Om Maṇi Padme Hūṃ

“Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus!”

When we first meet someone new, one of the first questions often asked is ‘what do you do?’ An exchange proceeds covering each person’s job, or lack thereof; maybe study is also discussed. Less commonly asked, however, is ‘why do you do what you do?’ Perhaps this is because there is a lack of interest, or maybe we’re just not used to asking it. Because the reason behind the things that we do is so infrequently inquired about, we might also forget to ask or remind ourselves. At the beginning of a job or a new study endeavour, the reasons we choose to do them may be clear, but especially if we have been doing something for a long time, our intentions, reasons and drive may become lost, forgotten or skewed. The same can be true with other aspects of our lives as well – our hobbies, our relationships, even our yoga practice.

Why do you practice yoga? Is it the strength and flexibility gained? Is it the mental clarity, feelings of calm and peace that you relish in or that post yoga glow? Maybe there’s a philosophical or spiritual interest, or maybe it has just become a habit.

Habits are not inherently bad, and it’s hard to argue that one like practicing yoga isn’t a good habit, but if we don’t have an intention behind the practice, we may not be fully experiencing all of its facets and benefits. It can be easy to fall into a particular way of breathing or coming into postures or skipping them altogether, especially if we’ve been practicing for some time, and this can accompany a sense of un-consciousness or a lack of mental or emotional presence during the practice. This can lead to physical injury if we are habitually relying on physical weaknesses and compensations rather that building on strengths, it could mean that we are not actually taking very conscious, deep breaths and we may not be actively absorbing the spiritual and philosophical teachings of yoga.

Actions led by habit can lose their creativity and pliability over time, which can also hinder our ability to absorb new information. Thus, the yoga practice, other hobbies, our jobs, undertakings of learning and our relationships ought instead to be engaged with only under the circumstances of having good reason.

So I ask you again: Why do you practice yoga? … Does your work align with your values and interests? Are you in relationships that are fulfilling? Is what you’re studying what you want to be studying or is it what your parents suggested or what will make you lots of money in the future? Do you really want to get married and have kids, or is that just what people are supposed to do?

The gratification and enjoyment from working and studying and starting a family and practicing yoga can be limitless, but only if we engage with these things in ways that make sense for us; that exists in tandem with our morals and ideas of fun.

During his first sermon on the path to liberation, after his own enlightenment, the Buddha expressed the importance of Right Mindfulness, that is, for the mind to be established in the present moment, in truth and in complete attentiveness and awareness. Mindfulness in these qualities facilitates the achievement of insight, clarity and wisdom, which can help us to engage with actions that are guided by intentional and meaningful thought. 

Be intentional with everything that you do, on and off the mat, and you may just be able to create a life that is joyful, spontaneous and of great purpose.

– Kate Moffatt