Whenever I want to do something, I hurl myself into it. When I wanted to become a yoga teacher, I signed up for lots of trainings, thinking “more is better.” When I want to draw, the first thing I do is go to the art supply store. New pens! Fresh new sketchbooks! When I want to write, I… buy a lot of books.
That was one of the signs of a realization I had recently: accumulation isn’t the same as action.
My guru, Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga, used to say that you can read about yoga, you can talk about yoga, but you’re not doing yoga until you’re doing yoga. And he wasn’t referring to the physical practice of yoga; he meant the practice of the spiritual tools, the path of living a balanced life, that I wrote about in Yoga Mind.
When I first heard this, I thought it made perfect sense, and was maybe even a little obvious. Maybe that’s because I hadn’t applied it to other areas of my life. When I became a yoga teacher, I thought getting as many certifications as possible was the most important thing. I went from one training to the next. I didn’t realize until I was standing in front of a classroom full of students, not knowing what to do, that the most important thing after learning the foundational practice is actually teaching people. That’s where you really learn what teaching yoga, and living yoga, is about.
With drawing, I thought I had to get lots of supplies—all different kinds of markers and pencils and multiple sketchbooks. The only thing that happened after that was overwhelm. I became so confused about what to use I didn’t do as much drawing as wondering.
And I can always tell when I want to write by the amount of books I buy. I love books, and as a writer, of course I want to read a lot of books. But when I’m buying way more books than I have time to read, I know it’s because I’m actually looking for the book I want to write.
In a way, this is all connected to Aparigraha, or non-hoarding, Day 12 of the 30-day Yoga Mind program. Our culture has taught us that having more is better. It’s up to us to question whether that’s really true for us, and what “better” means.
After doing this “accumulation instead of action” thing many, many times, I finally understood what Swami Satchidananda said about actual practice. You don’t need much to do yoga; before fancy mats and $200 yoga pants, all you needed was some floor space and a towel. You don’t need much to draw; a piece of paper and pen will do fine. (Okay, a new sketchbook is really fun—but nothing too fancy, or you’ll think it has to be filled with masterpieces.) To write, all you need is a love of books, something to write on, and time you’ve carved out to let the writing come.
The next time you think you have to get a whole bunch of stuff to do something, sit, use the breathing practice on p. 38 of Yoga Mind, and ask yourself what you really need. The answer may be that action speaks louder than stuff.