be said, with great effect. All this practice was paying off to a massive extent. As the years passed, I felt a continuous sense of progress both in the practices themselves and my relation to the outside world.

Yet gradually something began to feel amiss. It began to feel like I was just going through the motions, more and more often. My studies felt forced, and the joy began to dissipate. I began to feel that I was missing something, but I wasn’t sure what.

Thankfully, I was able to reflect and look for answers. And the shocking answer to me at the time was that I had a tremendous sense of yearning for explorations within a Buddhist framework. At the time, I was still very much living within an idea that I must only follow the teachings related to the classical yoga traditions, and this was gradually beginning to take its toll.

After considerable resistance, I began to read and listen to teachings from various aspects of the Buddhist tradition, and eventually even met and began working with a meditation teacher within that milieu. My previous approach to practice was still intact, I simply added a daily meditation practice within an early Buddhist framework, and found everything massively enriched by the process.

At a different time in my life, I had found myself overly immersed in the Buddhist teachings, and came to realise that more yogic endeavour was required. Upon adding more sophisticated asana and pranayama practices to my daily routine, once again my practice life found its groove again.

Then there are those times that we all arrive in, where suddenly life becomes, for want of a better word, crazy. A relationship fails. A new love arrives. Work suddenly goes into overdrive. We become very ill. Someone close to us goes through massive upheaval. The list goes on! While it is in a way ideal to really maintain one’s current practice during these times, it is not always practical or even helpful to do so. We may need to tweak the what, the when, and the how much.

Essentially, as the title of this little post suggests, we need to be willing to allow our practice life to evolve as we do the same. We must remain on the pulse of what really is the best for us at any given time, and for this it really is crucial to have help doing so. Seek out a friend, a teacher, talk it through. Make sure you’re not just disengaging at the very moment you most need practice, and that conversely you’re not going too hard for the sake of a misplaced ideal. Our practice, just like all aspects of our life, needs to evolve. It must do so, and this is a great cause for celebration.

In closing, I’d like to invite you to examine your current practice situation. Is it currently fulfilling? Does it need to be tweaked? Or completely altered? And never forget: do try to enjoy yourself!

By Bernd Windhofer