A few discussions recently in class and with some other teachers have been the cue for this blog post.
As all of us in life and yoga are feeling our practice develop, please consider this….
For those of you drawn to Vinyasa Flow for “variety”, ask yourself why?
“To stave off boredom and so my practice doesn’t get stale” was an interesting comment.
Another was “variety deepens my practice” – which begs the question, what is a deep practice? A mantra I have used many time in class (sorry for those of you who have to listen to it so frequently!) is
it’s not about the depth of the asana, it’s about the depth of your awareness within the asana.
and also as Prashant S. Iyengar states
Yoga is about establishing the right connections. While in trikonasana if you are connected to the pose, that is yoga. If you are at the breakfast table and you are connected to your breakfast, that is yoga. But while in trikonasana if you are connected to your breakfast that is not yoga!!!
So a deep practice has little to do with “pushing” the physical body into new contortions – which are nothing more than shapes if you’re not feeling the pose and the transition of how you got there in the first place. Rushing transitions or cruising them on auto pilot is a valuable teaching cue to see a student whose awareness is everywhere but in their practice, body, breath, present moment. Confusing “variety” with “advanced” is another misconception, and begs the question, what are you practicing “for”? Deconstructing patterns of movement (and thought?) or to keep satisfying the ego….
Even if you look at this purely from the physical, one principal objective is to unite movement with breath – with alignment and awareness.
If your breath is restricted or laboured by fluctuating focus, if your movement is significantly impaired by tension, tightness or weakness and instability, and if your alignment and activation is distorted and mal-adapted due to repetition of poor function, then what are you hoping to gain by pushing your practice on and mixing it up? Except maybe a fast track to an injury and a complete by-pass of awareness by satisfying the cognitive mind…..
A teacher aims to strike a balance between both a challenging and a compassionate lesson plan and practice for students – if challenging for you is repetition because that “makes you bored” (really?! do you find walking boring too? And breathing?) then ask yourself, where is your awareness?
Tied up with your ego wanting more and box ticking asanas?
How deep is your awareness within those basic/foundation asanas?
Are you using your practice as a distraction?
A teacher isn’t there to stave off your boredom with intricate demonstrations of their choreographic skills in some mutual exploration of both our egos; (teacher – ooooh look at my ever increasingly fancy lesson plans, please like me as your external validation is crucial to my motivation; and student- oooooh look at this shape I can make on the mat, now I like me, now give me something else new, give me more variety, I have achieved that and now I seek new boxes to tick)
Instead, a teacher tries to guide your practice and awareness deeper, safely, so you feel the asana rather than just doing it, and in vinyasa flow especially, so you truly feel the transition with awareness, with a slow steady mindful increase in the alteration of sequencing to illustrate shifts in intensity with the bliss of release to truly feel your prana flow – safely.
Be honest with your practice and observe, how much awareness do you focus on the asana compared to the transition? Or is the transition nothing more than an inconvenient but necessary path that you have to go down to get from where you are now to where you next want to be? Fluctuation of attention and awareness…… And how much does that also apply to your practice as a whole? Are you engaging with and feeling where you are now in the perpetual present moment, or are you thinking about where you next want to take your practice?
Notice, what you notice.
Look for stillness in movement.
If your teacher gives you the same “drills”, there’s probably a very good reason why……….if a sequence is very similar with asanas but the transition between the poses has been altered, what do you notice there?
FEEL the detail.
How much does this also apply to rest of your life off of the mat? Change and variety is good (and inevitable) but keeping it simple is where it’s at…as with all things, it’s about balance.
As Scott Sonnon so succinctly states
Shouldn’t those “very, very basic” steps be the bulk of what we learn and teach, to give as much care and compassion as possible to the mangled and distorted bodies that injury, stress and trauma from our jobs, activities and life have wrought upon us? IF there is such a thing as “advanced” yoga (and I’m not convinced that there is), then wouldn’t it be a deeper refinement of these very, very basic steps, both embodied and shared?
…… in martial art, there are no advanced techniques; only a deeper refinement of the basics. The truly “advanced” martial artists, are the one’s with “beginner’s minds” – continually returning to the refinement of the rudimentary steps, and maintaining an “empty cup” to revisit what they’ve already practiced, but with new eyes and open hearts.
If boredom is your issue, maybe instead of ever increasing variety in your asana practice, you would benefit from meditating more. Sitting in one position for the ultimate lack of variety but increasing the depth of your awareness by fathoms.
Again and again.
The subtleties and depths you will experience within the most basic of asana practice will then make you wonder how on earth you ever “got bored” on your mat. Your practice isn’t there to satisfy the cognitive mind and keep you interested, in much the same way as your yoga practice isn’t there to target a specific body part (this class will tone your butt……however a teacher can structure a class to include a lot of gluteal and posterior chain activation work to balance the body, especially as many heart openers require glute softening and bandha activation…..but that’s for another post!) – please do not confuse increasing levels of complexity with being “advanced” or “progressing your practice”, sometimes the progress you need is to simplify, hone and repeat, repeat, repeat.
In an asana, the mind has to reach inside the body to find a quiet space until a point comes where perfect balance is felt. Geeta Iyengar
Bigger, better, faster, more is not yoga progress.
Mixing it up so you don’t get bored is not yoga progress.
Keeping it simple is NOT staying within your comfort zone (generally) – for many, that is taking it right OUT of your comfort zone beyond variety and distraction into deeper awareness…and that can be deeply UNcomfortable.
Your asana practice is a moving meditation, not exercise to feed your ego about what shapes you can make on the mat, or radically changing sequences to satisfy the cognitive boredom that comes with necessary repetition.
If you crave variety within your yoga practice, you are missing the point of your yoga practice.
Every moment is utterly unique, feel that with every cell and fibre of your being within your practice and you will never feel boredom in anything you do on your mat (and in your life) again !