On Motivation

How can I get myself to do yoga or meditation when I don’t feel like it?

The most common thing I hear is that "I really want to try yoga and meditation." That's it, they want to try it. It ends there. So if you feel this way, I have a question for you…

Are you trying to get yourself to do yoga by trying to get yourself to feel like it?

Are you ever able to do anything when you don’t feel like doing it?

First off, the desire to do yoga is the preamble to doing it, however long it takes to get to the doing. 

But, we can also learn to skip the step between wanting and doing. 

Motivation is a funny thing. It can be created by will and discipline, and a hard-nosed look at action. Do it, or don't do it. Having to feel like it is a sure out. Are we adults? Working on it?

Tricks to bypass motivation issues

First. Recognize your resistance for what it is, and suggest that maybe you like to think you'll do it, or say you will, but right now anyway, that's it.

Once you see this usually your resistance will dull, and your genuine desire to do it will resurface. Don't let yourself off the hook, but do not fight.

Practice anyway. It’s far easier to just do yoga (or anything) while not feeling like it then getting yourself to feel like it first. The idea can go straight to action, without doubt. I used to think motivation was foundational, but will is more grounded in genuine desire and purpose. Motivation seems to come with practice. When you are able to get yourself to practice, thank yourself afterwards.

Support generous and beneficial ideas. I always feel better having done yoga, so for procrastination, I imagine doing it, go through some motions in my mind. Imagine the feeling you have after you stretch and oxygenate your body. Think of the contentment that taking care of yourself brings.

Bargain. If you haven't really done yoga, so you don't have that physical memory to motivate you, then just aim to do 5 to 15 minutes of yoga to see what it's about. There are plenty of short videos a search away. 

It’s easy to do anything for a short time, and usually you’ll forget your initial resistance, which is not actually a lack of motivation but fear of the unknown, and lack of momentum.

The last point is that while you are doing yoga or meditation, to attend to and amplify any sensation of pleasure you come across.

In my practice, I don’t ignore pains and aches, but the alignment of the body in movement has a generally good feeling to it. This increases with practice, and also with joy in the practice. Do anything with a sneer and you can't succeed. 

Yoga is performed from the inside out in that you start to be more aware of the pain points of the body and how they relate to your posture. As you learn yoga you also get some mechanical knowledge of the body's proper proportions, but the "corrections" mostly come from within, and the body is allowed to connect and adjust itself automatically.

A lot of people fail to adhere to yoga/meditation because they think they should do it, rather than cultivating pleasure in the activity itself. 

These tricks work with writing, too, I've found, and probably most anything.

Note on meditation

The common obstacle/misperception is that you have to get rid of thoughts to meditate. This lesson on where we place our attention gives us an opportunity to work on intention, too.

For, just as you don’t need to feel like it to do yoga, as long as you consider yourself as an adult, then, you don’t need to erase thoughts to meditate. Thoughts can be in the background, the mind's movement is natural; it’s fine.

We are working with attention, which is easy to work with and easy to train. It’s also more directly related to perception than narrative thought, which gives it a deeper quality. In our practice, as we intend to pay attention to our perceptual influxes, the perceptual interest and detail increases, while passing thoughts lose their attractive quality. Commentary decreases. More direct perception ensues in a feedback loop as other thoughts disperse. 

Direct perception is without language. The commenting mind and conceptual mind apply language and categories. You will gain interest in the outside world with a newfound richness and freshness as you learn to distinguish perception from conceptual thinking.

Meditation Work: Attentional Training (Vitarka and Vicara)

Locate yourself in the body, in the chair, in the room or area you are sitting in. Attend to the breath for a few moments, eyes lowered and still. Don’t rush, and if you find yourself rushing, not only slow yourself down, but let yourself slow down slowly.

Thinking is quicksilver, so slowing down immediately helps bypass the chatterbug part of the mind.

Get into a feeeeling state, my teacher used to purr.

Allow the gaze to lift slowly until you find something to focus on in the foreground, within a few feet. See how the eye first strikes on the thing? That is vitarka: the initial application of thought upon a focus. It is a mildly effortful experience.

NOW... Keep looking at it, but gaze at it. Let the attention rest on it for a few moments. The breath is in the background of your attention. Distinguish its color, shape, depth, stillness or motion, and distance or space between you and it.

If Vitarka is the striking of perceptual focus—the landing on an object—then Vicara is investigation, concentration, or sustained attention on the object. Both build discrimination of surroundings while improving distinct attentional focus.

Shift your focus to something in the  a bit further away and try again. Notice the sharp sudden nature of vitarka, and the slower nature of vicara. Let your focus shift from the foreground now to taking in the entire depth of field before you, with a soft focus. 

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Practice first with objects in the visual field.

Then you can practice with inner awareness.

Go slowly, methodically. Relax the jaw and still the eyes.

Just as you can look in the foreground, then shift your visual focus to the middle distance, so you can feel a distinct point anywhere in the body, and you can enlarge your awareness to encompass a larger portion, or indeed the whole body at once.

Locate breath at the nose for a few moments, and then shift to the breath at the chest, the abdomen, then flowing between the chest and belly—down upon inhalations and up on exhalations.

This experience starts as a superficial following, but progressively grows into deeper sensing with practice. Remember vitarka and vicara as you move and stabilize your focus at different points. Don't stay so long in one area that you get drowsy or distracted. Focus, allow stabilization of awareness to occur, and then move on. 

Feel that the body sits in space somewhere. Keeping the self in the background, shift your focus from your self to the room you are sitting in, with you in it. Then to the larger area around you. Maybe to the city, countryside, hemisphere or globe. And you can go on. 

Eventually come back to the body. Park your awareness in the heart area, and breathe quietly for a few moments. Check in with your state of mind at the moment. Release the practice and enter back into your day, occasionally noting the play of vitarka and vicara in your attention. 

Emily Johnson