Table of contents
Finding Inspiration for Yoga Practice
Self-Practice is a very important component of our yogic path (read here and here about how to structure self-practice). However, to persist in self-practice over time is not an easy task – it requires self-discipline and perseverance, but also continued inspiration. Even if yoga practice is an integral part of our life, our daily routine, at times, we find ourselves going through the motions just to get through the practice in order to free ourselves from the other activities of the day. Often, during my morning practice, I find myself brooding over all the tasks I need to complete that day, and I become increasingly agitated and restless. This shouldn’t happen! I know that the practice is the best part of my day, and I know I should approach it wholeheartedly! Therefore, I have to renew and rekindle my inspiration for yoga practice. In this article, I offer three reflections that I use to do just that. Reflecting daily on these three attitudes strengthens them, and helps me to stay inspired, keeping my motivation to practice unshakeable.
Fostering Santosha – Contentment
The first reflection is on fostering Santosha (santōṣḥ)– contentment. It is such a built-in tendency of ours to focus on negative thoughts and emotions; to notice what is missing, to concentrate on our failures while taking our successes and achievements for granted, ignoring them. It seems that this is the natural tendency of our mind, a tendency that was shaped by natural selection to concentrate on the risks and the dangers. However, a mind that is occupied with negative thoughts and emotions isn’t a happy and content mind. Thinking about what went wrong and focusing on the mistakes you’ve done isn’t a good way to be joyful or serene. That is why many spiritual paths recommend developing contentment, and indeed, Santosha is part of the eight-limbed yoga (see Patanjali Yoga Sutra II.32) – the path that Patanjali had taught for purifying the mind (ashuddhi kshaye) and developing spiritual wisdom and discernment (jnana & viveka khyateh). But how does one develop contentment?
The answer to this is to develop appreciation and gratitude.
The tendency for negativity is so ingrained in our mental make-up, that in order to foster positivity and contentment we need to contemplate appreciation and gratitude daily. To rekindle your inspiration for yoga practice – make yourself a habit to devote a few minutes at the beginning of your practice (or, if you prefer, at the end of each day) to appreciate all the precious gifts that you have in your life. You have many of these if you are reading this article; you are not too busy with survival and can devote time for reading this article, you are not hungry, and are comfortable enough to relax and be able to concentrate, you were lucky enough to get a good education that enables you to read understand and think, you have the inclination, motivation and will to walk down a spiritual path and you have found yoga – a wonderful path for developing your capacities and become a better human being. You have enough material means to afford a computer and an Internet connection. You are most fortunate!
In Sutra I.33, Patanjali mentions the practice of Mudita – sympathetic joy – being happy with the success and good fortune of others. But one can’t be happy with the achievements of others if he or she doesn’t learn to be happy with their own success and good fortune. So, gratitude is part of the practice of Mudita. Recognizing the good brings happiness and a feeling of abundance, and this allows us to be happy when others have abundance (rather than envy them).
Remember that these gifts and blessings should not be taken for granted; most people in our world are not lucky enough to have all of these things. In a previous article about Santosha, I suggested developing Santosha by reflecting on our good fortune using these five categories: our relatively good health (for example, our ability to walk, see and think), our good relationships with friends and partners, and the love and care we got as we grew up, the fact that our basic needs: food, shelter, and clothing are satisfied (and we have so much more than just that), the freedom and security we enjoy, and the path of yoga that infuses our lives with purpose and meaning.
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Practice helps the Earth’s Ecosystem
The second contemplation is on the ecology of our planet.
The rapid development of our civilization is placing our ecological system in great peril. The unfolding situation is already very alarming and is likely to worsen in coming years unless, we, as the human species do something to stop this impending disaster.
It is evident that one basic thing we can do to avert this crisis and hopefully save our planet (or more precisely, save life on this planet – the earth itself is not really affected by our irresponsible behavior) is to control our greed and consume less.
We know from experience, that the more joy and contentment we feel, the less external satisfaction we seek. I think, therefore, that the practice of yoga can contribute to preserving the life of all species, including our own. Practice develops inner resources of contentment, tranquility, and joy. By cultivating these inner resources, you won’t need to consume as much. You will become less dependent on material amusements or on food to fill the void inside. You will not need to flaunt in the latest luxury car or the most recent model of mobile phone to feel worthy. When you learn how to find the joy of being in the moment, you won’t need to go on expensive trips, stay in fancy hotels, or perform extreme sports to get stimulated and excited.
In that respect, yoga helps in renunciation. In fact, Vairagya – renunciation, dispassion, non-attachment, or not clinging (see more about Vairagya) is an important component of yoga (see Patanjali Yoga Sutras I.12 & I.16). These days, more than ever, the world needs more renunciation. It doesn’t have to be complete renunciation, but we must learn to lead a simpler life and consume less.
The last Yama the Patanjali mentions – Aparighara – means living in simplicity and not consuming more than we need. This is a very important medicine for our capitalistic and greedy society.
Yoga can help us to reduce our consumption and our ecological footprint, not only by becoming self-contained. Yoga, in fact, is preventive medicine and a wonderful public health measure that all countries should embrace and adopt. Maintaining the health of the body implies needing fewer medical resources; maintaining the mind balanced implies requiring fewer mental care resources.
So, your simple daily practice has far-reaching effects, not only on your own well-being but also on the well-being of our entire planet Earth.
Your Practice is not only for Yourself
Often it seems that asana and meditation are self-centered, secluded practices that lead to isolation, but this is, in fact, a very superficial understanding of these practices. Think about what you are projecting out to the world. Are you projecting well-being, joy, and generosity?
When you are weak or suffer, you are placing a burden on the people around you, as they have to support and care for you. You may also hurt and even harm other people because of the poor things you say or do out of your own weakness, fear, or anger. Moreover, you will not be able to offer assistance to other people, because you will be constantly occupied with your own suffering. When, through practice, you develop mental strength and stability your friends and family members will not have to endure your foul mood, irritability, frustration, or glumness.
When you create more joy and peace in your life, you will of course benefit from it directly, but you are not the only one to do so. Your often isolated practice literally ripples out and affects the people around you. When the people around you see your positivity, serenity, and joy, they will be affected. Your positive example will inspire them to practice themselves, in order to improve their own lives and the inspiration for yoga practice will flow both inwards and outwards.
Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad Gita describe the accomplished yogi thus:
Who is ever content, gifted with yoga, self-restrained, of firm conviction, who has dedicated his mind and reason to Me – that devotee of Mine is dear to Me.
Who gives no trouble to the world, to whom the world causes no trouble, who is free from exultation, resentment, fear and vexation – that man is dear to Me.Bhagavad Gita, XII.14-15, (from the translation of Mhatma Gandhi)
The Buddhist monk Thich Nath Hanh said:
“A smile can change the situation of the world.”
Indeed, the entire humanity, as well as all other creatures can benefit from your secluded practice. This may sound exaggerated, but you never really know how other people are affected by your behavior, or by things you say and do. Maybe your smile or an action you take with love and compassion will be the source of a meaningful transformation in someone’s life, without you even being aware of it. This change in one person’s life can go on rippling out to affect additional people. This effect has no limits, it is contagious and can spread like a (positive) virus.
So, when you lose your inspiration and your practice becomes dull and mechanic, or when you are confronted with difficulty, think about that: you are not only practicing for yourself; you are practicing for the wellbeing of all humanity. You are offering your practice as a gift to humanity; you sow seeds that can sprout in many unexpected, unforeseen ways.
To Sum Up
Fostering contentment develops happiness; happiness leads to a more peaceful, simpler life, which, in turn, helps to preserve our entire ecosystem. It will also incline you toward more generosity and compassion, which, in turn, will affect our entire society. Contemplating this can infuse your practice with inspiration, which will motivate you to persevere and to progress in it.