Yoga practitioners are familiar with building physical endurance through asana, postures which develop flexibility, strength and resilience. But, a truly balanced yogi needs spiritual endurance, too. The mounting pressures of modern life and widespread worldly conflict challenge us all, so we must develop a hardiness of mind and a buoyancy of spirit that will enable us to keep going no matter what. Some signs that your spiritual endurance may be running low are: being emotionally reactive, feeling drained or discouraged by everyday living, and suffering from a lack of meaning or purpose. Instead of giving up, use the practices below to develop the stamina of a spiritual warrior.
Four steps to spiritual endurance:
Establish the goal
Yoga philosophy is clear that the ultimate intent of practice is to experience our blissful, spiritual nature by expanding our self-identification beyond the egoic personality to awareness of our unlimited, immortal essence. The eight-limbs of yoga practice outlined in the Yoga Sutras provide the framework through which we can realize this goal of true self-knowing and experience greater peace and ease in daily life.
“Within the discipline and art of yoga, the interior practices are the foremost ways to cultivate resilience in mind, body and spirit. When we draw our attention inward in meditation, concentration or mindfulness, we access our inner wisdom and grounding,” says Christiane Brems, PhD, director of YogaX program at Stanford University. “Daily sitting, mindful attention to all actions in our day-to-day lives and introspection when we feel reactive are central interior practices that allow us to endure during challenge and difficulty.”
Steady the pace
In order to develop spiritual stamina, we must approach life more like a marathon rather than a sprint. By learning to manage our energy or prana with intention, we can employ self-control and regularity to persevere at difficult times and rest at times when we need a break. The pranayam practice of balanced breathing called sama vritti exemplifies how important both ends of the spectrum are.
In this practice, we can establish an even inhalation and exhalation by counting as we breathe. This calms the body and mind and regulates the nervous system. With the life force energy under control, we are able to navigate the dramas of life with greater objectivity and less reactivity.
As we lessen our emotional reactions to outer circumstances, we have begun the process of interiorization, called pratyahara, which is the precursor to effective meditation. Establishing patience and even-mindedness in both success and failure, comfort and discomfort develops titiksha or mental endurance.
A lot of focus is required to achieve such even-mindedness. One way we can practice is by reframing negative or judgmental thoughts that arise. Translating the Yoga Sutra on this in her book The Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi writes, “When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude, this is pratipaksha bhavana.” By learning to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, we charge the mind with willpower and such a strong, resilient mind is better able to recover from setbacks and frustration with grace and strength.
Our search for an experience of our divine nature may occasionally produce transcendent visions and ecstatic experiences, but these are not usually part of daily practice. We have to be committed regardless of the results.
“Spiritual endurance is cultivated by continually showing up,” states Emily A. Francis, author of The Body Heals Itself. “It’s in the awareness and consistency of learning to decipher what feels aligned and using those sensations to propel you forward.”
By showing up day after day to seek and honor the divine, we cultivate devotion, and this heat-centered approach sustains us, even when sadhana feels dry. Like a long-distance athlete, we come to find a point of surrender within the effort. This is the spiritual surrender of the ego self into love. By courageously entering with our whole heart, we achieve ever greater glimpses of our true self.
Practice, practice, all is coming
If this all feels intangible right now, don’t worry. Spiritual development dawns gradually. Keep entering into stillness. Meditate, pray and ask for help from whatever aspect of the divine you connect with. See the trials of life as opportunities to draw closer to soul-awareness.
Endurance is built over time, and the first sign of progress will be increasing inner peace. Then, more ease in navigating difficulties and bouncing back from disappointments develops. One’s sense of wellbeing and safety deepens. If you stay the course, eventually you will tap the deep well. Limitless spiritual power lies within you. As committed effort meets complete willingness to let go, you will experience the bliss of self-knowing. As spiritual master Paramahansa Yogananda said, “Perseverance is the whole magic of spiritual success!”
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020-21 issue of CO YOGA + Life® Magazine.