Why Consistency Matters
In the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali (1.21 and 1.22) we learn that yoga is most impactful in our lives when we dedicate ourselves to regular, consistent practice. Furthermore, it’s not just the level of commitment, but the sincerity with which we desire to achieve the benefits of yoga that determine how quickly we will see those results and how lasting the results will be.
As with many of the other truths from the Sūtra, we can apply Patañjali’s advice to any endeavor. Consistency and sincerity all but guarantee a favorable outcome — maybe not the outcome you expected, or set out to achieve, but a favorable outcome nonetheless.
So, why is it so difficult to remain consistent and dedicated in our endeavors? The answer lies in the concept of Saṃskāra. Saṃskāra are mental imprints created by our thoughts, words and actions. The more we think, speak, or act in a particular way, the deeper the imprint. Saṃskāra are responsible for our habitual ways of being in this world. The more we do something, the stronger the impulse to do it again. And, remember, doing also entails not doing. So, the more we don’t do something the deeper the imprint to continue not doing it.
The really cool thing is that we can erase saṃskāra. Saṃskāra are like muscles…..we can build them with effort, and they can atrophy if we don’t use them. Just because we’ve always been a certain way doesn’t mean we always have to be that way. We just have to create new imprints that become stronger and deeper than the old ones. When we begin to see our habitual actions (or inactions), thoughts, and responses with this understanding we open up to endless possibility and potential. We know that we are not our habits, we are not our reactivity, we are not our thoughts - we can re-write those patterns by consciously and mindfully creating new patterns.
If you’ve been practicing yoga for some time maybe you’ve noticed that those patterns have slowly started to change. Maybe it used to sound like fun to spend Friday night on the town with your friends, even if it meant feeling less that stellar on Saturday morning, but after a few months of regular practice you notice that a Friday evening at the expensive of your Saturday no longer sounds like fun. Many yogis see habits such as smoking, drinking, and even consuming caffeine naturally fall away the more they are steeped in the practice.
The benefits of yoga are endless and consist of more than just the obvious physical well-being. In fact, the true aim of yoga is to liberate the mind, to release the mind from it’s relentless attachment to our thoughts, emotions, desires, and aversions. If we are lucky we get a few brief glimpses of what that freedom feels like every time we practice yoga.
We’ve spent a lifetime (or lifetimes if you believe in reincarnation) developing these saṃskāra, these patterns. We can’t expect to show up in yoga class once a week, or sit on a meditation cushion occasionally and re-write that lifetime of conditioning. If we want to REALLY reap the benefits of yoga we have to be willing to put some effort into re-writing those patterns, we have to be willing to show up every day, day in and day out, for those brief glimpses. The more we glimpse freedom the deeper the imprint of freedom will be. The more we dedicate ourselves to glimpsing freedom the more habitual freedom becomes. This is why consistency matters.
So ask yourself, what are YOU willing to do consistently - every.single.day - to create new saṃskāra?