Have you ever felt completely changed by some experience, by an insight, or a new perspective, only to have this sense of transformation diminish and vanish over time with no real lasting change? This is common, and the reason is habit.
Habits are the building blocks of our personality. They guide the way we think, eat, walk, talk, think, and even emote, and they bring stability to our personality.
So to turn an “aha!” experience into a new way of being, we have to change our habits, and this takes practice.
I was reminded of the need to form new habits recently when I began learning to play classical guitar. At first, my fingers felt like they were made out of dry wood. They wouldn’t bend where needed and didn’t seem capable of moving in the ways necessary to play Often, I thought, “ I just can’t play these notes!” Yet as I struggled through practicing the movements, over and over, a change began to happen. Very slowly and imperceptibly an ability to bend and move grew and pleasing sounds started coming from the guitar. It seemed a miracle. This miracle resulted from practice.
One of the goals of Yoga is to refine and change our personality, to make it more porous to the beauty that radiates from our heart and soul. Changing the personality is the same as learning to play guitar: It requires practice. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient text that lays out the basic tenets of yoga in terse statements, goes one step further: It tells how to practice: Chapter 1, sutra 14 says “When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation.”
So, to make progress in yoga, to change any habit, to develop any skill, we need to practice the new behavior for a long time (months, years, decades), without a break (every day), with sincere devotion, until the new habit becomes stable. Otherwise, our personality will not change, and all of our beautiful aspirations will remain just wishes, and not deeply affect ourselves or our world.