Practice. What is it? Why do it? What makes it successful? What gets in the way?

Practice is one of Kripalu’s core values. I recently participated in a staff training session led by the inimitable Aruni Nan Futronsky, one of Kripalu’s senior faculty, and a gifted author and life coach, in which she led an engaging discussion on this theme among two dozen staff members from various parts of the organization: “What does practice mean in your life today? What new habits are you cultivating? What old habits are you trying to let go of? What helps you to succeed?”

I’m particularly curious about these questions because for the first time in very many years, after dozens of halfhearted and failed attempts, I have finally been able to practice eating in a healthier and more mindful way. And I’m determined to figure out why now. My hope is that if I can get to the bottom of what’s working now, I can recreate these conditions to support me in my next goal.

I look at the various positive results of just two months of mindful eating practice and I wonder why on earth it took me so long? I’m happy that I’ve lost a few pounds, to be sure, but beyond that, I feel sooo much better! I feel more like myself. My body is happier, and it’s working more easily and moving more smoothly. I’m sleeping better. My moods are better. My energy is higher and steadier. I feel more confident. I feel, in fact, like I did almost twenty years ago when I finally quit smoking after many failed attempts – finally free of an old habit that I knew was not serving me. Finally defeating the demons that were holding me back is incredibly empowering. So what happened? What changed?

As a child I learned that to master a skill, to become good at something, required dedication. The things that I was really committed to – acting, dance, school – I got better at. The things that I wasn’t devoted to – tennis, piano, clarinet, cooking – I didn’t improve in. It’s hard to practice something that you don’t care about. It’s not practice, in fact. It’s drudgery. Practice without enthusiasm is doomed to fail because practice without passion is without reward.

When I apply this to my recent success with food, I realize that all of the wonderful results I’m experiencing now must, in fact, have been less important to me than something else. As difficult as it is to admit, more important than the ease and energy I feel now must have been the delight I took in rewarding myself at the end of the day with chocolate, wine or chips. Sugar has been my significant other for as long as I can remember. Indulging in it has been my way of saying, “I love you. You’re worthy of pampering.”

If I want my new healthy habits to continue to succeed, I’ll need to ensure that I continue to find ways to feed my need to indulge on occasion. I’ll need to discover new ways to say, “I love you.” And I’ll need to stay connected to the reasons I’m practicing eating the way I am now – the positive results it brings to my body, mind and heart. These new habits I’m forming are truly loving.

Practice requires passion. If our practices are not succeeding, chances are they’re not really that important to us. Either we need a new practice, or we need to get clear about what we really and truly care about.

Right now, feeling healthy and vital physically, mentally, emotionally is of primary importance to me. Once I got clear that this was my number one goal, the lifestyle changes were easy.

Clear intentions make for successful practice.

Now, as we prepare to enter the holiday season and say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new, it’s a perfect time to get clear about what’s really important to us. What am I truly passionate about? What matters to me most? When that’s clear, the rest will take care of itself.