I first discovered the power of committing to do a new practice every day for a defined period of time when I was living in Afghanistan. I’d been having a really difficult time dealing with some of the suffering and injustice I was seeing every day and my anxiety levels were going through the roof.
I’d dabbled in yoga and meditation and knew that both practices had helped me find a solid, calm space even in the midst of the most extreme circumstances but my practice was erratic and the effects were fleeting.
I knew I needed more of that kind of practice, more often. So I made myself a promise that I would sit down and meditate every morning for 21 mornings. I committed to myself to sit for at least ten minutes every morning.
Some mornings I sat there for the entire ten minutes struggling against the practice. Some mornings I spent ten minutes chasing after a mind that was out the door and off on a stroll along the street outside. I would lead it back into the room only to find a few moments later it had wandered out again.
Some mornings I looked over at my clock every thirty seconds, convinced that ten minutes must surely have passed. Some mornings I spent the whole time singing to myself, catching myself at it, settling my mind back onto the breath and then realising that I had somehow started singing again without even noticing.
On all those mornings I repeated two simple mantras to myself.
The first was ‘just hold your seat’. What that meant to me was that it was enough, for now, that I did what I had committed to doing. It was enough that I sat for ten minutes every morning, repeatedly returning my attention gently to my breath. As long as I held my seat, no matter what kinds of joys, frustrations or sorrows arose, I was practicing something important. I was learning to resist the temptation to distract myself from discomfort. I was learning to hold my seat.
My other mantra was ‘you are not doing it wrong, you are doing it’. I knew that there were profound depths of wisdom and subtle layers of insight to be found in the practice of meditation. I knew I hadn’t even scratched the surface. I knew I was still missing some of the most important truths about meditation.
But I was a beginner and for now what mattered most was that I practiced. I knew that if I listened to the gremlins who whispered in my ear that I was wasting my time because I probably wasn’t even doing it right, I would have toppled off the cushion in defeat on the first day. As long as I kept showing up and kept holding my seat, for now, I was doing enough.
After 21 days I realised that those moments had become an integral part of my day. Some days they didn’t feel like a battle or a chore. Some days I felt myself lean back into the spaciousness and peace that – apparently – had always been there waiting for me. After 21 days I didn’t want to stop.
So here is what I hope might have come from the 30 days of yoga. I hope that your 30 days of yoga might have given you a taste for the practice of taking a little time every day to reconnect with your breath, with your body and with the place within you that is a source of peace, love, compassion and joy.
If you started with me on 15 January then you are coming to the end of your 30 days. If you started later, it doesn’t make any difference because the point, now that I can be totally honest with you, is not to practice yoga every day for 30 days. The point is to make space every day to practice yoga.