The absolute most pressing question to me right now is “What am I willing to sacrifice?” This isn’t about some self righteous asceticism but rather about prioritising my yoga practice. I’ve been at it long enough to know that yoga, which for me means postures, flow, study, and meditation, makes me feel sane and happy. But I also work a lot, try to have an active social life, and need some sleep somewhere between all that. My schedule is often irregular. I say all this not because I think I’m exceptional, but rather because I think I’m just like everyone else. For most people with busy modern lives, it’s hard to stay disciplined and keep making the time for the practice that we know can serve us well.
The Yoga Sutras address the rare exceptions, meaning those people who seem to be able to get up every day at 4, have their kale, and practice 3 hours before working all day (translation and then commentary by T.K.V. Desikachar):
“There will be some who are born in a state of Yoga. They need not practice or discipline themselves.” (1.19) But these are rare persons who cannot be copied and should not be emulated. Indeed some may succumb to worldly influences and lose their superior qualities.
So that leaves the rest of us with some tough choices. For me, they often look like this:
- Do I set the alarm early so I can practice or do I have an indulgent sleep in ( on a Tuesday)?
- Do I have that big bowl of pasta knowing it will make me want to nap or do I eat something sensible and exercise in the afternoon?
- Do I look at baby photos of friends I haven’t seen in ten years on facebook or do I watch a spiritual teaching video?
- Do I watch one more episode of Mad Men or do I meditate before bed?
But I guess those are easy to answer if you’re semi-serious about getting some clarity in your life. The tougher questions are like this:
- Do I stay out late with my friends, or do I get home early so I can meditate and practice in the morning?
- Do I spend more time with my partner, or do I make sure I get a long practice in?
- Do I go away for the weekend or do I go to that workshop with the teacher from whom I learn the most?
This is where we walk the fine line between keeping a practice that supports and deepens our experience of life and fetishising the practice above all and missing the joy of our phenomenal life. The balance is hard! But this work was never meant to be easy or immediate to figure out.
It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed. (1.14)
There are no easy answers here, but this is why it is so pressing to ask yourself ‘what am I willing to sacrifice?’. Everyone will have a different need for the force of clarity and unification that yoga can bring. You must decide how deep to go. You must decide what to let go of that is preventing you from getting there.
The old Shantideva chestnut speaks volumes here: ‘We who are like senseless children shrink from suffering, but love its causes.’ Often we cling to that which feels good in the short term but either prevents us from going into the depths of possibility the human experience gives us, or causes us suffering in the long term. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to sacrifice. But that is the work. And eventually the sacrifice becomes no sacrifice at all.