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How to Kickstart a Healthy Habit When You’ve Gotten Off Track

Man Meditating

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.” ~Rumi

Our spiritual, meditative, or other self-care practices can easily be interrupted, back burnered, or seemingly lost when one of life’s whammies happen.

Sickness has thrown me off track more times than I care to count. Coming down with something again, swirling in negativity because once again my body had failed me, my immune system weak, I could not perform in the world the way I wanted for myself or for others.

I was angry at sickness, couldn’t feed myself any nurturance, just wanted it to go away, and would stay mad until it did.

I know that my over-the-top reaction to being sick has deep roots that require healing, and I’m working on it. But nothing propelled me faster into healing my mental baggage about being sick than my meditation practice when I did it during the down times.

A teacher once asked me, “Do you meditate when you’re sick?”

The question was profound and caused a resounding no. When rudely interrupted by sickness, I hadn’t yet fully grasped the concept of bringing all I am in the moment to meditation. Meditating while sick: remarkable, the bridge between a seemingly intractable mind state and a shift toward healing.

It’s that it just wasn’t okay to be sick. As a mom to young children, it was not something I had time for. And I didn’t just get the sniffles or a little two-day thing; it was years of knock-down, drag-out, week-long illnesses that followed one after the other, sometimes with high fevers and flu symptoms. This brought me to despair.

In meditation, I had the space to explore and acknowledge the roots of this despair, and my all-or-nothing thinking: “Oh no, I’m sick again, the world is going to collapse” held some painful attachments for me.

I had to hold it all together. Who else would do it for me? How would I get my work done? How could I prove I was worth something if I wasn’t doing, being, making, becoming?

My self-worth was wrapped up in how much I could do, clean, produce, or make right in the world. Self-care was just another “to-do list” item rather than a true refuge.

At the time I was reading a lot about meditation but not quite doing it regularly yet. Life sure changed when I got out of the book and onto the meditation cushion!

Since that low point in my well-being I’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve not only taken care of a lot of what was causing such immune system blowouts, but also healed my sleep problems through my meditation practice.

Now that my kids are older I have the time to prioritize self-care. The crown jewel in that self-care is that I’ve become a daily meditator. And yes, I now meditate when I’m sick. What a difference.

When you start doing your practice even when you’re sick, down, interrupted, or off kilter in some way, you know you have a true refuge in that practice. It may take you places that surprise you.

Your practice may look different when you’re sick or going through a hard time. It might be shorter, smaller, softer. 

Part of the self-care involved here is being flexible, and loving enough to yourself to give yourself the amended version, the lying down version, the restorative version. To know when it’s time for that and know that your practice is wide enough to encompass that flexibility.

Your practice is not a narrow way of having to always be the same, or a measuring stick of how well you performed it that day.

I still get sick and I still have that same old negative thinking crop up, a deeply rutted neural pathway that I luckily now know how to practice re-routing.

I try to acknowledge that the voice of panic and negativity needs nurturance, rest, and meditation, even when in the past that voice has been my torturer and enemy.

Your practice has healing and goodness for you that you can’t conceive of when you’re down. You don’t have to have a performance, just a practice. Some of these practices have been around for thousands of years for a reason—they work! And they work despite our protesting minds.

Using a mantra to feed myself loving and healing words, lying down and listening to a guided meditation, allowing myself true rest while practicing the most basic of meditations—just watching my breath without engaging in the ups and downs of my thoughts—are all ways to still stay connected to my positive feelings despite the negative feelings being sick dredges up for me.

It’s a whole new world to contemplate positive practices in times of sickness and derailment.

Many things can pull us off track: family obligations, travel, stress, life’s unexpected difficulties. During all these times a little taste of the habit that has given us so much refuge can be a real comfort.

I’ve had the great privilege of partnering in meditation with chronically ill and dying people. They were great teachers to me, showing me, in depth, that the practices we abandon in difficult times are the very things we need to comfort us the most.

My practice doesn’t ask me to be perfect; it asks me to notice what’s going on and give to myself from its endless bounty of positivity and transformation, even when times are tough.

No matter how long we’ve been away or how serious the interruption, there is a way to bring healthy habits and self-care practices back into our lives.

Thoughts for bringing an interrupted practice back into your life after difficulty:

1. Start small.

Don’t make crushing goals that are all about self-improvement. If you used to meditate, exercise, or practice yoga for half an hour but your practice stopped or feels derailed, take it back down to five, ten, fifteen minutes, whatever is do-able and can set you up for success.

There’s no pass or fail, here. Start somewhere and let that be good enough. It is good enough.

2. Practice self-compassion.

Life can throw us. Coming back to meditation or self-care is an act of self-compassion in the midst of turmoil. Have compassion for yourself, acknowledging that whatever happened that made you abandon your practice was difficult. You deserve compassion, not chastisement.

3. Let your practice work for you.

Maybe you’ve changed, maybe what you need and how you do it has changed. It’s okay if you don’t want to or can’t do it the way you used to. Maybe this is an invitation to find something that fits your life better now.

4. Have the intention to return tomorrow and the next day.

Setting small goals or intentions can be real movements toward self-care.

Interruptions happen, whether it’s the phone ringing, a sick day, or a tragedy.

You can return to your practice even in the imperfect world going on around you. You can choose to come back no matter how long you’ve been away.

5. Know that you can rebuild.

Most practitioners in their lifetime have had doubts, interruptions, path changes, and life changes that took them away from a practice at times. These can also be open doors that point you toward a new direction.

6. Being on the road to making a discipline out of it will change your life.

As you consider setting small goals and intentions for your newly re-hatched practice, know that the best way to nurture all the benefits it gives you is to return, often. You can have a practice that feels like a refuge.

7. Find something you enjoy and do it in an enjoyable way.

Look for a teacher, class, or method that speaks to you if you need a little inspiration or guidance after time away.

Life is going to interrupt us, sometimes rudely. Having healthy habits and self-care practices to fall back on can be a lifeline. We don’t need to judge ourselves for why and how we fell away, we only need to return.

Man meditating image via Shutterstock

About Myla Stauber

Myla Stauber is a certified Simple, Easy, Every Day ™ (SEED) meditation instructor and teaches group and individual classes in Portland, Oregon. She also teaches meditation at Portland area homeless and transitional housing shelters. She has taught chronically ill patients how to meditate, improving their quality of life. Her current offerings can be found at meditatepdx.com.

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