How do you get motivated to practice Ashtanga when you’re just not feeling it?

In thinking about my practice from earlier today, I came to a minor realization: My practice has been lousy (ahem… more than usual and in the really meaningful meaning of “lousy”) for at least a few weeks. By that I mean I’m not getting anything significant from practice: no lasting stillness of mind, no stronger foundation for the other 22 1/2 hours of the day, no particular sense of well-being.

Whatever Patanjali promised us seems to be retreating.

Now, I suppose it could just be a phase — I probably ought to check what’s going on in the heavens above — and a few weeks (although as I’ve reflected, I think it’s been even longer) don’t necessarily signal a crisis. But the nagging got loud enough today, and so I did what we all do: I looked online for help.

To be honest, I didn’t find anything really useful. I know I’m supposed to just get on the mat. (That seems to be the central message people want to give you.) But I am getting on the mat; it’s just while there that nothing much seems to be happening.

Then I found a transcript from Guruji, via Guy Donahaye. It is from France in 1991, of a talk Pattabhi Jois gave. Link is here, and here’s the relevant part:

Question: When practicing alone at home, sometimes one feels tired, not motivated for practice what to do then?

Answer: You must continue no problem. But everyday you different food, you are eating. That is why. Different food is making weakness…

Shastra (scripture) is telling: “one day different food you eat, if you eat onion, that day your mind is no good. One day you take and another bad food you eat. That day your mind not agree (to do) any good work.” Good food you take, that day is very favored – your mind (is) clear, you see! … That is why every day … some sattvic (pure) food you are eating, that is good.

One day laziness is coming: “Ah, tomorrow I am doing, today, don’t want,” he is telling. Mind is there, mind is not agree. Good food you take, mind always is good. That is method. Increasing (good) food you take, your mind same increasing. Same method. Everyday you take bad food, your mind is every day working bad work… You take anyone good food everyday, same is your mind. Same method.

Could it be the food I’m eating?

I’m going to say no. And that’s not because I don’t put as much stock in the connection between food and practice as many do (although I don’t). It’s because nothing has changed in my diet. Nothing much changes day to day, even.

But I think if you pull apart what Guruji says here there’s another answer — or maybe an answer at a different level. We are supposed to be practicing yoga to help us still the fluctuations of our mind — to get toward a yoga practice might be a way of putting that. But perhaps there also needs to be an existing calmness that provides the springboard or launch pad to get the process started.

And, yes, I just suggested a metaphor of a launch pad or springboard to get you moving toward… stillness.

I may be missing, or have misplaced, that congenital point of stillness one needs to find “success” in yoga.

That might be a piece to the saying: “The guru appears when the student is ready.” Your inherent stillness comes to the forefront.

It may also suggest I need to get down to Tim Miller’s; it has been ridiculously long, for any number of reasons that add up to logistics: When we can get down there, he’s been gone, etc.

That said … anyone have a suggestion for bumping up the motivation level — other than “just do it”?

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

9 thoughts on “How do you get motivated to practice Ashtanga when you’re just not feeling it?”

  1. No matter what the reasoning, with the exception of illness or some injuries, practicing is better than not practicing. If I am really being silly about it, I ask myself, will I be more pleased with my day if I do not practice? Answer is, NO. If that doesn’t do it, I ask myself, would I be *pleased* if I were ill or injured or simply too old (not remote enough a possibility for complete comfort…) and could not practice? Answer is, NO. Committee adjourned. Roll out mat. Breathe. Hunt for bandhas. Look where I should look.

  2. “Making it Sacred

    Posted May 19, 2014

    Chopping wood and carrying water is an example of Karma Yoga…the yoga of daily life. The way to do it is this: Do what you do but dedicate the fruits of the work to Ram. That’s the most esoteric way of saying it. Another way of saying it is: Do it without attachment. Another way of saying it is Total Renunciation! Now that doesn’t mean you can go up to a mountain and live in a cave. It means that you renounce attachment even to your own desires. It means that you do what you do because that’s what the harmony of the universe requires. If I am a potter I make pots. But WHO is making the pots? I am not under the illusion that I am making the pots. Pots are. The potter is. I am a Hollow Bamboo.

    I am a doctor… a student…a drop-out…IT’S ALL THE SAME GAME. Don’t let that offend you, but…the external world is all the same…it’s all the external world! People often say to me:

    “I would really like to do sadhana, but…I’m a teacher now. If I could only finish being a teacher, I could do sadhana.”

    BALONEY! You’re either doing sadhana or you’re not. Sadhana is a full time thing that you do because there is nothing else to do. You do it whether you’re teaching, or sitting in a monastery…whether you’re lying in bed, going to the toilet, making love, eating…EVERYTHING is part of waking up. Everything is done without attachment. Another way of saying it is: It’s all done as consecrated action….it’s all dedicated…it’s all sacred.

    In the old days, like many of you (I suppose) I was a good oral-type person. You open the refrigerator and you can’t stuff your mouth fast enough! EVERYTHING turns you on. “Hmmmm, I”ll have a little of that! and there’s some ice cream and there’s some cole slaw, that’ll go good with the ice cream.” The stimulus arouses the response. Here’s a real sour pickle to go with SOMETHING! Oh boy! It’s too much!

    You can go on the oral trip about everything. I come right out of that tradition. I want you to know where I started from – when I was an adolescent, I was so fat that all my clothes had to be specially made. We would go into a store and my mother would say, “He wants to see the double Z with balloon seats…” So you can understand that I speak of the oral trip with a certain amount of empathy. And now suddenly comes this new ruling sent down from above: All your acts will be consecrated.

    Wow, that’s great. But what about food? Now in the West we have a thing. You see the Norman Rockwell cover…THANKSGIVING DAY! There’s the turkey and everybody has his eyes closed and saying grace and the kid’s hand is already on the turkey…OKAY! Let’s say grace and EAT QUICK! So in India I was taught this thing to say to consecrate the food and it was very funny. I’d been taught it but I still had this old orality business. So I would say it, but I could not THINK it. And I could not stop long enough to EXPERIENCE it. At last I had to confront myself to see where I WASN’T.

    You’ve got to go at the rate you can go.

    You wake up at the rate you wake up.

    You’re finished with your desires at the rate you finish with your desires. The disequilibrium comes into harmony at the rate it comes into harmony.

    – Excerpt from Be Here Now” ~ Ram Dass

  3. You say it: go and do your practice at a shala, with a teacher, any (ashtanga) teacher if your is far or away.
    We need a little help from outside during difficult times (vritti nirodha).

  4. Hi Steve. I also practice at home and there are times when the practice is really discouraging. I found that on those times music really helps with motivation and relaxation. Normally I listen to a mix of electronic and world music. If you want some albums ideas just send me a note 🙂

  5. Steve- it is Vata season. You may want to take a look at the food aspect again. Things are fluctuating, changing and our minds have a hard time keeping still. Do you know your dosha? That may help give you some clues….

  6. Yes, try to find a guru. At the last yoga workshop in NYC, Sharat told us that only a guru can remove obstacles. I found that advice very affirming. Good luck!

  7. Music can really help for me as well, but sometimes when my practice feels so heavy and I’m just not into it I take a change of pace, perhaps do some yin yoga or play with some vinyasa: most of the time it rekindles my love for the practice and doing some other types of yoga make me realise how much I really love my ashtanga practice!

  8. …but why do we assume anything has to be happening in practice? is that not just the western mindset all over, always looking for improvement, advancement, deepening, growing? that’s not how anything grows in nature. there are periods of expansion, periods of stagnation, periods of seeming contraction. our bodyminds are of nature.

    for myself, i know that i go through long periods of seeming to plateau in my practice. i feel that the more able i am to accept this – while still getting on the mat daily – the easier, though not more quickly, these times pass. i practice through these times because i know they’re part of being a human being. boredom – no problem; i practice. disengagement – no problem; i practice. they’re only a condition, same as i practice when i’m sick, or hungry, or cold. i don’t believe yoga is making me anything other than a human being. it’s not gonna propel me into the realm of superbeing. in some ways i even welcome these times. they show me i’m not in control.

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