Each month in 2018 I’ll be posting some suggestions to align outlook, inner work and yoga practice with the turning year.
Faith. Persistence. Repetition.
February 2nd is the first day of spring in the Celtic calendar. It’s celebrated in different ways around the world; for example, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, they have marked the occasion every year since 1887 by asking a groundhog named Phil to tell them whether there will be an early spring, or six more weeks of winter. These days, thanks to Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day is no longer a simple rodent-based weather divination ceremony, but a synonym for the boredom of routine and the frustration of repetition, the feeling of being stuck in a loop.
Ferbruary is a bit like that: the shortest month can feel like the longest. You can call it spring, but it doesn’t seem very different from yet more winter.
If you practise yoga regularly, chances are you already know quite a lot about the boredom of routine and the frustration of repetition. There, I’ve said it: yoga can be boring. But it’s boredom as an art form. When I’m on a retreat, with the luxury of practising for four to six hours a day, I am often exquisitely bored. Another down dog, another back bend. Another inhale, another exhale. Then – repeat.
Yoga is repetition.
And when we repeat an action, it can quickly become automatic. The brain can disengage, wander off somewhere else while the body gets on with going through the motions. And then we’ve fallen out of the present, mindful state that makes yoga different from just stretching or posing. To repeat these patterns of holding and releasing over and over (and over) again and stay present requires more than just the persistence to outlast the boredom. It requires faith in the process, trust in the notion that there is something worthwhile here even when there’s no obvious goal.
So how do you stay with the process, when boredom is sending your mind whirring off in a million directions?
One easy answer is to count.
You can either count repetitions: five sun salutations, twelve rounds of nadi sodhana. Or you can count the breath: hold down dog for four breaths, six, eight. The counting steadies the mind. Instead of worrying about where this is all heading, you can stay in the here and now while you concentrate on a succession of tiny goals: one leading to two, three leading to four, breath by breath.
While you’re counting, try not to hurry to the end of the count. It should feel as though the count is a neutral voice, a non-judgemental watcher. It’s a metronome, not a stopwatch. If you find yourself rushing, try the meditation technique of labelling actions: instead of simply counting one, two, three, try saying to yourself, “Breathing in one, breathing out one. Breathing in two, breathing out two. Putting the emphasis on the action rather than the count can help keep you focused on what really matters.
My Yoga Nidra recording for February explores the idea of having faith in the process, of staying with the present moment and finding wholeness there. Enjoy.