For many months I’ve been hearing myself say things like “yogi’s practice because that’s what yogis do”, “it’s not about enjoying the practice, it’s about practicing”, or all Nike style “just do it – get on your mat and practice”.
To a degree, I believe there is some truth to this. According to Patanjali, codifier of the Yoga Sutras, verse I.12 states that there are two keys to attaining yoga. The first is dedication to the practice. The second is non-attachment to the results of the practice.
Anyone who has spent time with me has heard me quote this verse (likely both in English and Sanskrit) many, many, many times. It is one of my favorites. I find it a helpful reminder of the things I need to progress on my path. I take Patanjali’s teachings deeply to heart.
Every day I roll out my mat and practice – the first key. One of the stipulations Patanjali makes is that without consistent practice – wholehearted dedication – the fruits of our practice will be delayed or hindered.
Note: I refer to them as fruits because for each practitioner the results (or fruits) of practice can be different. One person might be working to attain enlightenment, while someone else might be working on patience, health, physical strength or courage. Same glorious tools offering many possibilities.
And yet, if we are overly attached to attaining these fruits, or have fixed expectations about what the results will be, frustration is sure to follow. And so we learn to cultivate a balance of discipline & dedication, as well as non-attachment. No small order, I assure you.
And so for the past few years, dedicated and non-attached, I’ve been practicing. Every day I make time for samyama (higher limbs of practice that work towards meditative absorption), asana (postures and embodiment), pranayama (breath work), yama (ethics), and niyama (self-care). I am also very dedicated to my teaching practice. Day after day, doing the work of “getting on my mat”. Then, something very interesting happened…
When I was at Ayurveda school in December we had a new Yoga teacher, Dr. Scott Blossom. In learning the Ayurvedic approach to Yoga, something really lovely happened for me… I connected with my Yoga practice in a new way. In all honesty, I felt like there wasn’t much new left for me… Maybe a new variation on a pose, a new way of explaining something, a new book, or a new way of using a muscle group… After all these years of practice I was reminded, in a very deep way, how much of a gift the practice of Yoga is. It’s not just about getting on the mat and doing the practices, the practices are gifts that have the ability to connect us to our inner most Self.
Our relationship to Yoga, like all our relationships, will go through phases. Over the year of practice and teaching my relationship with Yoga has definitely evolved. And as my relationship to Yoga (which really, is an opportunity to relate to myself) shifts, so do all my other relationships…
Stage One – Romance
Also known as the Courtship or Fantasy Stage. I like to think of it as our Honeymoon with Yoga. This is when life with Yoga is absolutely amazing! We become more open, grounded and connected with our body-minds. We notice that we are becoming a better person, and this feels wonderful. We go to every class on the schedule and we begin to amass a huge collection of yoga books and DVDs 😉
As yoga teachers, this stage would be Yoga Teacher Training our first few months of teaching. We sub every single class we can, we get our first official class on the schedule, we arrive 45 minutes early to prepare and get things “just so”, we make perfect playlists for the sequence we plan to teach 😉
At this stage of any relationship the body produces higher amounts of endorphins, which helps us to feel happy, positive and excited. If we could, we would do everything on our mats… all we can think about is more yoga, more yoga, and more yoga!!!
Stage Two – Disillusionment
Also known as Familiarization or Adjusting to Reality Stage. At this stage things become “normalized”. The “new toy” effect wears off, and we begin to see Yoga for what it really is… again, this is different from practitioner to practitioner. Some will continue to see Yoga as a great workout, others as a way to manage stress, and others as a vehicle to enlightened living.
As teachers, this happens the first time you see teaching as “work” or as a “job”. It might also unfold as frustration with a student or the place where you teach.
The connection becomes more real. We start to see and experience without the rose colored glasses. Things begin to level out, and Yoga becomes part of “normal” life.
Stage Three – Power Struggle
Also known as the Disappointment or Distress Stage. At this stage the realizations made at the previous stage intensify. We really notice that we aren’t “high on Yoga” anymore. This is the stage where we start to fall off our mats… it becomes more challenging to practice. We make up excuses for why we aren’t practicing. Maybe we stop going to classes.
As teachers the struggle can be a reluctance to teach, to come up with sequences, boredom… we stop making cool playlists for each class.
For me, this stage was when I realized that Yoga is not a magic bullet fix all for my life. Not a panacea. Not a way to bypass suffering. And all of these very “real” realizations were very challenging to digest. Yoga wasn’t what I thought it was… could I love it for what it actually is, or was I only in love with my idea of Yoga? Tough questions!
Stage Four – Stability
Also known as the Friendship or Reconciliation Stage. This stage is more peaceful than the previous one. This is where the foundation is established, and based on our history with Yoga, we know we can rely on our Yoga practice.
As teachers, we understand that our teaching practice will be a lot like our personal practice. The more we practice, the more solid our foundation. We find our rhythm in teaching – it’s not as big a deal as it once was, however it’s no longer a struggle either. We have more balance and equanimity about the whole thing.
You are able to reconcile the dissonance from the previous stages and land somewhere with Yoga that works for you. Interestingly, not everyone gets to this stage… sometimes it is hard to let go of our expectations.
Stage Five – Commitment
Also known as the Acceptance, Transformation or Real Love Stage. This is the stage where you can see Yoga for what it is, and you consciously choose to practice – it shifts from being a need to a choice. There are fewer surprises, however the practice has been helpful in supporting you through challenges and overcoming obstacles.
As teachers we choose to teach, choose to support our students, we expand beyond our ego needs into the realm of community. There is a deepening congruence or alignment with who you truly are and what you really want. You and Yoga are a team.
I’ve been through the stages a few times. A few years back I even lost faith in Yoga and quit (basically I came back around to stage three, and then called it a day).
I thought I had seen, felt, experienced it all (oh me! ) and now I find myself moving through the stages again… Romancing the Yoga. It has been a while since I’ve been so curious, interested, and excited about my practice. I love my practice and Yoga so much, yet the excitement evaporated years ago, replaced with a deep respect and love. This new found enchantment with my practice has been a great reminder of what a gift Yoga is… a gift that leads us back to ourselves, to our true nature of sat-chit-ananda (awake to what is real, consciously present and blissful).
Wishing everyone something new, interesting, and enchanting in your practice. Happy New Year everyone! Enjoy 2013 🙂
Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love),