The Transformative Power of Practice

This article was originally published in Natural Awakenings. To see the original article, click here and go to page 19.

Would you like to be the kind of person who handles her day with grace? Who navigates adversity with admirable aplomb?  Who has 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, or prayer.  The essence of it is to make time, every day, and follow through – no matter what, 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.

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.  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, but that’s okay.  Even after years of practice, there are days when it flows easily, and days when you struggle to remain focused. Each time you notice your mind has wandered, be grateful for having noticed, and 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.1 By developing it with small tasks and commitments, we strengthen ourselves for larger challenges.

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, 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, and with food and exercise and all the 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.

Fran Sussman’s personal practices are Lovingkindness Meditation,  Ashtanga Yoga,  walking in the woods with her dog Lucy, and dressage.

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