“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W.B. Yeats
Though I forget this all the time, asana practice is about the overall journey, not the asana itself. In being honest, of course I want to do the asana I’m attempting. I want to figure it out, and find that place of peaceful stability, regardless of how challenging or dynamic, that place does exist. Elusive as it may seem, and variable from day to day, maintaining a steady, calm breath in the most intense asana, can and does happen occasionally.
I admit, many times, when I first saw someone else try to balance on one leg, headstand, drop backs, legs behind their heads, lotus, lotus in a forearm handstand, Mari D, heck even a foreword fold with a straight back, all these and more, had my mind in a tizzy thinking that is never going to happen. I was in awe, and thought, how am I thinking that I belong in a room with a group of people who could run off and join the circus? I would shake my head thinking I’m just the clown and not a very good one at that because, I’m too fraught with anxiety to laugh at these impossible feats. Doubt, fear, lack of experience, or conversely past failures all used to overwhelm my senses and place imaginary limitations on my capabilities. How much of what we don’t do is based on thinking we can’t because we never have? Just because it may not seem likely, does not mean an asana is out of reach. The mind truly is more rigid than the body.
In no particular order, here are things I have found to make the process easier.
We are unique. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else, please. Aspirations are one thing, but envy will get you no where but angry. Personal bests come to mind. We are not just shaped different physically, but with different strengths and weaknesses. That super flexy pretzel in the corner may have no stamina or strength, the amazing inversion guy might have such tight shoulders, his back bend goal is just to get beyond a half bridge, the flat backed folder may not have any twisting capability what so ever. Finally, even if someone looks “good” doing it, it doesn’t mean they don’t still struggle everyday, that the challenge isn’t there, because, it is, it’s just about something different than your own.
Come to practice clean and empty, if you can. A hot shower not only loosens you up, but keeps you from focusing on smelling or feeling dirty when you sweat. Anything in your stomach will just look for a way out, and is uncomfortable at best.
Say the opening chant to yourself, and/or set a positive intention when you get on your mat. It sets the mind to a place a gratitude right from the start.
Learn to breathe. Let the asana teach you how to breathe, that is just one of the many gifts practice gives back. Steady, equal breaths timed to movement are the key to any forward progress. If it becomes labored, find a safe rest place like tadasana, dandasana, down dog or up dog to hold until your breathing calms during Mysore practice. Be compassionate but aware.
Relax. Surrender to the process. Twists happen when we stop grasping and start paying attention. Tension in the mind, creates tension in the body, tightening muscles instead of lengthening. The first time I really felt right in pashasana was when I, in pure exhaustion, let my weight go completely into my feet and released all the tension from my shoulders and spine.
Let yourself be a witness instead of a participant in an assist sometimes. Body awareness can be different from one limb to another, let yourself feel how the instructor worked your body into it instead of rushing to help them, just pay attention.
Hint of a smile. In otherwords, don’t be too serious. There are no failures, just attempts that didn’t work. Laugh when you can, accept your flaws with compassion, they won’t get any better with a critical lens but a receptive one. Allow yourself a chance to grow and learn. Non-attachment at its finest!
Show up. Come to the mat everyday you can. If you don’t make an effort, nothing will change. Even if you only have 15 minutes, do your sun salutations and a simple closing. I promise, you will feel better for the grounding you’ve given yourself for the day, and your body will thank you next time you get in a longer practice.
Stability matters. It’s how the asana feels, not how it looks. I know, when teaching, I’m looking to align, but it’s not to help for the pretty selfie, but to prevent injury and for the stability of the Self.
The action is everywhere. Each asana recreates tadasana or dandasana, so to speak. No matter what else you are attempting, your feet, hands, head and spine are on duty, engaged and dynamic, but not tense!
Flourish is pretty but not necessary. Learn to be efficient instead of fidgety. Take the time to learn the steps to get into an asana, but once you do, work on consolidating the steps to the proper breath count. Save your energy for the practice, stamina grows over time, give it a chance to happen.
Bundhas are the base. Once you find your bundhas, everything becomes easier. Check in on hooking your engagement of bundhas at the start of each count, right before your first inhale, if you can’t find them, you are not stabile.
Dristhi. The looking place ties it all together. Outward distractions can’t take hold if your gaze stays close and focused. It’s hard enough to quiet inside the mind without worrying about what’s happening across the room.
Stop thinking with perimeters that limit your mind’s perception of what you can and can not do. Self defeating mind sets halt the limitless potential of possibilities. Let trust overcome fear. Never give up, but please surrender to the process.
Build heat, work to the best of your capabilities that day and sweat! Internal heat is an important piece of the puzzle.
Don’t skimp on your closing sequence. If you don’t have time for a full practice, this is not the area to leave out. Regardless of where your struggles may be, keep away your ego of progressing forward if today is not the day, avoid rushing and leave enough time to close and rest. The closing inversions and lotus postures all work at bringing the benefits of practice to the right places. As well, “taking rest” calms your breathing to a regular pace at the end of practice so you can be fresh for the rest of your day.
Patience. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the journey. Do your practice and all is coming.