Friday, April 8, 2011

Back to the unglamorous grind of daily practice (and why this is not a bad thing)

Practice this morning was good. I'm not going to bore you with the blow-by-blow details of my experiences in various postures. Suffice to say that I am working on a few different things that Kino brought to my attention during the workshop. One of these is to resist the temptation to resort to the "chicken-out" way of getting out of pincha mayurasana (for more details, see this post). This morning, I successfully fought this temptation; the resulting jump-back exit wasn't pretty: I didn't fall on my face (thankfully because I was looking forward), but I kind of flopped my whole front body onto the mat instead of landing gracefully in chaturanga. Well, I figure that if I keep doing this day after day, my body will eventually get it and my arms will kick in at the right moment to prop me into chaturanga. There's a Chinese saying, "The fool who tries a thousand things inevitably comes up with something useful." Incidentally, Kino once said (I'm paraphrasing here) that if you are a yoga genius, you will master a posture after a thousand attempts, whereas if you are not a genius, you will need ten thousand attempts to master it. So a Chinese fool is a yoga genius! Interesting...

There's one thing I've noticed about my practice during and after going to Kino's workshop. For some reason I don't completely understand, my pace of practice is always faster at a workshop. During both the mysore sessions at Kino's workshop last weekend, I got through my usual practice (full primary and second up to pincha mayurasana) in slightly under two hours. Whereas now, back at home, I've reverted to my pre-workshop speed (two hours and twenty minutes, give or take three minutes). I call this the "Senior Teacher Effect." There's no other explanation for this, since I did not make a conscious effort to speed up my practice during the workshop.

I've noticed that my practice rhythm has followed a certain cycle for the last year or so: A relatively long period of mostly solitary home practice, punctuated by a short workshop with a senior teacher, which is then followed by another long period of mostly solitary home practice, during which I try to digest everything I learnt at the workshop. Which is not very glamorous, because there are inevitably spells of time during which I encounter plateaus, or injuries or mysterious pains that need to be addressed and worked out.

But rather than see these spells of time as undesirable experiences to be avoided, I have gradually come to see them as necessary components of the journey of practice. We have a tendency to focus on the moments of epiphany, the aha! moments which light up our otherwise seemingly mundane lives and practices. But we tend to forget that behind every aha! moment is a necessary period of physical and spiritual incubation, without which the moment would be impossible. Actually, Kino expresses this process very nicely in one of her writings. So I guess I'll leave you here with her words:

"At first yoga is life and you cannot get enough of it. Yoga reconnects you to long forgotten inner realms and you somehow fall in love with yoga. Yet if your yoga practice evolves into a daily, lifelong relationship it is almost inevitable that at some moment you will get bored with it. The insatiable hunger for as much yoga as possible will shift and change to a space where you will be absolutely full of it. This period of lackluster levels of initiative often comes ironically as a result of your full immersion in the yoga world. While this is a crisis stage where many practitioners quit yoga, change teachers or switch styles of yoga it is actually a place where the yoga practice itself has a unique opportunity to work on the deepest levels of the subconscious if you stay with it.

Anything done repeatedly over a long period of time has the potential to get boring, route and mundane. One of the main reasons why the initial glow of the romance period of yoga fades is because the practice has actually managed to sink down and penetrate a deep layer of consciousness. At this stage boredom is actually an obstacle to spiritual growth not just an annoying thing to face each day on the mat. If you have the courage to move through it just on the other side of boredom is deep and lasting peace, unity with yourself and the strength and determination to live with integrity. Boredom is an important maturing phase of the journey inward and one that is only experienced by a practitioner who has already committed themselves to the daily practice...

When yoga changes from strange and exotic to normal and ordinary you have succeeded at turning yoga into lifestyle commitment rather than a mere passing fancy. If you tune into the feeling of boredom when it arises it can lead you to the realization that your daily practice has reached a whole new level of awareness within. This usually means that you now have access to a subconscious level. Once you experience this deeper stage of awareness boredom is a natural hurdle to cross as your system gets used to living in a more peaceful state...

Injury, repetition and simple difficulty naturally bring up boredom and if you move through this state when it arises you will allow yoga to powerfully transform your life far beyond any mere series of postures. When yoga is just as mediocre, mundane and miserable as the rest of your life it really begins to teach you how to make peace with your life. Romantic poet William Blake says that a true test of the human spirit is to find innocence through experience and it is exactly this seemingly impossible state of union that yoga asks you to tap into on the inner spiritual path. Just on the other side of the apparent ordinariness of your experience is actually a much deeper understanding of yourself, your body and your yoga practice. When you can see the beauty of all life shining with the power of creation regardless of time or location yoga has worked its magic through you. Beyond the wow phase of yoga you confront the monotony of doing the same practice everyday and if you stay with your yoga practice through this inevitable period you will one day tap into a limitless wealth of wisdom. You have to do your yoga practice so much so that it is not special anymore so that you can learn to experience a kind of specialness that never fades and a beauty that is truly eternal."


  1. This was exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks for the post! I dabbled with yoga from 1998 to 2010, mostly as a means of making my long distance running better. But on January 1 of this year I decided to take yoga seriously, starting with Iyengar until March, when I first discovered Ashtanga. Though I am still in the infatuation stage of Ashtanga in specific, and yoga in general, I definitely understand the "when practice is not special anymore/ part of everyday life" feeling, as I had it with my running. I don't run anymore but on the inside I truly believe Ashtanga yoga is the new me-- permanently. Since I live three hours from the nearest yoga class, all my practice is solo. I think it is best because I am discovering it for myself and incorporating it into who I am and who I want to become.

    Thanks again for this post! I'm loving your blog. --Salena

  2. Wow...I love this from Kino. Thanks for sharing Nobel, do you mind telling me which of her articles it comes from?

  3. Nobel, we have similar experiences as I practice alone and see an Ashtanga teacher a few times a year. I always feel invigorated when I see her and sometimes think it would be easier going if I had more accesss. On the other hand, I really have come to see that it is precisely in those long stretches of daily grind that all the work really gets done. I don't know that I would have it any other way right now. It is a warm day here and I am about to get on my porch with a mat and do the very not glamorous work. Have a great weekend.

  4. Hello Salena, welcome to the world of Ashtanga yoga :-) I really think your yoga journey will be an exciting one of great self-discovery and realization. And since we don't have daily contact with a teacher, the cyber-shala is an invaluable source of support and dialogue.

    DDMel, the article is originally from

    It's great to hear that you were in Goa with Kino and Tim and Susan. I look forward to hearing (reading) about your time there :-)

    ABP, "I don't know that I would have it any other way right now." I totally agree with this too. Enjoy your practice!

  5. Wow... I'm kind of scared I would get to the day when I get bored of the practice. I'm still at the honeymoon stage with Ashtanga right now, and to be honest, I don't think it'll be a bad idea to temporarily switch to a different style for awhile before coming back. I'm pretty sure I'll always come back to this practice as long as I'm still able-bodied by then (gee I haven't even left yet!)

  6. Yyogini, switching to a different style temporarily might be a good way to get some perspective on one's practice. Although (and I am speaking purely from my own experience here) I think that if one has certain issues in one's practice that needs to be worked through, changing styles in and of itself probably won't be sufficient to address what needs to be addressed. But all this is probably too abstract to be of much use...

    Hmm... this might be a good topic for a new post: "32 Signs that the Honeymoon phase of your practice is over." Then again, I'm not Claudia, so maybe I should be more modest, and restrict myself to maybe 10 or even just 5 signs :-)