The Big Question
I wish I had more wisdom when it comes to advising yoga students about how to develop discipline or adopt a yogic lifestyle. I’ve been asked questions on this subject many times over the years and usually by people who have the best intentions.
The other night at a dinner party, I realised my weakness in being a yoga advisor. A guest who is a friend and student asked me how I balance enjoying the indulgences of life with the practice of yoga. How do I get to eat, drink, and party late without falling off the wagon? I could tell that my friend was curious and sincere. I hemmed and hawed but even trying my best I couldn’t come up with a good answer at the time. (Perhaps I was fazed by the glass of champagne I’d had earlier in the evening and the delicious glass of red wine with my beef stroganoff.)
This is an excellent question, though, so I gave it due consideration.
You who are subscribers to my blog would know that I don’t shun the pleasures of life. I love good food. I eat meat and things that are sweet. I play parlour games and watch television series like ‘Game of Thrones’. I even enjoy sex.
To get back to my friend, I believe he was asking how to prioritise doing the things that we all know are good for ourselves. How is it possible to have a night of indulgence that doesn’t undermine the next day and the days that follow? And, how do you have yoga contribute to your life on an on-going basis? Here’s some pointers I came up with, but there are surely more that you the reader might suggest.
A Few Hints
- Pay attention. Yogis and neuroscientists know that there is a 3-part process that we experience thousands of times a day. It is right where the potential hijacking of your resolve to make healthy choices occurs. This fairly predictable chain of events happens quickly and so it takes attention to observe it. You are presented with a stimulus. You then check it out. You have an impulse that is neutral or you might instead experience a craving or an aversion. Finally, you either act on your impulse or not. For example, I go to the mall in town where there is a stall that sells cream doughnuts. I see these doughnuts, and I have a closer look. My mouth waters. I either get one and eat it or I don’t. In my case, I remember that I don’t usually feel that good after eating such a sweet indulgence, and I walk right on by. Of course, it is possible that I might override my sensible choice at any time, but the longer I’ve been walking by, the easier it’s become.
- Moderation. Oh, I know, for some of us this concept seems so boring. It is fun at times to lash out. The other side of boring, though, might be a New You. It might mean adopting a demeanour that you don’t usually associate with your behaviour. You might skip that second serving or eat smaller portions. Our friends have adopted an almost-fasting diet two days of the week, partly to lose weight, which they have. They have also experienced better health in terms of lowering blood pressure and improving their cholesterol scores. It takes strength of character to change behaviours, but in the process your character is strengthened. Frank Lloyd Wright said, ‘We create our houses and then they create us.’
- Substitute savouring for craving. Here’s an example of how this works for me. I like an occasional glass of wine, but I made a decision to not drink bad wine. Savouring one glass of special wine ends up being more satisfying to me, and I don’t feel like I need or want more. Another scenario: I like watching good television programming. Years ago, Daniel and I binge-watched the series, ‘The Sopranos’ – 4 episodes in one session. I’ve learned from experience that watching multiple episodes in one sitting is like eating the whole box of chocolates. Having had the whole box leads to indigestion; both food and entertainment become less pleasurable. Psychologist and yoga teacher, Stephen Cope says in The Wisdom of Yoga that savouring things gives us the sort of happiness that is created through the simple act of knowing an object. There isn’t the pressure for more or to possess the object.
The Real Key
To understand the times when our best intentions get railroaded involves digging deeper to uncover the hidden needs that drive them. Reading the wisdom of the ancient yoga sage and original psychologist, Patanjali, is useful. Here’s a relevant aphorism from the Yoga Sutra.
In their subtle form, these causes of suffering are subdued by seeing where they come from. (2.10)
To avoid hijacking, all we need to do is pay close attention and learn to be present for experience. It may be all, but, as any meditator knows, it is everything.
Fantastic piece on an oh-so-relevant subject! This intrigues me because we all have discipline in some aspects of our lives and seemingly none in other aspects. I love your point about paying close attention, and also about substituting savouring with craving. I heard a new phrase the other day – self-binding – which I’ve been doing for years. It’s not a mean or suppressive measure, but rather an avoidance of situations where I know my personal willpower will be at its weakest.
Getting older has its own way of turning you into a renunciate.
When you get to an advanced age, Brook, the things that were rather fun when younger end up hurting when you attain elderhood. Alcohol consumption, for instance – more than one glass is likely to feel excessive. And keeping early hours: Ronald Reagan said something like, You can tell when people have achieved middle age. They still go out at night, but have to make sure they can be in bed by 9pm.