Sunday, February 8, 2009


I had breakfast with a friend this morning and we were discussing our yoga practices and how we have both been practicing less than we would like. This is something that happens to me again and again. The asana practice, and also the other limbs of yoga, contribute positively to my life; I feel well in every way when I am practicing regularly. And yet... And yet, over and over in my life, there are times when I fall out of practice, when I stop practicing asana and meditation and pranayama, when I stop living consciously in the world.

The outcome of this lack of practice is always negative, not only for myself but for those around me. Frankly, when I am not practicing, I don't much like the person I become. I am haunted by ghosts of depression, anger and impatience. I treat others without compassion. I treat myself without compassion. I lack energy and joy in my daily life.

So the big question is: why, if I understand that my life is better in every way when I practice, do I ever stop?! My friend had some different insights into why this is the case in her life. In my case, I think it is most simply defined as sloth. My use of this term in the context of yoga practice is borrowed from Donna Farhi's
Bringing Yoga to Life. She describes this problem as follows:

The sloth is a bearlike creature giving to hanging upside down and moving so slowly that algae gives its brown coat a green tinge. [see image] Of the nine obstacles to the yogic path listed in the Yoga-Sutra, four can be attributed in some way to the effects of dullness, laziness, and inertia. Sloth makes it almost impossible to establish a firm ground for practice, and even if we are able to do so, sloth may prevent us from sustaining any ground we have gained. Most of us have a sense of what's good for us. This knowledge of the medicine we need bypasses the central dilemma: How are we going to get to the medicine cabinet? (pg. 163)
Of course, spiritual seekers of many faiths have been aware of the danger of sloth for a very long time. It is one of the seven deadly sins; Thomas Aquinas described it as "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good... [it] is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds." What is this sense of inertia that causes us to spend our energy unwisely and keeps us from pursuing a path of joy and good deeds? And how do we combat it?

Farhi suggests that a common solution in many traditions is the
contemplation of death. Awareness that our lives could end at any moment can help to open the heart and connect with life fully. It is the lack of awareness of our interconnectedness that allows us to live our lives carelessly and without attention to the practice. If we can realize that all this will one day pass, every moment becomes a opportunity to connect with what is eternal and precious. If we can honestly consider the reality of our own death, we will be forced to consider what is truly important, what gives meaning to our lives here on earth, and what leads us to happiness.

This practice sounds deceptively easy. It isn't. For whatever reason, I persist over and over in cutting myself off from joy. It is very easy to sit here in front of my computer and type these words of commitment, very hard to interrupt my habitual numbness and teach myself to be present. Having a community helps, and this is why I spend the money to go to yoga class or attend conferences, to find this inspiration. And this is why I am writing this blog.

In the yoga sutras, Patanjali says that "The wise see suffering in all experience... But suffering that has not yet arisen can be prevented. The preventable cause of all this suffering is the apparent indivisibility of pure awareness and what it regards" (2.15- 2.17). This is good news: future suffering can be prevented, and there is a way to do this, there are specific practices we can follow (yoga!). We can detach ourselves from our suffering and from the material world, realize that all of that is not who we are, and abide in pure awareness.

And yet here I go again, journeying through the world, grasping so fiercely at everything and perpetuating my own suffering - and when I suffer, I contribute to the suffering of others. Trying to find a path that will allow me to maintain awareness, so that I can let the world go with each exhale. Beginning this practice, again and again. I don't think I have the answers to the question of what causes sloth and how to overcome it, but I am willing to listen to any suggestions I can find.

Farhi has some parting words of wisdom:

When inertia and joylessness is our primary coloring, it is helpful to envisage some moment in our life when we felt infused with vitality and happiness, even if all we can conjure up is a single instant... Vividly contemplate the details of this experience... Then, as you consider your present situation, allow a creative solution to suggest itself to you.

Yoga teaches us that the way to joy is through joy. When we get a taste of this delightful state of equanimity, there is really nothing left to choose. When we are wedded to life it will seem ridiculous to use our energies for anything but strengthening that marriage. When we make a commitment to this inner relationship, life chooses us and we become instruments for fulfilling its purpose. (pg. 174)


ami(e) said...

I was in a yoga class a few months ago where the teacher addressed the fact that many committed yogis/yoginis find that there are times in their lives that they don't practice regularly and times that they do. He compared it to a meditation in which the mind is focused at times, and at other times wanders endlessly.....the practice is just to gently draw yourself back to practice/attention time after time. I really liked that analogy.

dragonfly said...

That's an interesting analogy. So I have monkey life and not just monkey mind! :) I guess the impact of this lack of practice might depend on how long goes by without practice... At a certain point, it really begins to affect my quality of life, and it is this that draws me back into the practice. I guess it's a good thing that I recognize that!

Since I've been looking at "Bringing Yoga to Life," here's what Donna Farhi says:
"We all have days when laziness overtakes us. These momentary lulls need be no cause for concern for they are a part of the rhythm of life. When, however, inertia becomes a way of life, then we should take a good look at what is causing us to become passive spectators in our own lives."

Bfly-Loli said...

This is quite interesting.. .

"I am haunted by ghosts of depression, anger and impatience. I treat others without compassion. I treat myself without compassion. I lack energy and joy in my daily life."
Would you believe me if I said that I have, indeed noticed that??!! Or at least a change?!

OK, first of all, you know that I am not a yogis, not even close. So I may not know much about yoga, but I could totally see some concepts that I could relate to.

It is funny because I was thinking of something similar to this over the last few days.You were right, in many different faiths, sloth/ laziness is a dangerous thing. I do so, in my faith. It is such a sinful temptation, somehow!
So, you were wondering what causes being in a state of sloth. Well, you may not see an eye to eye with me, but I could think of a reason.
Mmmm, how can I approach this in your way ;).
Well, we do have these sort of sinful tendencies...? Tendencies that could primarily drift us to "slothing" and be in a state of absentmindedness/oversight from what we should be doing: for example, praying, or mediating, or whatever is the practice. Satan may sound to big in here, so I will leave him out:).
You know how the "universe" work, there is this negative force/energy or whatever you wanna call that its "job" is to drift us, or tempt us to do so.
However, a steady believer could not be easily distracted or drifted - this could relate to awareness maintenance and steady paths. So, if you are totally given your heart and mind to something, and you're able to keep a maintenance of your steadiness, mediation, beliefs, Iman..ect; drifting away and sidetracking to a state of sloth wouldn't be possible. Those negative forces could only, and only "get" you when you are in a state of weakness/distraction/drifting. Having a firm grip over every day's life is not easy, and so is keeping constant composure over everything we do.

After all, slipping once in a while is something conceded, and probably accepted to a certain level. We are human after all, we have been told that.

While I was reading your post, it made me think of something: So, what could be a way to keep steadiness and maintenance of mediation, prayer, or whatever?
How about doing it/ thinking of it as if it is the last time?
Do it as if it was the last time. Think how it would be like ... . This perishable life could be quite maze.... filled with many distractions.. .
You know what I am mean...

Oh well, you could totally disagree, or maybe even not find this helpful.
I dunno, but I really felt like sharing my opinion on this with you:)