Q: I love yoga and coming to class. At times, like with anything, my routine can get monotonous. Do any of you ever feel you need to take a break with yoga or change it around? My day wouldn’t be complete without my morning routine. It’s like my coffee to get me going for the day and puts me in a good mood. Yet I tend to do the same things over and over. Any suggestions.
A: I once heard that boredom is a lack of sensation. To be sensate we have to feel and to feel what is real we must be present as opposed to reliving the past or bounding into some imagined future. Since we are such feeling beings – in many ways we are created this way with our amazing nervous system and senses to feel and experience and interact with the physical world, then if we are feeling a little bored or mundane in any area of our life it may be a good indication that we have shut ourselves down a little and are not utilizing our full capacity to live rather than just survive.
Here are three components to what you are experiencing (which is all too common):
1) Addiction to habit. Because a yoga practice can be so effective, it can be frightening to do it regularly because the territory it leads us into is uncertain without all of our familiar limitations, habits and complaints. So we may actually cling to the familiar and create a distance between our feeling or intuitive Self which urges us to practice and our daily self, the facade, the part of us that just goes through the motions.
2) We may not be living the life that we think we want to live or may not even know what we really want in life or may not allow ourselves to even consider what we want. Or we may not feel worthy enough to receive and live such a life. This too is a painful situation that can lead to a shutting down of the senses and a feeling of “involuntariness” or coercion in life. We feel like we lose choice, that nothing matters, and daily life is filled with things we have to do. This feeling of losing the ability to choose and become engaged in life actually leads to physiological changes in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. Neurons and dendritic connections shrivel and shrink, making it harder for us to notice and appreciate new things in life. So every day just becomes another step in a trudge towards the involuntary unknown.
3) Our practice is not serving us and perhaps we can find a different practice or sequence or routine that we better connect with.
If we address #3 without considering 1 and 2, we will most likely at some point end up back at the same feelings of monotony. We also may have had certain impossible expectations of our practice and start to balk when these results are not arriving quickly enough, but this is really a shade of #1 or 2.
One answer could be to take a break but to take a conscious one. Or to continue with the same practice but do it differently. We could vary the speed or the emphasis in the practice, focus more on the breath or the placement of the feet, for example. The most important thing we can do in these situations is to SHOW UP and plug in, because whenever the world has become monotonous we are not really present and feeling. So a break can be helpful in that it allows things to be new again and to explore the emotions and feelings that may have been motivating our practice to see if they were related more to habit and survival than to living. In this respect a change of practice or a vacation can be helpful, possibly jarring us into a state of perceptivity. We might gain an appreciation for our lives and what we already have on a daily basis. We may then begin to see and feel again those things in daily life that we were missing completely or just taking for granted.
So how do we plug back in? The solution is to feel more. Feel everything more, even the monotony. Peel back the surface layers of numbness or lack of sensation and find the hidden feelings that may have been denied the light of day out of a habitual clinging to the past. Honestly assess your life with compassion and see if you are really doing what you want to do. Notice any excuses or judgments that come up, especially criticisms disguised as guidance. Criticism is mind numbing and kills our perceptions, warping them to perceive the same inner landscape over and over no matter where our eyes fall. A sunrise becomes just another sunrise and the eyes of the one we love, well, we’ve seen them before so we really don’t have to look again In this state we have retreated from life and must find the courage to ask ourselves: What do I REALLY want? And then listen deeply for the answer.
As for changing things up, go for it! You could start with really looking into your own eyes in the mirror and making a commitment to be present so that you can feel today, whether it is in your yoga practice or in making your breakfast. Try a different yoga teacher or studio — many cities are blessed with several great teachers known and unknown within easy driving distance. Start to do something that you truly want to do each day on and off the mat (and take the time to really find out what that is!) Feel everything deeply that comes your way without drama or identification. Expand the parameters of your practice to include walking to your car, breathing at stoplights or noticing the sound of birds in the morning or the colorful shades of green in every tree. Start to discover what you have been missing through mental distraction and you may find that you don’t have to change your practice, but that you have come back to the present moment where the practice can actually change you.
Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga. All suggestions are voluntary. Consult a qualified teacher or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar.