Creating Sustainable Practice | iHanuman


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Creating Sustainable Practice

In these last few days it has felt as though spring is just around the corner.  The snow that has been lingering for several weeks is starting to melt, exposing fertile soils to the encouraging sun.  Because it has been a gradual warming rather than a sudden rise in temperature, the streams and rivers are not strained beyond their capacity, and flooding has been kept to a minimum.
We can see this example from the natural world reflected in our yoga practice.  As the weather warms, our bodies often start to feel more active.  We are coming out of hibernation and feel inspired to pour ourselves into our physical pursuits with renewed enthusiasm.  But there is something to be said for a slow, steady channeling of this new-found energy.  With a metered approach the joints and connective tissues are gradually reawakened, and not put under a strain that could cause injury.
Sometimes we are energized by a particularly engaging yoga class, workshop or retreat.  We might become inspired by a meditation teacher, and vow to meditate for an hour each day.  There can be a temptation to pour all of our energy into our practice all at once, and to make grand make promises to ourselves that we cannot keep in the long term.
In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali's 2,000 year old treatise on the practice of yoga, the author states that, "Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and with enthusiasm."  How can we create a practice that is sustainable over a period of time, that is able to be integrated into our daily life, and for which we can cultivate continuous enthusiasm?
For our inspiration, we need look no further than the hills and fields around us.  Just as the snow is slowly but steadily melting, swelling the rivers without causing them to overflow, we can create a practice that has a steady foundation precisely because it can be accommodated into our life without strain.  At the same time, we are seeking to gently expand the limits of our comfort.  A meditation teacher once gave me excellent advice at the end of a retreat: Think about for how long you can realistically sit to meditate every day; then add five minutes to that, and set your timer.
Over the course of our lifetime, there will be moments of great inspiration, and times when it takes all our energy just to put one foot in front of the other and make it to our mat.  Yoga is asking us to create a practice that is fueled by a slow, steady, sustainable stream of energy, rather than one that fluctuates wildly due to life circumstance.  It suggests that we create a practice that can grow with us, that can carry us from the snows of winter into the rushing rivers of spring without overflowing our banks.  And one that, when autumn's chill gives the signal, will gracefully draw inwards until the warming spring sun comes again.


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