Almost everyone who practices yoga and meditation will at some time, hit a ‘flat patch’. One of those times when we are left scratching our heads as to why – having loved our practice so much for so long, we now struggle to approach our mat or cushion. It may feel like we have gone off track and we find it really difficult to rebuild enthusiasm and faith in the supportive and transformative power of Yoga.
If you have had this struggle – you are most definitely not alone, and – you may be heartened to hear that it is part of the natural process of growth and expansion that yoga supplies.
So, what is this and why does this happen to even the most dedicated?
When we perform any aspect of traditional yoga with abhyasa – constant reverent practice (outlined by the Siddha Patanjali in the Patanjali Sutras), it is natural and expected for layers of conditioning, unhelpful patterns and deep-seated tensions to release. This is what the processes leading us into true yoga do. They are actually a masterfully metered series of micro-adversity designed to make us stronger and to know ourselves and the realms within which we operate more deeply, and order to do this, we must release that which no longer serves us.
Part and parcel of regular, dedicated yoga practice are regular patterns of release, expansion and resistance as we move further along the path to a more fuller understanding of ourselves, our true power and our true purpose in life. Usually, resistance to practice occurs when the deeper mind resists releasing long held patterns or unhelpful beliefs. The ‘little I’ can’t quite believe it’s really part of the ‘limitless we’ and because of this, the ‘little I’, also known as the ego, resists and comes up with a string of excuses, smoke screens, excellent reasons and in some cases minor illness in order to avoid blending into universal consciousness.
The ego falsely believes it is giving itself up, when in reality it is being called into co-operation - co-operation with the flow of nature and unity afforded through deeper connection to the processes of life and our own True Nature. Once the ego dips it’s toes into the sea of potentiality that is universal consciousness and gets some experiences with the bliss, acceptance and true power available, it usually relaxes. This can be quite a lengthy dance, especially for those people who are very attached to operating through the intellect. This is where yoga excels. It is in many ways prescribed, but it is also very broad. It is such an expert system that there are pathways to amazing depth and growth for every personality type and constitution. Yoga offers tried and true traditional ways to flow through the resistance into the next level of expansion, wonder, and clarity.
Below are a few of the most approachable.
Sangha and Satsang
One way prescribed by the ancients that is still alive today in traditional yoga organisations, is to keep seeking the company of those who operate from an expanded view of life and its processes. The type of community that provides this is known as sangha, or spiritual community. This does not mean that people need to be living together, rather meeting regularly to share space and spirit. When people are in sangha and share their ideas through community discussion or satsang (spiritual discourse), everyone is uplifted. This is one of the reasons, for example that new meditators report going deeper in their meditation in a familiar group setting than they do meditating alone.
So, getting a regular hit of time with a teacher of expanded spiritual wisdom and group of like-minded practitioners really does help get through a slump and this can happen simply by association. If you pair this up with tapping into some new knowledge in a course or workshop, this is also a great way to refresh your practice – and if you teach, your own teachings.
Working with Symbol and Ritual
Another way to encourage the ego to relax and let the wisdom of deeper-self shine through is to introduce practices that bypass the intellect for a while and nourish the deeper mind through processes linked to the subconscious mind. Put quite simply when we introduce the simplicity and beauty of ritual and symbol into our practice, we are drawn quite effortlessly into a space of connection with the energy of our yoga.
Have a small altar near or beside your yoga mat with a picture of something peaceful and meaningful to you brings the beauty of symbol into the mix. It could be of nature, an inspirational person, a quote that you love, a deity – if you follow a particular faith. You may also like to add an object such as a crystal or similar enriching item as another form of symbol.
Adding the element of ritual assists in your dedication, while still avoiding getting too caught up in the ‘thinking mind’. Ritual in yoga provides a stream of divinity that draws us in naturally and takes us to deeper places within ourselves and with the yoga. Simple ritual works well when it feels non-confrontational and at its best elicits bhakti – a loving response towards ourselves, others and what we are doing.
Some suggested guidelines:
Set yourself up in a simple way that is approachable, enjoyable and uncomplicated. Remember, that it’s the middle path that holds the magic and sweetness that we all love about practicing yoga.
Be realistic about the time you have, be honest about where you’re at. If you were bored with your practice – acknowledge this. If you hit a challenge that has been hard to push through see it this way and avoid glossing over it. See it for what it is and know that these things are all completely expected on the path. It does not somehow make you ‘less spiritual’ or less dedicated.
Ideas for simple, approachable and traditional ritual we can apply to our practice:
Chanting the Gayatri Mantra for 3 – 7 rounds before beginning our practice.
Lighting a candle on your altar or in your yoga space before beginning practice each day.
Bringing palms together over the chest and bringing awareness to the breath as it flows smoothly in and out of the nostrils and acknowledging the life-force that flows within it and within all of living creation as divine and beautiful 11 rounds before beginning.
Chanting Shanti Mantra 3 rounds before beginning our practice.
Chanting the mantra for a particular deity your feel connected with for 7 rounds.
Chanting a personal mantra given by our teacher either silently or aloud 7 - 11 rounds.
Using mala beads (prayer beads) to count rounds of chanting, or breaths in meditation to amplify the energy of our practice and as a symbolic memory of this work with ourselves.
When we chant before beginning our practice, we are changing the vibration within and around us in a way that refines our frequency we become attuned to the vibrational meaning of the mantra and we may then carry its resonance throughout our practice.
Choosing any one of the suggestions above brings in a component that changes the vibration of your whole practice and in turn enhances your relationship to it, shifting into deeper appreciation, enthusiasm and devotion to the yoga.
When we add a devotional element to our home practice it can be said that we are divinizing it. And put quite simply, when we divinize something we bring more love and light to it. When we bring love into the practice and ourselves through ritual and symbol, the love allows us to look and to see what is there to be revealed and it is the seeing and being seen through this form of self-witnessing that brings light. We bring this light to our practice and we in turn become more enlightened. Where there is light, there is joy. Where there is joy, there is ease and wherever there is ease, there is space for magic to happen.
Om Tat Sat!