You wake up in the morning and your whole body aches. Your thighs are screaming. Your traps are like concrete. You know you've pushed yourself a bit too hard the day before. "Namastay' in bed," is your first thought. But you pull the covers up and roll the mat out. Because this is what you should do. Every damn day, right?
Or you hear the alarm clock going off and press "snooze”. Five more minutes. Then another five. And then half an hour later there's not enough time left for practice. "I'll do it later in the day,” you think. But in the afternoon, you feel tired. It's too cold. You have a runny nose. Your back still hurts after that back bending session four days ago. You ate far too much for lunch, you'll never be able to engage those bandhas properly. And it's nearly dinner time anyway. "Tomorrow. From tomorrow on, I'll be good”, you think. "Promise!”
We've heard many times before that yoga is all about balance. It doesn't matter which style you do, what really matters is HOW you do it. Do you get up every morning to do your Primary Series, going through the same movements, without paying much attention? Just because that's how Ashtanga should be done – early in the morning, six days a week, on an empty stomach? It doesn't really matter that you're half asleep. It doesn't matter that you've built up lots of tension in your shoulders from all the chaturangas. Or are you one of those who procrastinate and make excuses, jumping from one style to another and easily skipping your practice because there's never a perfect time for it?
Yes, yoga is all about balance. Balance between effort and softness. Strength and gentleness. Between discipline and freedom.
According to the yoga sutras, the ultimate goal of yoga, the state of Nirodha (supsended mind), can only be achieved through practice (Abhyasa) and detachment (Vairagya). It is important, however, to apply both and find balance between them, as application of only one will lead to extremes of the mind.
If we only practice, we will develop strong beliefs that only our practice is right, only our style is „the real” yoga, only Ashtanga is the right yoga system, only my teacher knows the right alignment of the pose... We won't be able to recognize that an attitude different to ours does not necessarily need to be wrong. We won't be able to see the real beauty of the human race – that we are all different. All unique. We all have our issues and struggles and different things may work for us at different stages of our lives. And even though discipline may work miracles for some, others will not be able to handle it. I've recently met a student who stopped practicing for many months because the teacher would stop the class and make others look at her while he pointed out everything she did wrong (apparently, he was regarded the best teacher in the area). And while some people would be grateful and treat it as a perfect opportunity to learn and improve, others would feel self-conscious, exposed and anxious. Old insecurities would kick in. And they'll throw their mats away and never get back on them. If we just practice, we will end up believing that our approach must work for everybody. That's how I was taught by my teacher, it worked for me, so it should work for everybody. Our mind will trap us, making us believe that we've got it all figured out.
On the other hand, if we only apply detachment, we will fall into the other extreme of the mind. We will start believing that every approach is right, every style is legitimate and valid, every teacher is good. We will not be able to recognize views, styles, attitudes that are not right for us. They don't need to be wrong in general and they even may have worked for us at some point or will work in the future, they are just not good for us right in this moment. We will end up jumping from one style to another, changing teachers, skipping practice. We will not be able to trust our own judgments and instincts and we'll be indecisive and easy to manipulate. Our mind will trap us again, making us fall into the other extreme.
But how do we find balance between the two? How do we make sure that we don't fall into any of the extremes?
The answer is pretty simple: awareness and observation. Everybody has a tendency to lean towards one of the two extremes. Establishing which one is yours is the first step. Once you're aware of it, it's a slow process of mindful exploration. If you've been practicing Ashtanga or other style for years and you realize you've come to believe it's „the only way”, maybe it's time to experiment? Try other classes, do a course in pranayama, or maybe just do your practice in a different, non-traditional way? Less methodology, more instincts. Try to see if you can make it more personal. How do you feel about that? Do you dismiss it straight away, without even trying? Or maybe you've tried, but you were annoyed because suddenly things were not the way you were used to? If you're thinking that your way is the only way, you're on a dangerous path – doing the opposite of what yoga is about: building your ego rather than destroying it. Have a look at your Pitta (fire) level, maybe it's time to bring it a little bit down!
If, on the other hand, you find it impossible to stick to one type of practice for long, if you get bored easily and find discipline and routine tiring, if you procrastinate and get lazy, it might be a good idea to commit to one style or one teacher for a while. It will be challenging, but you'll get a new perspective and you'll be able to get a deeper understanding of a particular style rather than just stroke the surface of various ones. Having a set routine may keep you motivated and prevent you from giving up too easily. It might help you balance your Vata (air) and bring more grounding and stability into your life, showing you how to handle this craving for constant change and movement that keeps coming back whenever things get a little bumpy.
I encourage you to have a closer look at your practice today. How do you feel? What are you craving? What is it that you really need? Abhyasa or Vairagya? Practice or detachment? Discipline or freedom?
Yoga allows you to open the door to yourself. The key is in your hands – it's called impartial observation. Find the will and courage to step back from your mind and take an objective look. Without any judgment, without feeling bad or defensive about what you've discovered. Notice it. Accept it. And then whenever you're ready, start working on it.
So switch your phone off, roll your mat out, take a few deep breaths and listen. Don't just go through the movements, notice your practice as a whole. Trust yourself, but without believing that you're always right. Find your teachers, but don't be afraid to question if their way works for you. Explore, experiment and make your own mistakes. Open your own door. And never stop observing. Never let your ego convince you that you know it all.
MAGDA PROCNER turned her organised life upside down when she moved to India to follow her passion for yoga. This decision opened the door to a journey of self-discovery and spiritual exploration. Magda currently teaches yoga around the world. She is a strong believer in the power of smile and laughter, and always trusting your instincts and following your dreams. Follow her here: www.magsyoga.com