During meditation class as we sat quietly watching our breath, my mind wandered to a different meditation that I could add into our practice that morning, to shake things up a bit. In case people were getting bored. Or antsy. Or worse. As you can imagine, sitting and watching your breath for a few minutes, let alone 20, can bring up a whole host of interesting thoughts and emotions.
But then I was reminded that this practice that requires us to be still, quiet and be with what arises and then let it go necessitates commitment fueled by a strong will. And the more that we exercise our will, the stronger it becomes.
It’s not that shaking things up isn’t a valid tool in a meditation class, mind you. However, offering the opportunity for students and myself to utilize our stick-to-itness, when things aren’t always easy, or become boring, strengthens the mindset required to continue the practice and ultimately be rewarded with all it’s many benefits.
In fact, strong determination is needed when embarking on almost anything new that disrupts one’s routine, takes us out of our comfort zone, and requires effort.
Take a Yoga practice, for instance. Certainly a strong will is needed to clear an already-full calendar and start the new habit. And it is needed again and again to continue the practice when so many other responsibilities and opportunities – like work, hanging out with friends, watching TV, doing bills, cooking, cleaning the house, etc. – present themselves.
Any new habit that you embark on which requires effort – whether it’s adopting a healthy diet or adding a exercise routine – needs a level of strong will to both get started and sustain.
So, what creates optimum conditions for a commitment to make long-lasting and permanent change?
For some of us, it doesn’t happen until we get sick and tired of being sick and tired. A student recently told me of a major episode of back pain he had a few years ago. It got so bad that he was considering surgery. A friend of his, who is also a M.D., recommended Yoga and so he tried it and he felt so good that he became a dedicated student. After a time, when his memory of back pain was long gone, his practice began to backslide until he was no longer doing Yoga. He got out of the routine and felt he didn’t have time for Yoga any more. His back pain returned. When the pain increased to unbearable levels, he finally recommitted to Yoga.
This is a familiar route for many of us. We don’t make a serious commitment to a lifestyle change when things are good – we wait until we’ve reached rock bottom.
For others, our commitment to adopting a healthy lifestyle change has been fueled by seeing the lives of our friends, relatives or those we admire – who have been either great role models of a life well lived or a strong reminder of how unhealthy habits often create unhappy results. Luckily, we’ve been able to see the cause and effect of living life a particular way without having to go through the lessons ourselves. This experience has given us the strong will to adopt and continue a new lifestyle habit.
Many of us were introduced to a healthy habit that made us feel better, and this feeling, in and of itself, has been a strong motivator to stay committed, even when the healthy habit became inconvenient, boring, or plain work.
I was taught that in ancient times when a student wanted to learn Yoga from a Master, the student would have to ask the Master on three different occasions to become their student. As I was told, this was because the practice of Yoga required commitment and only through continued interest would a student exhibit the strong will and determination needed to learn and continue the practice and ultimately reap it’s rewards.
These days there is no weeding out of students to determine who is and is not truly committed. All I had to do was fill out a registration form.
However, it’s worthy of our attention to remind ourselves of why we first sought out Yoga (or changed our eating habits, or adopted another healthy habit) and why we’ve continued. When our schedule gets tight, other fun things come calling, or whatever responsibilities and distractions arise, it’s important to reflect upon our original intention. Afterwards, you’ll be glad you did.