The Practice of Not-Practising

Do you practice Yoga every day?

That is, of course the ideal scenario. When you hit that mark, your practice noticeably begins to effect shifts and changes in your life. But what about when you don’t? What about those days (weeks/months?) when your practice slips away, engulfed in the ten thousand things we need to do in everyday life?

There can definitely be an element of shame in not practising, especially when your teacher asks you how it’s going. Sometimes it may even prompt a little grey lie as we gloss over our non-practice and divert to some other topic. There are a couple of good reasons why this doesn’t do any good, so let me save you the effort with some insider information from a seasoned Yoga teacher.

First of all, your teacher already knows when you’re not practising. In fact, the whole world knows because it really shows in your actions, especially what you say and how you say it. It’s a simple fact that the actions of a person who is consciously connecting with themselves on a daily basis are different than those of someone who isn’t. Better to tell the truth, then your teacher can help you to make changes that take you from not-practising to practising.

Second, acting in that way brings shame into the equation. Now occasionally shame can be a reasonable motivator and kick us right back into practice. But in general I’m not a big fan of shame, as it has a horrible tendency to lurk around and to keep burrowing deeper into your psyche. There’s a part of our mind that seems to accumulate shame and eventually it will turn “did some things that weren’t ideal” into “not a good person.” We end up believing our mind’s bullshit, and then it’s even more of an uphill struggle.

So how do we handle not-practising? By consciously making it a part of practice.

Patanjali tells us that the goal of Yoga (nirodha) comes through practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagyam). We get the practice bit easy as we are good to getting hold and doing things, but the detachment? Letting go? That’s a difficult thing, and we are often confused about what it is that we actually need to let go.

When it comes to Yoga, I suggest that you treat your daily practice as double-sided. Each day you try your best to do your practice, and do it with all your awareness. But if circumstances conspire to prevent that, even if you “had no good reason not to practice” then you can do the practice of not-practising.

How to do this? Bring all of your awareness to your not-practising. Understand what it was that happened that caused you to not practice. It may have been exhaustion, travel plans, unexpected events, work commitments or maybe even “couldn’t-be-bothered-ness”. If you don’t bring your awareness to the situation, you are acting unconsciously and you have learned nothing.

If you do bring your awareness fully onto your non-practising then not only have you engaged in a form of conscious practice (i.e. Yoga) but you may also learn lessons on how to better approach sustaining your practice or just have gained more inspiration to return to practice the very next day.

Which strikes me as a good way to transform a fail into a win-win situation.