40-day Practice

by Theresa Shay, TriYoga Center of Central Pensilvania
Photo of Theresa teaching class
A group of us have committed to doing a daily practice for the next 40 days.  We were inspired by a trip to Viriginia to study with Kali Ray, founder of TriYoga®.  On the car ride home, one person shared her longing to enhance her daily life with seated meditation.  By the time we reached the Pennsylvania border, we had each identified something we wanted to commit to for the next 40 days.  Some are starting with a few minutes of deep breathing each day.  Some are doing yoga flows at home.  Some are adding Prana Vidya practices.  Some are changing eating habits.  Some are practicing mantra – repeating a word or phrase that helps to protect the mind from its chatter and worry.
 It all started with one person speaking up.  Then another joined in.  Then another.  Then everyone in the other car heard about it.  When we got home, the other TriYoga teachers jumped on board.  Word spread, and now there are 18 of us in five states enjoying the fifth day of our practice.  It feels like a strong statement to ourselves:  we want to do this, we can do this, and we will do this – thanks to the shared commitment of holding steady as a group.
I love waking up in the morning and knowing that I am part of something much larger than my own will to get out of bed earlier to do my practice.  It encourages me.  Sometimes the face of someone who is just starting her practice will come to mind.  When I sit down on my cushion, I send encouragement for her journey to the mat that morning.  Sometimes I feel the encouragement of those who are very deeply steeped in their daily practice, and I thank them for their commitment which widens the path in front of me.  Sometimes it’s just me and my longing to connect that inspires me toward the mat.
Whatever joins me on my journey to getting started, once I get there everyone falls away in their individual form.  I enter that expansive place where I am connected to all that is beautiful and loving.  Touching this place on a daily basis encourages my steadiness in the world.  It expands my inner peace and gives me energy for the day.  Yesterday I found myself gliding along Rt. 144, feeling as easy as if I were sailing an ocean of calm waters.  I feel light, excited, and so happy to be part of this community.
Someone asked, “Why is it so hard to do what I know will make me feel better?”  The humans have been working on this question forever.  It’s not just you – it plagues us all at one time or another.  The trick is to take it one step at a time, one moment at a time, one daily practice at a time.  It gets easier, the path gets wider, the obstacles become fewer, and the heart beams brighter.  Even a few minutes breathing consciously before getting out of bed in the morning will create a fresh take on life.
If you’ve been looking for a way to get into a new pattern or start a daily yoga practice yourself, this is a great time to act.  There is a motivated spirit in the air, and the commitment of many people around you will encourage and support your own journey.  It’s a joy to be here with you all.

Read Theresa’s story of finding TriYoga.

The commitment brought beautiful experiences:
Hi All, I feel drawn to express my awe and gratitude for the open hearted sharing that has resulted from this 40 day journey into the wilderness! I personally am feeling empowered by the realization that I CAN get out of bed at the here-to-fore unimaginably early hour of 5:30am ( formerly considered only for beach trip departures). I am enjoying a sense of strengthened seat and more serene inner and outer gaze. Interesting insights are arising….and it has proven to be a more perfect start to my 24 brand new hours, than the prior beginning of “okay…what to wear?” Great to have the  company of you all!
JGD, Jill
I noticed today that this commitment to the practice feels so freeing…when I often times find commitment confining.  Physically, I feel as if I have hundreds of heavy winter jackets on at one time…and as I deepen my practice, I shed a jacket or two and then some more (I still wear quite a few, but not as many as when I started this journey).  I  can move and think more clearly and from a place of less weight.
I am thankful for this journey and all that comes along with it!  I am
thankful for all of you.
Peace and Love,

It has been beautiful following your posts flowing from this common commitment to practice for 40 days. Several people have asked about the significance of 40 and I want to share some about it.

In the Judea-Christian tradition where I am steeped the number 40 comes up a lot. It rained for forty days and forty nights as Noah and the animals floated on the waters. (how many rainy days are we into?) Moses hung out with the Presence on the mountain for forty days as he
received the intimacy of the commandments. Elijah spent forty days in the wilderness tended by the ravens before entering the cave where he heard the “still small voice.” The Israelites spent forty years wandering in the wilderness before entering the promised land. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness on the edge of his ministry. There were forty days between the time of the resurrection and the ascension. Lent is celebrated for forty days prior to Easter. A lot of forty’s!

There seems to be some common themes in all these usages. Forty designates something big going on. Forty is like a code word for “this must be significant–pay attention.”

All these forty-something situations also convey a time on the edge, a time in-between. Things were not the same after the 40 days or years. This in-between time, this transition time is often fraught with struggle or temptation. There is in all transition this teetering between what was and what is to be and to let go of what was and to embrace what is coming brings on struggle and sometimes the temptation to settle for what was “good-enough” in the past, or settle for what seems to be less effort in the present. Ego is very active in such times and it is eager to be our guide. Practice becomes a discipline within the forty that can quiet the ego and strengthen the resolve not to settle–to choose instead more from our higher self and to take our guidance from there.

Many of these stories of 40 are set in the wilderness. Wilderness is another way of describing an “unsettled” space, an in-between space. Wilderness is where we clearly are not in control, where things aren’t domesticated or managed. Wilderness is where the animals aren’t for petting–they can eat you. Wilderness is where we are sure of our vulnerability. The whole idea of fasting or taking on a new practice or trying something more spiritually rigorous for a time is another way of getting ourselves into uncharted or unfamiliar territory. As
important as natural wilderness still is for the human soul there is also much to be said in our existence today for the inner wilderness–those places within us that serve similar functions for us; places where we know our vulnerability and all that is not settled, places that don’t seem so solid; places where we can begin to imagine our own promised land or embrace new dreams and new ways of being for ourselves.

There is also in the forty tales, a lot of “nothing going on”. Try sitting in the wilderness–or anywhere–for forty days. Or break the
tyranny of routine for 10 or 20 minutes a day with some sort of practice and for the most part it may seem like not much is going on. And on one hand that is true, not much is going on in the typical way of assessing life that is driven by activity and accomplishment. It can certainly seem counter-intuitive to take 20 minutes in a busy day to do “nothing.” But all the spiritual traditions seem to recognize that real change, significant transformation, often takes this sort of no-thing, this extended time of stepping outside of effort, this time of uncomfortableness in some sort of wilderness, in order for the new to take root.

I love the freedom within which Theresa’s original invitation to us was cast. It finally doesn’t really matter what our practice is. It can be something that looks spiritually rigorous or be as ordinary as my pounding nails in a new wall. Together these practices insert some empty space in the day, they bring some wilderness into our domesticated lives, and hold forth for us the possibility of a clearer sense of our selves and of Presence.

Blessings on your embracing of practice,


More from Theresa (January 14, 2010)
Dear Friends, 
I joined you in practice for 40 days.  Then I practiced for 40 days on my own.  With you is better!
It’s been nearly 54 days since I concluded my 40 day commitment to the practice.  I think of you often, wondering where the weeks of togetherness took you, and wondering what has become of your practice since then.  Over the past weeks and months, I have heard from many of you what the time together in 2009 meant for you.  I have seen how some of you have found a home practice after many years.  I have heard how some of you are eagerfor us to join together again.  I have received requests from some who did not join us that we do this again.  I have felt a deepening in presence at the classes some of you attend.  All in all, it was a wonderful time for me to join with you in the sadhana.
Two of Dad’s thoughts have stayed with me:  Having a home practice is better than not having a home practice, and if I can just get to the mat, everything else follows naturally.  So the mat is staying out.
My mat is out.  My practice continues.  Yet the quality of the experience is different without you.  Though your bodies were not with me each of those 40 days in the fall, I felt myself connected to you.  If there was any wavering about getting to the practice first thing, you swayed me to the side of sitting down right then.  I felt supported and I wanted to support.  The pact I had made with you that I would be there for the practice made it effortless to show up.  
From this experience, one major new pattern has emerged.  I no longer wake up to an alarm.  And more often than not, I wake up at the same time each morning.  Perhaps you recall from earlier emails how rising to an alarm was a torturous part of my life for much of the past 40 years.  The habit has been broken.  During our 40 days, I so wanted to be sure I had time to practice that I jumped out of bed instead of playing games with the snooze button to see how much more sleep I could sneak in.  These days, I have found I don’t need the alarm, even on the mornings I teach and must leave the house at a designated time.  I am thrilled to know I can wake myself up, and happy you helped me learn it.  It raises this very big question:  how much of who I think I am is simply who I think I am, and not carved in stone as Absolute Theresa?  I’m eager to live out some big answers to this question.
Also from our 40 days together, I began to understand why some choose to live in spiritual community.  Once someone asked me if I would ever like to move to an ashram or a convent.  I was adamant at the time that I was not such a communal person, that I needed and wanted my personal space, my independent living arrangements, and my freedom in solitude.  I have a new concept of community living.  I can see how gathering together with a group of open-hearted people committed to their spiritual practices could support my own.  I can see how our total is greater than the sum of our parts.  I can see that I am fueled by your commitments and strength, and how joyful it is to pursue a centered, loving life together.
Though we do not share a roof, we do share a commitment to the practice, I join you from this mat and from this home in a continued search for that which enlivens us.  I am so grateful to be with you in the flow, and deeply nourished by your presence in my life.  I look forward to meeting you again some day in a continued effort to become more of who we truly are.
I thank you for your presence and for the flow!
Love,Jaya Guru Devi