“Keep up and you’ll be kept up” is my favorite Yogi Bhajan quotation because it’s so simple and so true. If you push yourself to endure, train yourself to be neutral as you persist in a difficult yoga posture or meditation, you’ll be in good shape for facing life’s challenges. As one of my teachers once said as my arms began to shake above my head, “You’re creating a picture of yourself carrying through when things get tough.” But how do we carry through, how do we keep up?
After several minutes of any posture or meditation, the mind will start to interfere and say, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” If the arms are involved, the shoulders may start burning and talking to you, “Let us rest! Enough is enough!”
So what can you do when the mind and shoulders (or another area of the body) intrude? How can you keep up and give your best when all you really want to do is stop? The big secret is that it’s all about maintaining a meditative (or neutral) state of mind. Here are 5 tricks to help you sustain that state when the going gets tough.
1. Turn negative thinking around. When you start to think “No way! I can’t do this,” transform that thought into something positive. Select an affirmation, such as “I have all the strength and calm I need to get through this with grace” or maybe just an Obama-inspired “Yes, I can!” Become the Little Engine That Could.
2. Use a silent, internal mantra. One of the best ways to quiet the distracting chatter in the mind is to give it something else to do. For this reason, you can silently repeat the mantra Sat Nam (Truth is My Name) or Wahe Guru (Great is the Infinite Wisdom) or any mantra you choose. I find that Sat Nam fits nicely with long deep breathing, and Wahe Guru works well with breath of fire.
3. Detach. Watch your thoughts, but don’t suffer them or judge them. Instead, release them. Visualize each thought floating by on a raft on a river. This way even if the mind keeps asserting itself with “I can’t” or “I don’t want to,” you can be removed from those negative thoughts.
4. Refocus the eyes. In Kundalini Yoga, there are several ways to focus the eyes, including (but not limited to) up and in at the brow point and down and in at the tip of the nose. Each eye focus (or drishti) has a specific effect on the mind and enhances the meditative state. Like the mind, the eyes will probably wander. Keep checking in with yourself and bringing them back.
5. Remind yourself of the benefits. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you’re doing the meditation to burn inner anger, tell yourself: “I can be free of anger; those around me can be free of my anger.” If you’re doing stretch pose, tell yourself: “I’m activating my navel energy. This is for my will power.” If you don’t know what the benefits are, remind yourself that, whatever you’re doing, if you keep up, you will be kept up.
One caveat: If you feel sharp pain or dizziness or any symptom other than muscle fatigue and annoyance that an exercise isn’t over yet, then rest. Take care of yourself. That is keeping up.