Consistent Practice

What is consistent practice?  What does it mean to miss a day (or two) (or three) in the midst of a twenty-one day discipline?  How do we begin again?  In her book “Ancient Prayer” Rachel C. Weingarten references centuries old rabbinic commentary on Exodus, “Kol Hatchalot Kashot,All Beginnings are difficult.”  She writes in the introduction section “Why Pray?”:

All beginnings are difficult.  Not just the beginning of a major life event or chapter.  Not just a new beginning as a newlywed, first-time mother, or widow.  Not just the onset of an illness or the beginning of grad school, but also every single fresh start:  starting your garden or painting a room. Cleaning your closets or getting back in touch with a long-lost friend.  Accepting your child’s limitations or tackling a job search.  Every single beginning is difficult.

Beginning a new practice is difficult.  Here at, we undertook a twenty-one day discipline of daily yoga practice (which can take a variety of forms).  Some of us sailed right through and have continued on.  Some of us forgot to practice and then recommitted ourselves.  Others of us forgot we had committed in the first place and upon remembering joined back up.  And still others of us missed some days and gave it up for lost.  Who will keep going?  Who will recommit?  Who is waiting for the next twenty-one day discipline to begin?

Often times the coming of a new calendar year can be overwhelming if we tend to heap demands on ourselves, demands like remaking our entire lives in every way with the hope of improving to the point of perfection.  But, we didn’t start our challenge on the first of the year, or the first of the month.  Our Day One was spontaneous, so the pressure was off.  One way to keep the pressure off is to throw our notions of “perfection” to the wind and embrace a new vision.  Claudia Cummins, dedicated yoga teacher and writer, includes a piece in her book Illuminations called “More,” which encourages a fascinating way of looking at life:

May your perfection be vast enough
to embrace even the broken moments.

The first time I read this poem and encountered this interpretation of perfection I was blown away; and every time I’ve read it since, I shake my head in wonder and admiration.  Allowing our understanding of perfection to hold within itself myriad imperfections is akin to lifesaving, especially for those of us who tend to over-think, over-analyze, and over-compare with judgments and evaluations like “failure” and “success,” “good” and “bad,” “better than” and “worse than.”  What happens when we look at our experiences as neither successes nor failures but as instances of learning?  Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., writes in her book A Year of Living Your Yoga,

If I am focusing on learning, then I never make a mistake; I just learn a lot.

When we approach our life this way, when we focus on learning, our world opens up and we breathe deeply; we are released from the traps of our narrow definitions, and we revel in all the new space in which we can move and have our being.

We know it’s not always easy to change our way of being in the world, but if we can offer grace to ourselves in the face of our imperfections, we will find the beginning, and the road itself, that much less difficult.  Practicing patience is a grace and a virtue, and we will do well to hold in our hearts the teaching of St. Francis de Sales:

Have patience with all things,
but first of all with yourself.

Three weeks is considered an optimal time frame for creating new healthy habits.  The same is said of a forty day practice, and, from a biblical perspective, the number forty is said to imply “enough.”  Our spontaneous twenty-one day discipline is over, and the Lenten season is already in full swing.  But we haven’t missed an opportunity to begin a new season of our lives simply because Ash Wednesday is past. With grace, patience, and maybe a spot of forgiveness, we can jump right in.  There’s no pressure to start on “the perfect day” or “to keep on going until the end.”  We can make right now our new Day One.  In fact, every day can be Day One.

Happy Lent!  Happy Practicing!

The Catholic Yogi

Practice in Virtues, Catholic and Yogic

As we continue to move through this season of anticipation here at the Catholic Yogi, the second week of Advent found our family practicing Understanding, and now, in the third week, the week of rejoicing, we are practicing Kindness.  As the weeks pass, much to my children’s dismay, we can’t happily throw out the patience we learned, the understanding we realized, or the kindnesses we are uncovering.  Instead, we are striving to create habits of these virtues and so carry them with us into our final week of preparing the way.

The kiddos cheer when they think “a week of being patient” has passed, the pressure’s off, no more patience needed!  But when we look at the root of all the virtures we find their life force is the same, Love.  So, in Understanding, we still find patience, and in Kindness, we still offer understanding.  When our fourth week of Advent brings Honesty to our door, I suspect patience, understanding, and kindness will inform our practice of truth.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga according to Patanjali offer Yamas and Niyamas as guidelines for ethical and moral behavior.  (For a quick peek at all eight limbs, check out this article by Mara Carrico.)  When I think of Patience, the second niyama, Samtosa, comes to mind.  It means Contentment.  Sometimes when practicing patience, finding contentment in our hearts is not only helpful, but necessary.  All the grasping that lives within our impatience is calmed when we are able to embrace the goodness of the right here and now.

Svadhyaya, the fourth niyama, is the study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self.  This reminds me of Understanding.  When we seek to be understanding we can study our own habits, thoughts, and behaviors; we can study the scriptures of our own cultural and/or religious disciplines; and, finally, we can study the circumstances, experiences, and situations of others, of our close family, as well as members of our greater communities, even those we haven’t met.  When we have a better grasp of ourselves and others, empathy comes more easily.

Empathy has the ability to spur our feelings into action and take us from contemplation into motion.  Acts of Kindness resonate with the first yama, Ahimsa, meaning Non-violence.  In addition to avoiding harmful behaviors, we seek out ways to lighten the burden and bring comfort.

Satya, the second yama, means Truthfulness and is a great tool in our practice of Honesty.  (You can read an excellent article by Judith Hanson Lasater on the practical applications of truthfulness here.)  When we are sincere in our interactions with others, way down in the depths of the daily things, like “Are you hungry, would you like to eat before we leave?”  “Yes, I am.  That would be great,” we find there is less strife, less bitterness, less frustration, and less regret.

With all of these virtues swirling around in our hearts, what great gifts we can give to each other, not just one celebratory day each year, but here and now, way down deep in the daily living.

Happy Practicing!

The Catholic Yogi

~ For a more in-depth look at the Yamas, read Beginning the Journey by Judith Hanson Lasater, and for the Niyamas, read Cultivate Your Connections.