Without going all Freudian on you, what did you feel when you read the title of this post? Did you roll your eyes and gear up for the hard sell? Were you hesitantly anticipating a barrage of spiritual gangster rhetoric? Maybe you were troubled by my casual use of the C-word. (Committed, that is.)
Well, let me put you at ease. There will be no hard sell, no wall calendar sentiment, and no requirement of a promise ring or your first-born.
What there will be are some thoughts (mine, obviously) on what a committed yoga practice is and how it can serve you. So read this if you want. Mull over the information in your noodle. Then carry on with your life - and your yoga practice - as you see fit.
So let’s begin with this very basic observation.
Each of us comes to the practice for different reasons and with different intentions.
For me, my commitment to the yoga practice began on a dark and stormy night.
Okay. It didn’t. (As a writer, I’m prone to hyperbole.) It was neither dark nor stormy. And it wasn’t night. It was actually the middle of a bright and sunny day. But no one could argue that my inner climate was pretty dark and stormy.
No one except me, that is, because I sure didn’t see it.
When I happened upon my first yoga studio, I was only looking for a new workout. I’d spent fifteen years immersed in high-impact exercise of all sorts and my joints were shot. I’d heard that yoga, particularly the ashtanga and vinyasa practices, would kick up the cardio and make me sweat without stressing my joints.
So that’s what I did. Rocked out the yoga, as it were, with the same reckless abandon I’d done everything else. I was concerned only about staying in shape and keeping muscle definition. I had ZERO intention of delving into a practice that would give me a deeper understanding of myself.
And then my intention started to change. The physical practice began to translate into something deeper.
The first and second Sutras (1.1 - 1.2) of the Yoga Sutras put it this way: atha yoga anushasanam - yogash chitta vritti nirodhah. This means:
“Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins. Yoga is the control (integration, coordination, stilling, quieting) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field. ”
So in those early days as I began to embrace the yoga practice, did I suspect on some level that I stood to benefit from quieting those monkeys in my head? That I was I ready to engage in a lifelong practice of self-study and willing to face the gremlins that hid in the cobweb-ridden corners deep within my flesh castle?
I wish I could say I had such noble intentions. The reality is, I was drawn to the practice for reasons I didn’t understand.
But it doesn’t matter anyhow.
Because all of these years later, settling into a committed yoga practice has given me focus, insight and countless tools to deal with the ickier stuff in life - depression and anxiety among them. It has helped me gain a better understanding of (and grip on) myself. And it has allowed me to have fully operational knees and hips, to boot.
So then what, you may wonder, qualifies as a committed practice?
Every yoga practice is different and each practitioner will have their own definition of what a committed practice is.
This may seem a nebulous answer, but that’s the deal.
And the longer you practice, the more you’ll recognize that the definition changes and evolves in tandem with the different cycles of your life.
One phase of your life it may be a seven-day-per-week practice that focuses almost completely on the physical. That’s fine. There’s a mother load of benefits to be derived from just the physical aspect of the practice - like lower blood pressure, fewer aches and pains, more strength. (A nice butt.)
During another period of your life, you may still want the physical, but find yourself seeking out the more contemplative aspects of the practice as well. You may be more inclined toward slow and quiet practices that include some talk of yoga philosophy and perhaps some meditation.
Peppered throughout all of this, you may be doing your own reading of yoga philosophy and working to understand and embrace the ethical precepts that comprise its foundation. Over time, you begin to notice how old patterns of behavior (pushing too hard, giving up too easily, all of those critical voices within, insert your own gripe here) are no longer serving you.
And then this part is really cool.
Eventually you may find no effort in having a committed yoga practice because it becomes a part of who you are.
It’s rather like having another appendage. But a helpful one that doesn’t get in the way. If that visual is disturbing to you, then compare the practice instead to breathing or something else you do each day without really thinking about it. In other words, it becomes something you’ve naturally integrated into your life.
It’s your birth right.
You learn to understand your body and breath.
You know which days a physical practice is in your best interest and which days to rest. You have more patience with and more compassion for yourself, as well as those who don’t share your beliefs - a rather difficult feat these days. You find yourself less likely to get flooded with cortisol when someone cuts you off in traffic. (Or at least closing the flood gates a lot sooner than you once did.)
The list goes on.
Ultimately, with a committed yoga practice you’ll end up moving through life more easily - both physically, emotionally and otherwise. And I don’t know about you, but for me, that seems like more than a pretty good trade-off.
A lot more.
Like many before her, Steph Ruopp is a human. In her title of human, she serves as a freelance writer/blogger, yoga instructor, educator and dog walker. She’s been around long enough to start a phrase with the words, “Thirty years ago I,” and finish the phrase with something that happened in her adult life. So she’s seen some things. And done some things. And yeah, she has regrets.