How to practice

I read this great article the other day about the importance of a daily practice.  I’ve been practicing ashtanga and teaching for a while now and I’m faced with the same questions from students again and again.  Ashtanga requires some serious commitment – I get it – so here are my answers on how to get that daily practice, wherever you might be right now.

I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.  That’s much like saying you can’t run around the block because you can’t run a marathon.  Flexibility comes with the practice – it is not a prerequisite.  In fact, inflexibility might be your greatest teacher and allow you to tap into yoga’s lessons so much faster than flexy-bendy girl.

I can’t get up so early in the mornings.  Hey, it’s never easy.  In winter it’s cold and dark; in summer it’s warm and light – staying in bed is always comfortable and seductive.  David Swenson taught me this: just get up and put your yoga clothes on.  If you’re still tired, go back to bed.  If you make it to your mat, just do some sun salutations, and if you’re still thinking about your duvet, go back to bed.  I often use this strategy and tell myself I’ll just do the standing and finishing sequence today – by the time I get to the end of standing though, I’m awake and ready to carry on with the whole 90 minutes.  Just get up.

I can’t practice six days a week.  So don’t.  If you have a young practice or have just returned to ashtanga after some time apart, don’t set yourself up for failure.  Committing to a six day a week practice and expecting to go from zero to hero is self sabotage (again, are you going to run 20km four times a week when you currently only run 5km once a week?).  Three days a week is ample.  Allow your practice to grow organically – over time you’ll naturally start adding days and building up to that six day a week practice.

A dedicated six day a week practice is no mean feat.  In fact it usually involves some dramatic lifestyle changes – eating habits, sleep routines, relationships and perhaps even career changes.  Often these happen quite easily over time though – the more you practice, the more you change.  Allow your practice to change you.

Mysore freaks me out.  Yes, a Mysore class can be intimidating.  Or rather, the thought of a Mysore class can be intimidating.  Once you are on your mat, moving in a room filled with people breathing and practicing, this intimidation falls away.  The thing to remember here is that everyone in the room started out not knowing how to do one sun salutation.  No one knew the sequence and those people busting out the crazy postures are the ones who have been practicing their butts off for years, and most likely have the most respect and compassion  for anyone beginning their ashtanga journey.  Give your teacher and the other practitioners in the room the benefit of the doubt.  Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

Can’t I just self-practice at home?  Self-practice is the end goal, sure, but hell it can be hard. When your practice is still young, it’s important to practice in a studio with a teacher who can help and advise you, and a community who can support and inspire you.

I can’t do X, Y, Z posture. The thing to understand here is that you’ll never be able to ‘do’ any of the postures.  Sure the more you practice, the closer to your toes you’ll get, and binding and jumping through/back for instance might become possible. But there is no end game to a posture, no perfection, only more layers to explore – slower, deeper, stronger, with more extension and consciousness.  As with life, wherever you are in a posture is exactly where you need to be – can you be okay with that?

How you are on your mat is how you are on in your life.  Do you constantly compare yourself to others, berate your body, shy away from things that are hard or that scare you?  Do you ignore your body when it tells you something hurts or is wrong?  Do you make excuses instead of doing what you know you need to do?

Treat yourself with some compassion and kindness.  Allow your ashtanga journey to teach you about yourself, to change you over time and to be your drug of choice.  You know it: practice and all is coming.

x

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