Sometimes we think that steady effort is pain. We think of the adage ”No pain, no gain.” Do we not? We think, “I have to muster up the resolve somewhere inside to do it anyway” and then wonder why we have no joy once we are actually doing the work. Half-way through a project, any project, you can decide you wish you hadn’t chosen it if you start to feel it is a burden rather than cherished time. But this is not hard. What our challenge is is this: can you move your own mind to be more creative than that? Can you find a way to apply yourself so you do not get lost in the habits of the mind? Can you approach whatever is in front of you with more joy than that? This is the real work, isn’t it?
In yoga, we do not approach pain the same way you might in other practices. We are not looking for a smarting pain. But sometimes the pain we experience is actually more about the emotion of not wanting to feel intensity. This we can work with. You only add to your experience of pain if you treat the work you do like it is drudgery and a chore. Do you tend to let go of the creative aspects to how you approach what you are doing? Thinking of how you move, how you do the work, and how you apply the mind can make a huge difference in your experience of any process. It isn’t the work itself that is a problem. In fact, the work itself has absolutely nothing to do with how you experience the process of doing the work. Your habits of how you approach the work does.
Once there was a time I remember, when I did 35 sun salutations. The day before I did 31, and I was really thinking I would go for 41 the following day. But, I was also aware of the fact that my body was still in the soreness phase with this increased repetition. I wanted to apply effort, but I also found it important to honor my body, and what soreness means. So I did’t want to push too hard. Just to push hard enough required a sort of balance.
What was interesting was this: I decided I would just continue to do the movements once I got to about number 20, and my body started showing some signs of fatigue. The mind jumped right in and started thinking “hmmm… maybe its okay if I don’t finish so many today. There is always tomorrow.” I had to remember that thinking something doesn’t make it true, and I needed to try to relax, see if I could enjoy.
I closed my eyes, while still doing the sun salutations. Can you believe – a whole different world came into my experience. It was really one of those beautiful moments in yoga practice, where you realize there is more going on than the mind is really able to think about or process. I felt peace, and was able to use my thinking to count, but my emotions were not with the counting. This is the step that is so critical, right? My emotions were not invested with the thinking mind. My emotions were right with the feelings of, well, movement, and how much it felt like dancing. There is a joy that can come out as we do yoga. It felt so good to just be with the movement. Let the mind veg out with the counting and have my feelings/sensations take the lead for a little while. If you are going to dance with a sense of drudgery – why dance? I mean, can you imagine someone on American Idol singing with a sense of obligation? The same is true with yoga, or cooking, or anything that we do.
Take a deep breath when you feel you are pushing yourself into the painful drudgery mindset, or the boredom of that “have to” sense of mind. Remember why and what this practice can be. There is something beautiful in the human psyche that is always available, if we will just bring our attention to it. All that we do can be done with a little creativity, if you decide to take that challenge.
Honestly, I can’t wait to get back to the mat. With the beginning of 108 Sun Salutations starting soon, I mean, what would happen if I thought about it like this:
No joy – no gain.
Maybe it will be difficult to make every single aspect of life about joy – but it will sure be more fun to try than not.
Poses of the Day: 10 – 15 Sun Salutations (try to do this each day this week, if you can)
Yoga thought for the Week: What brings joy in this moment?