…so here it is:
My yoga practice has been the central, guiding focus of my life since 2008. It still amazes me every day how the microcosm of my practice is such a clarifying tool for the macrocosm of my life.
2013 was difficult. To put this year’s most significant lesson into words, I would have to say this: often times, when I work my very hardest on the things that matter most (to me), I’m the only one who knows it. And that’s ok.
As yoga practitioners, I think we experience that all the time in both our spiritual and physical practices. We work really hard and sometimes it doesn’t result in anything resembling beauty or strength whatsoever in an external, tangible sense. But on the inside, regardless of the asana, there’s something big going on.
Yoga isn’t designed to be competitive. Yoga practitioners aren’t meant to practice or perform for praise and recognition. The hard work we put in—day after day—is meant to be used for Self-study (svadhyaya); we try to shed the layers of perception that hide our true Self. We try to recognize that since we cannot understand or love another person to a greater extent than that to which we have understood and loved our own true nature, we must practice consistently and honestly to eradicate the illusions that mask who we are. I see it as my moral obligation to do this.
Many times in the past year I’ve felt as though I’ve reached some sort of yoga plateau. Like, I really wanted to keep learning and growing and pushing but no matter how hard I pushed I felt stuck. This resulted in moments, however fleeting or otherwise, in which I wondered if the practice was done with me—not in the sense that I had mastered anything, but more in the sense that there is this creeping, hopeless idea that maybe I’m not smart or strong enough to go any further.
The bittersweet curse of the yoga practitioner is this: you can’t go back to unknowing. I do not believe we can go back to who it is we thought we were before yoga. To become stagnant or complacent in the practice means you aren’t practicing anymore. Yoga is movement, transformation, growth, and revelation.
In other words, there is a level of ignorance you’ve left behind and your options are to dedicate yourself to a deeper practice or to choose apathy. You cannot, in my opinion, go back to ‘unknowing’.
So, what ought I do when I sincerely want to keep going, but feel like I’m not getting anywhere? In 2013, I tried to shut the hell up and began to listen. To meditate. To practice alone.
To choose to be inundated with chaos and noise is to sell your Self short. In the past year I have tried to embrace stillness. Maybe ‘embrace’ is too strong a word. I have tried to relinquish my fear of stillness. In stillness rests clarity.
I am not always a fan of clarity.
Things I have consciously and subconsciously packed into boxes and hidden out of sight are there for a reason. Fear. In the stillness of the mind shines an honest and illuminating light that I don’t like to leave on for too long, lest I unpack those dusty boxes.
In the end, the mind could potentially become quiet?? I hope? But in the meantime, it is really difficult to know what to do with the trauma, the memories, the hurt. Not quite ready to burn the boxes’ contents indiscriminately. Too tired to keep carrying them. Afraid to unpack them piece by piece and see what’s there.
On our mats we carry with us the very habits and samskaras that we are trying to unload, sometimes without recognizing it. My practice will not look the same year after year. And it’s not supposed to. Just because last year’s yogic progress showed up hard in terms of ground gained in full throttle daily sweaty asana practice, doesn’t mean that’s what my practice looks like this year.
In yoga we are taught to detach from the outcome and instead direct our awareness to our intention. Often it is our expectations—camouflaged as dedication and enthusiasm—which trick us into believing that we are not learning and growing. Even when the opposite is true.
For instance, my daily asana practice and obsession with the physical movement in yoga sometimes hides the fact that yoga is a really convenient thing behind which to hide when I don’t want to deal with my issues with depression, food and my body image. You know what I mean. When I don’t get on my mat, I judge my self for being a bad yogi instead of recognizing that perhaps today my yoga practice should be quiet and still.
Maybe the lesson I’m meant to learn in that moment when I can’t seem to move is in the stillness. Maybe the lesson I’m meant to learn in that moment is in the letting go rather than in the forward motion. Maybe the reason I feel like I’ve stopped moving forward is because I have been watering seeds that weren’t meant to grow. Maybe I feel like a failure simply because I had an expectation about what progress was supposed to look like. If I let go of expectation and allow my Self to be receptive and open to outcomes I’d never imagined, I might grow in new ways.
So that’s the way I see it right now. I recognize that working hard in my yoga and appearing to work hard to other people are two different things. I know the work I need to do—spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically—and I know that sometimes I use the movement and blissfulness of asana to avoid stillness and the huge attachment I have to my bullshit. But I am changing that, little by little.