Meditation and Keeping Yoga Sacred

I have a secret to tell you. Something I’m really proud of. And I hope telling you won’t spoil it. It’s called I’ve Practiced Yoga Every Day For the Past Two Months.

Well… mostly. I’ve done yoga every work day on every normal morning for the past two months. The thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve successfully made yoga practice part of my weekday morning routine. For me, that’s a Big Deal.

Like most routines, it was easy to start, but difficult to keep going. After the first few weeks I found myself waking up sluggish, wanting to sleep twenty more minutes, resenting my Sun Salutations. I knew I enjoyed practicing yoga, so I made a more focused effort to motivate myself. Ah, there it is. Motivation.

We’re always trying to motivate ourselves to do more, be more, produce more. I didn’t want to let that mindset into my practice. That’s the thinking that makes downward dog and crow pose sound exhausting. Which is the last thing I want to associate my asanas with.

I recently read a book called The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. I highly recommend the entire book for anyone who wants to better understand psychology, but one chapter really stuck in my mind, a chapter about the human capacity to sense “sacredness.”  In the Western world, we usually equate “sacred” with “religious,” so we’ve largely eradicated it from our lives. But that’s not always the case. The way Haidt explained it, calling something “sacred” is just a way to define a special, set-apart place, time, ritual or object, and the way it makes us feel. It can be experienced on a grandiose scale, like the ruins of ancient Greece, or on a personal level, like the place you had your first kiss. I’m sure you’ve already got a place in mind.

As my yoga practice became a daily ritual, I realized that I was beginning to allow stressful thoughts  to creep into my mind, draining the life from my practice. After reading Haidt, I had a way to describe that feeling. Sacred.

In every yoga class I’ve ever taken, the teacher emphasizes listening to your body and leaving distracting, stressful thoughts outside. Too often, we let ourselves forget that advice. Now, when I’m on my mat and I find myself wondering how I’m going to handle a report that’s due later that day, I gently remind myself that right now, I’m on my mat. I don’t berate myself for the thoughts (rule #1 of meditation), I simply let the thought drift from my mind and return to my practice.

To me, yoga is more than a time for exercise. It’s a time for movement, serenity and awareness. It’s sacred. And that’s what keeps me going.

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