On a sunny day in April 2015 I was sitting in a Pranayama (life-force control) class my first time at The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation. I had been meditating and deepening my practice for two weeks and had another two to go. I was working towards my 200-hour Yoga Certification. In this moment my attention was on my breath. As I inhaled I observed my belly expand and as I exhaled I kept my attention on my belly relaxing back into my body. My mind was quiet, my body was still. Tap, Tap, Tap, my focused-mind softened. Tap, Tap, Tap. I was becoming distracted. Tap, Tap, Tap. I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened my eyes and looked to where the noise was coming from. I noticed a couple of other students do the same. What we saw was a robin sitting on the outside window sill. Tap, Tap, Tap. He was tapping his little beak against the window pane and pulling us away from our breathing techniques. Tap, Tap, Tap. Before long everyone and the teacher were looking toward the window. The teacher walked to the window and tapped back trying to shoo the bird away. It left only for a moment and returned just as the teacher walked back to the front of the class. Tap, Tap, Tap. “It seems you will all be challenged today; devote to your practice no matter the outside circumstance,” our teacher said. For days this sweet bird returned again and again during our class time. The second day I made a joke about how Bhakti (Sanskrit for Devotion) Bird was there to help us all gain mental strength over distraction.
I still think of Bhakti Bird whenever I am faced with distraction or resistance. That first day that I was distracted by this small creature and its small sound, I had allowed that sound to cause resistance (lack of focus) during my meditation. The responsibility does not lie on the bird. I am the only one responsible for my mind, my thoughts, and where they go. The second day, the day our feathery friend received its name, I discovered that by switching my perspective I could own my responsibility. That sound wasn’t happening to my meditation. It was happening for my meditation. Anytime I heard the Tap, Tap, Tap I was reminded to stay devoted to the present, to my practice. I swear that bird was a Yogi reincarnated and an intuitive one at that! Every time my mind wandered good ol’ Bhakti Bird would get me back to the task at hand.
Part IV of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, is Persistence. Take a moment to remember a time when you persisted on something. Perhaps it was in high school striving for a certain grade or athletic standing. Maybe a time at work when you were focused on getting that promotion or raise. Perhaps in meditation, returning to the practice again and again. This past week I persisted to clean up our yard by raking the leaves. A minor comparison, but it took me 8 hours. I don’t think it had been raked in years! (We rent.)
Once you’ve thought about that moment of persistence hold onto the feeling. You were focused on a goal and you worked at it until you either accomplished it, lost interest, or did not succeed. Notice I do not say failed here, because there is no failure in devoting yourself to something. Dedicate yourself to the creative process not the creative product. I would argue that your creativity is in everything you do, but if you disagree then look at it as dedicating yourself to the process not the product.
When we persist at anything we will always find resistance. Think back to that same memory of persistence. What circumstances or people did you have to overcome? Those moments of resistance are where you were able to practice persistence. For my example of raking the leaves the wind was my biggest foe, but don’t worry I overcame and completed my task!
Let’s take resistance more literal. Have a seat on the floor and put your legs out in front of you. Inhale and draw the hands out and around and up over head. As you exhale slowly bring the hands to the top of the legs and begin to bend forward. Stop at the first point of resistance. Now breathe into it and experience the physical sensation of resistance. Inhale and visualize space in the area that is resisting, and exhale try to relax that area and move deeper into the stretch. Persist for 1-3 minutes, moving deeper through relaxation not through force.
We can apply this persistence/ resistance to current events. This, for many, is a stressful time. Stress is resistance. Think back to that distracting Bhakti Bird. I changed my perspective and it made all the difference. If you are finding yourself in a dark place and feeling overwhelmed by stress try changing your perspective. A TedTalk changed my entire outlook on stress. Check it out here. Joy practices are another great way to get you out of a funk and in a better headspace. Joy practices are anything that makes you feel joyful and peaceful. Examples include: nature walks, physical exercise, dancing, laughing, gardening, cooking, cleaning, fishing, etc. Try to do one a day! If you’d like a fun nature exercise suitable for children, adults, solo, or for the family check out Journey to the Heart of Nature, click here.
Persistence is a relatable topic in our everyday lives, in our creative lives, and in our spiritual lives (remember this is a yoga blog 😉 So whatever your facing today, in this moment, remember the wise words of Ms. Gilbert:
..devotional discipline is the best approach. Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that– whatever the outcome– you have traveled a noble path.
As I mentioned before, Bhakti is Sanskrit for Devotion. I think devotion and persistence are one in the same. I have found, in these trying times, that keeping myself focused on something, anything, helps me feel sane. I have devoted myself to this blog, to raking the leaves, to my daily yoga and meditation practice. I have persisted to keep my space, our home, tidy as this helps me to have a tidy mind. I have devoted myself to exploring my spiritual practice through lots of nature adventures, new yoga practices, and reading yoga related books and materials. I strive everyday to see my God reflected in everything that I do and every creature that I see. This has been the deepest practice of all. If I can love my Higher Power through my loved ones then I am not only connecting to the deepest part of them but I am also connecting to the deepest part of my own reality. Above all I have been trying to devote myself to the light within. That light is in every living thing and finding it outside of myself only adds to my spiritual experience. Am I trying to reach enlightenment? Perhaps in some lifetime. For now, I am more focused on my current well-being and the well-being of the people around me.
Devotion is not mere sentiment; it is heartfelt commitment to something or someone.
-Ananda Sangha Worldwide
No matter what your devotion or persistence is directed towards; opening your heart center or chest can help you to open to your practice of devotion. Try this Heart Opening Yoga Routine with Melody, one of my teachers from The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation.
Another way to encourage the center of feeling is through chanting. Check out four chants here. I especially enjoy “When I Awake” sung in the recording by Swami Kriyananda, founder of the Ananda Village and my yoga school.
One final way to cultivate loving energy for a positive mindset and concentration is through prayer. You do not need to be religious for prayer and there is no wrong way to do it. There is power in affirming out loud or to yourself the things you are grateful for, the things you are seeking guidance with, and for visualizing the health and well-being of yourself and others. Personally, when I pray for others I visualize them surrounded by a warm-glowing light. I see them happy, healthy, and laughing. I feel that this strengthens the vibration that is sent out and the vibration I feel inside.
Many of us have been overcoming our fear of the unknown. Below is a prayer from Whispers from Eternity by Paramhansa Yogananda:
Demand to be able to Conquer Fear
Infinite Spirit, teach me to comprehend the utter uselessness of being afraid. Help me to keep in mind that even death, since come it must, at least comes only once and need not be suffered a thousand times, beforehand, through fear! When death does come it will be by Nature’s mercy. When it comes, I will welcome it in my soul, for I will understand that it is time for me to move on, lowering the curtain on this life’s drama, but traveling, perhaps, to something new and equally interesting. Let me not be a “psychological antique,” fearing change.
Teach me not to paralyze my nerves daily with the dread of some future, imaginary accident. Such dread may only invite the accident to happen!
Bless me, that I not let fear anesthetize my mind and shut off my unlimited power, as Thy child, to overcome all tests and trials. Help me to realize that, whether I am awake or asleep, alert or dreaming, Thine all-protecting presence encircles me always.
Help me to see that neither mighty fortress nor the wealth of Croesus could protect me from disease, earthquakes, and all kinds of accidents, that Thou alone art my protector, and that, though I walk where bullets fly or where swarms of bacteria abound, I am ever safe, enhaloed in Thy all-sheltering light.
Aum, Peace, Amen
Stay home, stay safe, and if you must venture out do so wisely. Persist in a positive state of mind. Focus your attention on uplifting tasks and responsibilities. Do a daily practice of Joy and meditation. We will get through this together.
Tap, Tap, Tap. Bhakti Bird is calling.
With Devoted Light,