Measure your progress in yoga not by the yoga positions you can do, but by the person you become.

Modern society thrives on progress. It seems like we are always being pressurised to achieve more, earn more and buy more. This rarely leads to lasting happiness because there is always more you can have and do. With social media images of bendy yogis bombarding your newsfeed, and with pressures to achieve coming from all directions, it’s easy to bring this mindset to your yoga practice. This is such a shame because if you are always striving to achieve more, you will never surrender and accept this moment, just as it is, enjoying the real fruit of yoga.

People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons and I understand that you may want to become more flexible. You may be really tight and need to get more flexible in order to enjoy normal healthy movement and posture. If you practice regularly this will happen, whether you strive for it or not. If you have been practicing yoga for many years, as I have, you may be very capable of doing all sorts of positions that you never dreamed were possible, and yet you still may seek progress in what you can do. I do. I love to challenge myself to do more, but the main benefit of this is what it brings to my life. It helps me to stay calm in challenging and new situations. It helps me to be more present for my friends and family, it helps me to believe that anything is possible, and hopefully it helps me to be a better person. Very few people really care, or even know, what yoga positions 18 years of yoga has made it possible for me to do. But they do care about what kind of person I am.

If you practice yoga regularly you will become more flexible. There is no need to worry about that. Practice, surrender, and use your practice to become more present. Sometimes it will be wonderful. Sometimes it will be challenging to really be here. Practice, practice and practice some more. Then bring your practice into your life.

Sometimes as a teacher, I notice that the people that seem to understand it the most, are actually the tightest. They have had to tune into their breath. They have realised that it is going to take a while. And they have surrendered. I am not saying this to be harsh to the bendy people. I happen to be one myself, but I think sometimes within the yoga community, we forget this and we think the bendy people are the great yogis. This is not always the case. They may not have even done that much yoga. They might be a gymnast or a dancer. They might really struggle with other aspects of the practice too. We are all different, but the real journey is an inward one, and that’s where the real peace lies.

Do you ever put pressure on yourself to be better at yoga? How has yoga had an impact on your life and or who you are?

Why you benefit from practicing when you don’t want to

One of the benefits I have found to practicing daily is that I sometimes practice when I don’t want to. You may think this seems excessive and certainly when I first started practicing I would just practice on the days I wanted to. After all I am doing this by choice right ?

I practice daily, 6 days a week and mostly I love it. It’s some time to myself in each day and it reignites my passion for teaching through my own experience. However as much as I love yoga, some days I just do not want to do it. However, I have never practiced and wished I hadn’t though so I now know I need to just get on with it. There are all sorts of reasons why I might not want to practice, if you have been practicing for a while you may find some of them familiar.

  1. I want to do something else
  2. I have to do something else – I have lots of work to do
  3. My body feels stiff/ tired/ not what I am  used to
  4. It’s winter, can’t I just stay under the duvet until Spring?
  5. My mind is on hyperdrive – note I usually don’t notice this at the time. It reveals itself as a resistance to the silence of practice.

I’m sure there are more…

There are times when you should not practice if you are really ill for example. We discussed this in my post about what to do regarding practicing yoga when you’re unwell. There are also times when you might have to do a shorter practice or a less intense one. Having a daily practice or however many days you are ready to commit to is about showing up. It’s about doing a gentle practice when you are tired. It’s about being patient with your body when it’s tight. It’s about allowing your mind to buzz in silence and sometimes it’s about giving yourself some time to be with your emotions when your mind wants to run and hide. Most of the time it will feel great and empowering but sometimes it will be challenging, and you will have to face yourself, to accept each moment just as it is.

Sometimes you get the most from the practices that you don’t want to do. They give you a chance to accept you are inperfectly beautiful just the way you are. They offer you a chance to find some space when you don’t want to, they reveal what you are hiding from and show you who you are. This is where the yoga journey really begins………..

Have you ever practiced yoga when you didn’t want to?  What was your experience?

From Backbends to the Kitchen Sink – Goals and the Present Moment

Happy New Year!  Christmas and New Year is usually a time of reflection for me, I think this is because I usually have some time off work, away from my usual routine.  This gives me a bit of perspective on the way things are going and seems like a good time for me to set some goals for my future.   I think goals are important because if we don’t decide on our own direction, we put ourselves at the mercy of other people’s whims.  I  wonder how goals fit in with a commitment to being here and now, which I also have. I think that whilst we can have a version of a future which we will do anything we can to get to, all we ever really have is here and now.  It’s important to not only enjoy the journey but realise that we build the future in the here and now, in many baby steps and as we do this we interact with a world which is beyond our control and ever changing.  So we may need to adapt our plan but it is still worth planning, in fact if you didn’t plan at all you wouldn’t even get out of bed.

 

One of my main goals this year is to be tidier.  In yoga philosophy cleanliness is one the Niyamas (ethical guidlines concerning ourselves).   In truth this has been a goal of mine in the past and I have learnt a lot in my previous attempts which will surely help me to make the necessary changes.  I also have a wealth of experience of which to draw on.  I know that I have made other changes in the past and I know that this is something which is mostly within my own control.  It is easy for me to write blog posts about maintaining a daily yoga practice because I have been practicing yoga for years and I love it, tidying and me have had a different relationship in the past and it is possible for me to draw on what I learn from yoga and apply it to my life, sometimes in surprising ways.

 

I posted this picture of my practice on Christmas day.  I am doing a deep backbend whichHelen doing Kapotasana, yoga pose by Christmas tree is part of the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga. It is called Kapotasana and although I may look comfortable enough in this pose, it has been a really difficult pose for me to do.  Obviously it requires a great deal of flexibility, this has taken many years of daily practice for me to open my back up. I also find it emotionally and mentally challenging, I think there is something about having my chest that open, it has been very healing and empowering for me.  Recently I noticed that I would start to dread this pose about 5 poses before I got to it.  With this sense of dread I also had a mental dialogue that went something like this “you will never be able to do it today, your body’s too tight/tired/strong. Why are you even trying, blah, blah, blah! ” Once I noticed my little story, I think noticing is often the first step in change,  I started to notice the feeling of dread for what it was, a feeling at the pit of my stomach that I have habitually created.  Sometimes I would even laugh at it.  Sometimes I could do the pose, sometimes I couldn’t, ultimately it doesn’t matter, it’s a yoga pose. Day by day, this sense of dread started to lose it’s power, as it was no longer being fed by my thoughts.

 

Part of my plan in order to be tidier is to wash up immediately after eating.  I was doing washing up with faded picture of kapotasanathis a few days ago and I felt this amazing sense of dread at the pit of my stomach.   When I noticed, I laughed and told my partner about it. Hello dread, I know you, I thought. No wonder I have struggled to make this change in the past, there is so much emotion attached to it, to deal with it requires dealing with not only a lifetime of habits but also all the emotional negative feelings associated with not doing this.  Thanks to yoga, I am able to notice them and let them go. They don’t really relate to here and now, where I am washing up – it’s not  dangerous, there is nothing to dread.  When you make goals for your future, look back at your past and see how you have changed other things, then notice the present moment again and take it one step at a time.

 

Do you have goals yet?  What can you do right now to make them more real? How has yoga helped you?

The Real Moment

As some of you know, a couple of months ago I stubbed my toe badly on a Hoover and had to take some time off work.  As I travelled back from my Mum’s house in North Wales, I began letting people know that I would not be able to teach on Monday.  I was a bit disappointed because I love my job but I could barely walk so that was the way it was.

Once I had sent some texts out to those of you in my text group, and made an announcement on Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool’s Facebook page, I resumed reading a book by Brad Warner, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality

This is the first book I have read by Brad but I have been curious about him for a while.  Brad is a Zen teacher who is also into punk rock, he works at least during the time scale of his Hardcore Zen book in the monster movie industry in Japan.   He writes  about Zen in a direct, simple and humerous way.  He can be fairly opinionated which is unusual in spiritual teachers but I like his direct approach.  His blog can be found in the right side bar of this blog or here.

I was reading his book on the train, in pain and maybe a little frustrated I came across this line

“Suffering occurs when your idea about how things ought to be don’t match how they  really are.”  Brad Warner

Hmm, what a great one liner.  How true.  As I sat on the train I reflected that my suffering mostly came from my brains interpretation of the pain.  When I stopped and observed the pain for what it was, sensation and lost the stories in my head my situation wasn’t so bad.  I was on the train home after a lovely weekend with family.  I had the day off, I could have some me time.

Since that moment on the train, whenever I have caught myself sad, frustrated etc,  I have worked instead on acknowledging what the moment I am in is actually like, rather than what I think it should be like.  We could spend our whole lives waiting for that perfect moment in our heads or we could be in this one.  The above example is not a particularly challenging life event but if we work with minor problems I believe it will get easier to apply this wisdom to bigger ones.  Yoga and or meditation helps us to more present in these moments so that we notice them and stand a better chance of actually being HERE.

Have you read anything interesting recently?