Finding time for yoga practice

There's a story about a monk in a monastery who was every day thinking, when I've done my chores I'll go and meditate.  He'd be washing up, say, and think as soon as I'm done I'll go to my cushion and meditate.  But every day, after his chores were done his teacher would send a message asking him to come and see him.  So every day, when his chores were finished, instead of going to sit on his cushion and get comfortable and close his eyes and begin his meditation, he found himself with his teacher doing something else instead.

This went on for a while and the monk got more and more frustrated with his teacher.  He wanted to go to his teacher every time he called for him; he wanted to know whatever it was his teacher wanted to tell him and learn everything his teacher had to teach him, but still... he needed to get to his meditation. 

Eventually he realised something quite important: as good as it is to set aside a special time every day for your practice, it is also important to bring your practice into your life as you live it.  To blur the distinction between the times when you are practising and the times when you're living your life.

So the monk decided to turn everything into his meditation: from then on, if he was doing the washing up, he would meditate while he was doing it.  This meant that he would give all of his attention to what he was doing - he was not physically doing the washing up while his mind flew about thinking about what he was going to have for dinner; a conversation he had earlier that day, or listening to the radio.  He was just standing doing the washing up and giving it all of his focus.  And he turned that into his meditation practice.  And it worked.

I was reminded of this in something I heard Ram Dass say once... Ram Dass is a very clever guy and always has a lot to say, but several years ago now he had a stroke, which affected his ability to speak.  Sometimes he's sitting on stage, looking at the audience and they are waiting for his wisdom and the words are somewhere in his head, but they just don't quite make it to his mouth.  Then there is silence and everyone is waiting for the words to come.  In one of these moments Ram Dass said, "Don't waste time waiting."  What he meant (I think), is don't sit there waiting for my words to come; you could be finding your own words right now; you could be finding your own wisdom.  Don't waste time waiting; get on with your work.

If you have small children; if you commute to work; if you have a hectic work and social life, it is not always easy to find your way every day to a special place where you can shut the door, be in silence and give yourself over 100% to your yoga practice.  Life doesn't always work out that way for us.  And anyway, yoga is intended to be a practice for life - our life is the gift; that's the whole point.  The world is where you get to work all this stuff out.  As Vivekananda put it, the world exists to set you free.

You can turn anything, any part part of your day into your yoga practice, if you commit to doing it with mindfulness.  I am not suggesting that every single moment of every day is dedicated to it, but that one or two tasks or journeys can be transformed into your yoga practice for that day, simply by your commitment to doing it with total focus.

For example, here's Nancy Roth talking about walking mindfully... "During these walks I understand the presence of God in yet another way: as if I were reading a spiritual book written with the alphabet of the seasons and processes of the natural world ... I see a design ... of interconnectedness, beauty, and, always, new life issuing from death."  

On Woman's Hour I heard about a woman who cycled to work mindfully.  The interviewer asked how safe it was to be mindful when you cycle, but she missed the point entirely, because when you are mindful, when you are totally present in each moment, you give yourself to that task and that moment fully and completely. If you are cycling mindfully, you are thinking only about cycling: about the feel of the wind in your face, your feet on the pedals, the road before you, the sounds of the cars passing you by; you are paying attention completely. 

So if you are bathing your child, choose to do it wholeheartedly.  Don't wish it were done already so that you can get on with something else.  Take time to appreciate the simple pleasure of a small body immersed in water; share the time with them.  If you are coming home from work, opt not to fly from one form of transport to another, imagining yourself already at home, relaxing on the sofa; instead, take time to feel your feet on the pavement; your breath in your body; relax your shoulders; look around you; enjoy the journey, rather than fixating on the destination.  If you are eating, put away the newspaper, turn off the television and radio and give all of yourself to your meal, to the taste, feel and enjoyment of it.

With mindfulness you can turn any task, however mundane (and sometimes, the more mudane the better), into something elevated and beautiful.  You can make it into your meditation or your prayer.


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