Willpower is something I used to hear about when I was younger. Willpower to give up something for Lent (I was raised Catholic). Willpower to not open all the presents at once on Christmas Eve. Willpower to save the good Halloween candy to draw out the enjoyment.
At the yoga teacher training I attended a month ago, our teachers brought back the concept of willpower; and it was like being visited by an old friend, a friend that I had mixed feelings about. A friend that I was happy to see because I always learned so much when we were together. But whose visit also brought up some pain because this friend pushes me to my limit and beyond.
I was at a yoga class yesterday, and the teacher said something that brought back my “friend,” willpower: the practice of yoga begins when you want to come out of a pose. In other words, when we are at our edge of comfort and safety, starting to feel the pain and the burning of muscles, and we want to come out of those sensations– that’s when we breathe, notice and observe, and sink deeper into the pose. It’s a huge test of willpower. We want to come out of the pose to relieve the feelings of pain and burning– that’s the ego talking, saying that we might hurt ourselves or that we just CAN’T DO IT. But we can. And as we breathe and bring a calmness to the pose, we find that the ego is just talking. And we CAN do it.
And isn’t life like that?
I think one of the reasons I haven’t heard the word “willpower” used in awhile is that we’ve created so many ways to avoid willpower. We have machines, gadgets, technology to make things easier for us so we don’t have to exert any willpower because something else will work for us. Machines to firm up our abs (instead of just doing 100 situps a day). DVR and TIVO to record our favorite shows so we don’t have to patiently wait for our show’s regularly scheduled time. Overnight shipping options so we can order something and get it right away. Email and texting so we can communicate instantly with others. Instant remedies (like surgery) to lose weight fast.
I’ve been learning to find my willpower these past months:
- doing a morning sadhana (spiritual practice) every morning since the start of my yoga training. An hour to an hour and a half of stretches and basic yoga poses, finding my breath and awareness each and every morning. It’s not been easy, waking around 5:30 or 6am and doing the same poses everyday.
- holding poses for longer than usual– sphinx for 5 minutes, downward dog for several minutes several times without coming down.
- going on a hike or walk when I don’t really feel like it.
- not spending hours on the internet, surfing absentmindedly.
They are little things, but I’m realizing how hard it is and yet gratifying to take each step. By doing these little things and noticing what feelings and thoughts come up when I do them, I’m finding that I’m building my willpower. I can hold poses longer in yoga. I can wake up really early day after day. And I don’t give up as easily. Sure, it isn’t fun to wake every morning when it’s still dark out, but by the end of my practice, I’m so glad that I did.
Where do we have to use any willpower these days? How can we cultivate more human willpower that isn’t technology based?