The Transformative Power of Practice

Would you like to be the kind of person who handles her day with grace? Who navigates adversity with admirable aplomb?  Who is able to find resilience in the worst of circumstances, and optimism to share through the best?  One way to develop these qualities is by developing a practice.
What is a practice?  The form doesn’t matter as much as your commitment. It can be yoga, sitting or walking meditation, breath work, visualization, or prayer.  The essence of it is to make time, every day, and follow through – no matter what.  It is a time to set aside preoccupations with past and future, worries and wishes, and simply be in the present moment.

The Excuses
1. “I Don’t Have Time”
Everyone has 5 minutes they can sculpt out of their day.  Even 3 minutes will make a difference.  Set a minimum effort and stick with it.  If you are doing yoga, it can be five Surya Namaskaras (sun salutations). If you are doing meditation, prayer, or breath work, set a time, and then set a timer.  Commit to doing that minimum amount, and if you can do more, great, but do your minimum, every day.  It is better to set a small goal you can meet, and follow through with your commitment than to  set a more ambitious goal and fail to attain it.

2. “I Can’t Concentrate”
Practice is just that: practice.  It’s not called “perfection”.  One of its gifts is the opportunity to kindly, without judgment or recrimination, bring yourself back, as many times as you need, to your intent. Everyone’s mind wanders; every situation has distractions.  They can be thoughts, sounds, sensations, emotions, smells, etc.  Your intent is to let all of that go, to whatever extent you can, for the time you allot.  Sometimes that means letting it go hundreds of times in one practice, but that’s okay.  Even after years of practice, there are days when it flows easily, and days when you struggle to remain focused for even a moment.  Either one can still be a successful practice. Each time you notice your mind has wandered, be grateful for having noticed, and simply bring yourself back again.

3. Resistance
Resistance comes in many forms: I’m too busy, too tired, too cranky, too stressed, too sick, too…. whatever.  Trust that it will be beneficial to practice, no matter what you are feeling about it ahead of time. Just as there will always be distractions, there will always be an excuse.  Develop a sense of humor about our infinite creativity in coming up with excuses, and don’t buy into yours, no matter what form it takes today.  Acknowledge it, and then practice anyhow.

The Benefits
1. Will Power
Strength of mind is like strength of body. It takes discipline, perseverance and repetition to develop.  Researchers believe that will power gets stronger the more we exercise it.  By developing it with small tasks and commitments, we strengthen ourselves for larger challenges, and we are able to more easily transfer the application of will power from one area of our life to another.

2. Self-Knowledge & Awareness
If you are doing the same practice every day, the only element that changes is… you!  Regular practice holds a mirror up for you to see your strengths and your weaknesses, and the way your sense of yourself and your life changes day to day.

3. Stress Reduction
Everyone needs time to “drop anchor” each day, a time to withdraw, if only for a few moments, from the hectic, demanding, stress-inducing lives we all lead.  Practice is “sacred time”, time to put the rest of your life on hold while you restore your sense of well-being and groundedness.  Even a few minutes will leave you ready to return to your day, more energized and restored.

4. Health Benefits
Both yoga and meditation are increasingly being touted for numerous health benefits, including lower stress hormones, reducing heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improved insulin sensitivity, and slowing the effects of aging.

5. Developing Self-Esteem
When we follow through with our commitments, we feel better about ourselves; we learn, deeply, that we are trustworthy.  This helps us in all of our relationships: with ourselves, with other people, with food and exercise and all the lifestyle issues with which we frequently struggle.  Learning to “show up” daily for practice, even if it’s only a few minutes a day, sets an important blueprint for being able to show up for ourselves in every area of our lives.

Note: Fran’s personal practices are Lovingkindness Meditation and Ashtanga Yoga.

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