Happy new year!
Many good things and blessings for you, your visions, and your deepest wishes in 2021.
Although it is an unusual beginning this year for many of us, a new year is often also the start of new habits… or resolutions, as we often call them. Already feeling drained? Yeah, me too. Let’s change that!
What is so important to you, that you are willing to commit to it each day and not give up on the first challenge?
Healthy diet? Regular exercise? Long walks with your dog? Yoga? Dance? Creative writing? Photography? Service? Volunteering? Meditation? … Calling your mum? (😉)
No matter what it is, a routine or a practice that you keep returning to each day is actually one of the highest factors to keep you alive past 100 years old (See Mario Martinez)!
But… we don’t have to wait until we get there before enjoying the benefits of a daily routine. Maybe you think, I “need to” do my push ups (now the gym is closed) or my yoga, I “should” meditate every day or I “ought to” start this art project….
Why practice? A healthy, inspiring, and creative practice will help you reset your entire system each day, connect you to your center, and move trough your day with more presence… and satisfaction! Satisfaction will come from actually spending time on something that bring you joy, either directly as you do it or right after. A practice is also a familiar place we can return to and experience a sense of stability, also in challenging times. As one of my teachers used to say, with your daily practice you “tap the sap” of your creative force.
Are you willing to start a practice? Let’s get ready then. Here are some more details about my humble suggestions. Take your pen and paper for some side reflections along the way…
Starting… and Continuing a practice
To my understanding, after having had a regular, almost daily home morning practice for about 8 years now, asana and meditation (big ankles, I know! #braggingjustalittle), 3 keys to establishing a practice and sticking to it, or our “3 practice pillars” are:
- To choose 1 activity, and only 1 (to commit to) that YOU ENJOY!
- Timing it for a period that is: less than what the ego (or someone else’s) thinks you “should”, realistic for you, and… stick to it!
- Make the practice easy to return to by, for example: having an accountability partner to do it with; setting your alarm at the same time reminding you of your daily routine; preparing your warm clothes handy by the door so you can just jump into it and go out to walk or run; or create a nice, uniquely yours, sitting space in your home to meditate.
In addition, aiming at the balance of “abhyasa” (discipline) and “vairagya” (detachment) helps staying on track.
Let’s deepen our understanding of these practice pillars.
One and only. It might not seem very ambitious, but choosing only one practice and committing to it will make it easier for you to start and maintain it. Especially if it is something you enjoy doing! You might always add some other practices to your palette as you go (or choose a couple to begin with, but strictly commit to 1 only). And write down the answer to: “What do you want to commit to? And (most importantly) why?”
Timing is everything. Timing is important, because it creates a supportive container where the mind can relax and knows “this is what we do now until the bell rings”. Also, widely used in 12-step programs, timing actually helps change long-held habits by setting up a creative space where you can unfold and do not worry about other concerns. It is a little like going to a yoga class, and not have to worry about time yourself because the teacher holds the container of the time. See the effect? While we talk about time, I recommend starting small (even 5 or 10 min to sit, run, write, walk… the first week ). One way you can explore how to find the right length is to try with one number (e.g. 15 min), close your eyes, count 3 breaths, and feel how your stomach responds… Tightens? Try with 10 min. Very soft? Try 20, and if it tightens, stick to 15!
No slack, Go back! Yes, a practice is something you keep returning to and ideally more than just a few times. Take your pen and write shortly about what suits you best… Accountability partner? Who? Where in your house can you set up your space for your practice? What time suits you best? If not an exact time, I recommend sticking to a part of the day (e.g. morning, lunch, or before bed) so at least you have some structure and do not feel bad if you haven’t gotten to it by 8 pm. It is also good to allow yourself some time off, maybe 1 or 2 times (no more!) a week. And… do not make excuses (“I’m too busy” is the sign you most likely crucially need your practice to stay centered)! In addition, keeping track of how you feel and what you experienced after the practice (e.g. in a journal), so you can remember it actually makes a difference in your life – in case you drift off (#ofcourseyouwont). Tracking will also help seeing progress and deepening in your practice, or just become an integrative/closing ritual.
Balancing Effort and Detachment
Practice, as old yogic texts put it, one the one hand, requires “Abhyasa” – or discipline, commitment, the stability of our willingness to return to it. But the old yogi sages did not stop there, they also talked about the other side of the coin: “Vairagya” – detachment or letting go, that is the necessity to release the egoic attachment to prove or accomplish some “big” thing. In meditation or any other routine, I believe we need both.
Meditation is not about sitting quietly and spacing out, or try to figure out how to solve our daily problems with closed eyes (I used to do that!). To cultivate concentration, clarity, and equanimity (3 qualities that teacher Shinzen Young uses to define the goals of Mindfulness – a teacher I highly recommend BTW), some gentle effort is required; we need to be willing to sit and commit to come back to the moment. It is similar in other practices. If you are wanting to write a book, you won’t actually write your book if you simply spend time surfing the internet each time you open your computer.
Yet effort is not everything. In yoga, before a practice (asana or meditation), we often set an intention. In a way, an intention is a form of reverence to the power of our practice that is beyond our control. We show up and do the practice, but we also open to the gifts of it that will reveal at their own pace. Such detachment, or surrender, is at the hear of the cultivation of trust and our connection to something bigger, whatever you like to call “it”.
Less is More
Despite my long-time practice, I still knock myself on the head once in a while for not spending enough time on it, avoiding it doing something else first, etc. My point is, it is very easy to slip into the territory of “Not enough” and then, boom, back into the self-guilt trip of “should’ing” ourselves, etc. Not the point, really.
If you were to only take one thing from this post, I’d recommend to remember that every tiny step counts. E.g. what might seems as “less” or not enough (time) is way better than waiting until we are ready or have time to spend 12 hours on a meditation or writing intensive course. Intensives have their virtues, which only amplify if supported by a sustained, even short, practice or routine.
May I support you?
If meditation is your 2021 new habit or something you would like to hone and refine this year, I am offering a new online meditation class starting Jan 31st. I called it Everyday Presence and it is running over 4 consecutive Sundays, live and with recordings so you can always get back to the class.
It is truly to everyone, and as you know me, I always offer variations to the best of my ability. Over the four classes, we will explore different types of meditation and also deepen a few of the techniques, so you can get more familiar with them and find what works well for you. We will use some time to discuss establishing a home practice in-between and hopefully after the sessions. Read more and register here: Everyday Presence 4-class series.
The first series started over the first three weeks of January and we had a great time and a very sweet connection together. Here are two of the meditations we recorded:
Body Sensations– 17 min
Heart Qualities – 16 min (allow for some transition time before and after, as it is in the middle of the class)
As of yoga/asana, I am teaching online streams with Yoga Flat (Wednesdays and Saturdays) and from next week Pakhus Yoga (Wednesdays), and you can also find a few recorded videos on my website: Mixed practice and Gentle practice.
Still up for more?
If you are looking for support to start a healthy morning routine, I can recommend my dear friend Brian Spear’s new book, “The Golden Hour” and his many tips and programs to get you going effectively. Check him out!
No matter what you stick to, I hope you have fun with it and enjoy the benefits this practice can bring you.
I am always happy to hear from you, how you are doing and how your practice is going, so feel free to just reply this email and drop me a line or two!
I look forward to connecting again, one way or the other.
Take good care, and I wish you many good things for the months to come.