Ever get discouraged about your yoga practice? Like your toes are miles away from your fingertips, and the simple act of reaching overhead feels like glass shards shimmering down your spine? Or maybe you can’t seem to find a way to work with an injury. Yoga students sometimes pine for a different body type, just to be able to do a posture that inspires them.
But physical limitations do not impede spiritual growth. Yoga is a path of developing awareness and eventually joining that awareness to increasingly subtle experiences of the present moment.
So, you want to know the single best way to advance your yoga practice?
Get on your mat.
And then let go of any attachment to what happens there.
It took me so long to realise that I could deviate from the “norm” of my traditional practice. I was trained in the Ashtanga Yoga system, where practitioners often feel like if they don’t have enough time to do a whole 2-hour traditional practice, then the only alternative is to skip it. But then I got injured. And now my body is experiencing the effects of getting older. And, well, life happens.
But yoga practice is about developing a relationship with your mind, as accessed through the body.
The practice is about showing up, exactly as we are. Here and now. The rest is just ritual.
The best way to understand this is to accept how things are and make an offering of your practice – whether it is a “good” or “bad” day. That means, whatever your practice looks like, offer it up to the universe as your attempt to align with sanity and goodness. Every little bit helps.
Discovering the middle path.
Breakthrough for me in practice came when I finally let myself listen to the inner rhythms of my body, allowing that wisdom to show me how to proceed. Not in a flimsy way: this is not about giving yourself permission to be lazy. It’s about inviting a more receptive attitude, so that we are not “doing” our yoga practice, but rather we are letting ourselves be influenced through showing up and seeing what happens. Practice is about slowing down enough to observe what is happening in the body/mind. If you take too rigid a view on what it should look like, practice becomes just another item on your To Do list.
Some yoga teachers take the approach of looking to see what is wrong in a student’s practice and then trying to fix whatever is wrong. I find this approach so aggressive! Instead, what about developing a relationship with ourselves, (or with the student) recognising what is going on for us, and then offering encouragement to release whatever we are holding on to. Relaxing into an authentic experience of the moment, we become more conscious of the body’s natural ability to balance itself with awareness and support.
We can’t control external circumstances. So learning how to adapt to change is a great practice. When you let go of expectations and stop striving for perfection, you allow space for something much more profound: compassion. We’re usually not where we want to be in our practice, or in our life. Give yourself a break! You’re doing your best. Love yourself as you are, here and now, flaws, limitations, weaknesses and all.