TOP THREE PRO TIPS
to getting the very most from your yoga
FIVE MINUTE READ • BY YOGACHARYA ERIC WALRABENSTEIN
he world has gone crazy.
The technology that was supposed to liberate us now seems to control us, the flood of information designed to inform now overwhelms us, and the lofty ideals of what we should be, have, and accomplish in life drive us into a frenzy of achievement. Today, stress, anxiety, and the constant sense of unease have become constant companions for most everyone on the planet.
But it’s not our fault.
Here's a fact: the human nervous system simply wasn’t built for the prolonged and multitudinous demands of our modern world. That’s because the nervous system evolved in a much simpler time: it’s at its best when it is faced with one or two challenges at a time; it’s at its best when dealing with threats that last minutes, not years; and it’s at its best when it is nurtured with periods of true rest and recuperation that simply aren’t afforded in the land of the 24-hour news cycle.
Yes, the world’s gone crazy, but you don’t have to. Thanks to the technology of yoga.
To be clear, I have chosen to use the word “technology” very consciously here. According to Webster’s Dictionary, “technology” is defined as: a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.
And while few may be presenting it this way, yoga is indeed a technique-based science; it’s a rich collection of body-mind technologies that is the near-perfect antidote to today’s out-of-control world. Rightly used, yoga can neutralize most, if not all, of the overwhelming demands of modern life. Rightly used.
To help us all get the very most from this ancient science of mind, I’m offering the Top Three Secrets to Getting the Most from Your Yoga. I hope it serves:
PRO TIP #1: Regularity
Years ago, a prominent author from the U.S. was interviewing the great Swami Sivananda Saraswati at his ashram along the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh, India. The author was successful by all the usual standards with several books published including a New York Times best seller.
But he was curious.
He knew that Swami Sivananda too was an author, and was keenly aware of how he was able to churn out new works at an astounding rate. At the time of the interview, the Swami had authored nearly 200 books.
Given that the author couldn’t manage to pen a new work faster than one every few years, he needed to know what it was about the Swami that allowed him to be so prolific: was it the Swami’s connection with the divine? His ability to clear his mind? A secret stash of magical pixie dust?
So, near the conclusion of his interview, the author recognized his chance and put the question to the Swami.
“Swamiji,” he began, “I have been working on my latest book for over two years, and my previous novel took me over three and a half years to complete. You’ve written nearly 200 books and I can’t even begin to understand how you’ve done it. Can you share with me your secret?”
The wise sage smiled, and with a little chuckle, he leaned in close and said quietly: “Regularity is the key to all of my successes.”
“That’s it? Regularity?”
“Yes. That is it,” the Swami answered with a smile and a shrug.
What Swami Sivananda realized is that any great accomplishment, whether it be writing a book, fostering a healthy marriage, or forging a happy life, is not a single monolithic accomplishment. Rather, it is a compilation of a million tiny acts done regularly, and overtime. And it’s the regular performance of these tiny acts that births the magnificent result—whatever it may be.
And so it goes with our yoga practices.
The daily ritual of meditation, the attendance of our favorite yoga teachers’ classes, the intention to remain mindful in our activities, and the effort to be compassionate to those around us are just a few of examples of our yoga practice’s tiny acts that eventually yield that magnificent result we desire—our best and happiest lives.
It is the regular and consistent performance of these tiny acts that is the secret from which all greatness comes.
Begin each day with a mindfulness ritual. It might be a seated meditation, it could be in contemplative prayer, it could even be an act of communing with nature. The key is to engage in a measured and deliberate manner, one that will soothe both body and mind into their natural, calm state.
Engage in a yoga practice session a minimum of three times a week (note: this need not be a yoga class, although most of us do benefit from the structure and guidance provided in the formal class setting).
Pursue development opportunities that deepen your understanding of yoga’s technology and how it can be applied to nourish the out-of-balance body and mind.
PRO TIP #2: Portability
Twenty-four years ago, I was a young Zen student at the San Francisco Zen Center and found myself four days into a grueling seven-day sesshin (for those not familiar, a sesshin is a kind of hell camp for Zensters; an intensive meditation retreat involving rising each morning at 4:30 and spending sixteen and a half hours in various forms of meditation, ritual, and service. Then, rinse and repeat).
One day just after morning service, a lapse in my practice had me forgetting a bit of basic Zen protocol, something my Zen teacher immediately called me on.
“You know the practice invites us to engage mindfully as we move around the monastery grounds.” He gently corrected.
Reflexively, my testosterone-fueled, twenty-something ego wanted to cover my tracks, so I replied “Of course, I do. It’s just that I was taking a little break from practicing.”
My teacher smiled…and was having none of it. “You know, Eric, it may feel that way, but in truth, we are always practicing something. There is no time off.”
Of course, my wise teacher was pointing to an important, but infrequently mentioned fact.
It’s that Zen (and yoga and meditation and mindfulness) are so powerful because they actually alter our nervous systems.
You see, thousands of years ago, the ancient yogis realized something that modern science has only recently come to know: the brain and, in fact, the entire nervous system, is an incredibly moldable thing. Its habits, its thoughts, its reactions, indeed, even its physical structure can be changed.
This phenomenon, called neuroplasticity by scientists, opens the door to each of us being able to dramatically influence the quality of the lives we lead—quite independent from our external circumstances.
This is why our yoga can literally transform our entire lives.
Yoga’s repetitive practices influence the programming in our nervous systems and uproot the sabotaging habits of mind that are the source of so much unnecessary agitation, frustration, and worry in our lives.
But there’s good news and bad news here.
Because of neuroplasticity, the brain is a lot like a sponge: it’s always soaking up its experience, it’s always being influenced by its perceptions, it’s always being programmed. That means in any given moment, one of two things are occurring.
We are either…
1. Reinforcing the positive habits that lift us toward more ease and happiness.
Or we are…
2. Reinforcing the sabotaging habits that poison our attempts to live our best lives.
Like my Zen teacher said: “There is no time off.”
So, when I was mindlessly blundering about the Zen monastery under the guise of “not practicing,” rather than saying that I was not practicing mindfulness, it would have been much more accurate to say that I was practicing mind-less-ness.
I was literally programming my nervous system to be more distracted, agitated, and unsatisfied.
So, what does all of this have to do with portability—and our yoga practices? Well, it’s this.
Even the most enthusiastic among us, those who practice for, say, two hours every day, are fighting a losing battle. It’s simple math.
While we may practice yoga and meditation for a couple of hours a day, each one of those days also contains twenty-two other hours during which we too often fall back into sabotaging habits of judgment, distraction, worry, and such.
Because of this, we spend much of our time undoing what our yoga practices are designed to do. We are unwittingly reinforcing the very habits that poison our lives.
So, what to do? Surely, we can’t be expected to practice yoga and meditation for hours and hours every day?
Our answer is lies in portability. We need to take our yoga practices with us into the world.
Here’s the thing that too many of us forget:
We don’t have to be in a yoga posture to forge a more mindful way of connecting to the beauty of this moment. We can do it by choosing to focus on our breath rather than our phones while wait in line.
We don’t have to be faced with a wobbly balance posture to develop acceptance of ourselves and our world. We can do it by pausing, taking a breath, and making space for others who express conflicting points of view.
We don’t have to be in the yoga studio to reinforce a habit of kindness. We can make a point of smiling and making eye contact with the checkout clerk, learning the names of our servers, saying good morning to those we pass on the hiking trail, or allowing that car trying to get into our lane to pull in front of us.
Yes, all of these actions have the effect of altering the way our nervous systems respond to the world—and how we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.
That’s why, as I move through my day, I often ask myself, “What am I reinforcing now?”
Am I programming my nervous system to create more calm, joy, and fulfillment in my life, or am I programming it to feel more distracted, anxious, and dissatisfied?
When we connect with the reality that our every thought, our every perception, or every word and action is literally reshaping our brains, we’ve taken our first step to forging the kind of life we’ve always dreamed of.
Begin each day with an intention that supports you in your quest to activate your best self. A simple proclamation like “Today I will be grateful” or “I am present for each moment of this beautiful day” is enough to set us on the right track.
Check in regularly with your progress. I like to set random alarms on my phone to remind me to stay connected to the day’s intention.
Be accepting of how you are. We are all working against decades of programmed thoughts, perceptions, and reactions. It takes time and repetition to leave unhelpful habits behind. Be gentle with yourself.
COMING SOON: PRO TIP #3
Eric Walrabenstein is a best-selling author, the founder of Yoga Pura in Phoenix, Arizona, and the creator of the BOOTSTRAP Recovery, a first-of-its-kind yoga program for craving & addiction. Learn more at www.bootstraprecovery.com.