“Four Years!” said a student who twisted his arm around his leg and bound hands for the first time.
I was SO happy he said that out loud. It was a brilliant reminder to all of us that change is often a slow burn. Persistent dedication even when tangible results are absent.
Instead, it’s so easy to compare ourselves with others’ timelines. Have you ever seen someone come in on their first day and do something that you’ve been working at for years?! I’ll never forget seeing a brand new student rock a clean jump-back to chatturunga on his first day. LIKE HOW FAIR IS THAT?!
When we compare ourselves to other people, we disrespect the lessons our own body and experience is offering to show us. It’s our inability to listen, when we’re clouded by aparigraha, grasping. We miss our own present opportunities lusting after others. The wanting that never stops. Never mind the lessons they are working on. Why can’t I float like Laruga Glaser?! If only I were (fill in the blank.) Postures might come more easily to some, but we all have our own lessons to solve. Misidentifying ourselves with our bodies is a textbook classic. One of our innate distractions that stunts growth. Forgetting that we already have the perfect mind and body to explore, ready for our own dissection. If only we could quit wasting time measuring our own progress next to someone else’s. Wouldn’t it be so much more productive to discover who we are? To spend time wondering how and why we do things? Wouldn’t that provide some peace? Knowing who we are rather than who we think someone else is?
In One Simple Thing A New Look at the Science of Yoga and How it Can Transform Your Life Eddie Stern says,
“The initial effects of practice are like picking low-hanging fruit. Within the first few weeks or months we see change. But then we have to stick with it over many years to get to the deeper levels of our habitual patterns. To uproot recurrent behavior patterns takes work…As we get used to paying attention and become sensitive to what is happening in our minds, we can develop the ability to step back and take a look at ourselves, and identify what the causes might be…Yoga and meditation practice are meant to show us clearly how we are behaving and reacting and provide us with options for being responsive in a more constructive way…When we are ready to start working deeper, the yamas and the second limb of niyamas become the typical next steps of a yoga practice.” (110-111).
It’s a natural progression to search for a deeper context of this practice. You realize, oh! Ashtanga means eight limbs. What are they? Best yet, the first two, yamas and niyamas, give us lifestyle guidelines. Ones that aren’t particularly surprising yet identify the moral highlights that breed a less tumultuous life. So you might read about the Yamas and Niyamas or pick up one of the books at the studio. If the physical postures are the bait, then why I am I fishing? Can this give me a deeper context into who I think I am and where I belong in the world? It certainly has the potential to with some study and searching. So many books have been written about this, teachers who have been teaching for 30+ years acting as living examples of this. It personally inspires me to strive for THIS.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state,
“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” (I.14)
No quick fix. Think of the time you’ve spent in certain patterns. How many hours or years have you spent at a desk, driving your car, victimizing yourself or guilt ridden? Patterns are hard to break. Your hour or two practice needs to transcend the rest of your day to chip at your own evolution. You might catch yourself at your desk and say, hmmm perhaps I shouldn’t sit like Santa OR you reflect on how you yelled at your husband instead of calmly explaining your point of view (no personal experience here.)
And boy oh boy do I LOVE RULES! They are a few of my favorite things. I love baking for the instructions. Measure, sift, mix…you get a cake. Go to school, study…receive a degree. Date, get married…have a….wait nope not yet.
I really thought Ashtanga was this way too. You follow this set sequence and MAGIC, it all comes along! I think the magic really lies in our ability to listen and adapt to what we need; to appreciate the brilliance of the sequence without worshiping it. Using the rubric to teach us how our body works and where we don’t even know how to use it yet. Have you tried a pose and noticed, WHOA! I can’t even move that part of my body…how interesting. Maybe with practice I’ll learn. More importantly though, it can teach us where we are distracted or just plain brain dead. Caught in a mental loop of rusty thoughts that keep us mistaking them for truth.
Just remember that when progress is no longer linear, when you feel like your life is in a rut. PRACTICE. You’re never the same even when you think you are. Who knows when that bind will surprise you or when you can finally let that self-limiting thought go.