12 April 2011

Persevering Practice

I've mentioned before how much I struggle with handstand.  It's a frustrating pose for me; I feel like I should be able to kick up lightly and easily.  When I go to attempt it, though, I find a different reality.  I'm scared, anxious, and feel like there are two bricks tied to my ankles.  Sometimes, I feel like it will never happen.  Although, at some point, it did happen.  I was getting up more and more easily into handstand, and my practice was really soaring.

Then, I dropped off the face of the yoga planet.  The holidays came around, family issues came around, 15 extra pounds came around, and I retreated into a steady existence of pajamas and Netflix TV on demand.  Every time I thought, "I should really get my heinie onto a yoga mat," I could come up with a thousand reasons not to, not the least of which was my impending completion of my teacher training.  I had all kinds of ideas about what a Yoga Teacher was supposed to be - I didn't live up to any of my expectations.  A yoga teacher is effortlessly calm, naturally beautiful, startlingly wise - why didn't I feel any of these things? And, after your first training, aren't you supposed to feel ready to teach anyone and everyone immediately? I'm sure several people can answer yes to feeling that way and to the descriptions above, too.  But, for me, I had to realize that I hardly ever "feel ready" in any situation; that doesn't mean I'm not, though.  I think preparedness is always evolving.  There's no way to know everything about everything, no way to prepare for every situation - that doesn't mean I'm not ready to go share what I do know and keep learning.

I still continue to look for ways to boost my knowledge, getting my practice and my teaching up to speed.  One of my husband's favorite ideas is about how someone has to put in 10,000 hours of effort before they become an expert at what they're doing.  The idea being, there is no quick fix nor is there automatic genius.  Even Einstein didn't come up with E=MC2 right out of the womb.  The more time you put in, the better you get.  How can such a simple idea become so lost in the effort to excel?

I was browsing through the magazine section at Borders when Yoga International caught my eye with the headline "Effort and Ease in Handstand."  I always hope, with articles like that or sections in yoga books about inversions, that the author will provide me some kind of secret tip that had eluded me up to now: "Just chant 'Wubba willy womma BOO' and up you go like a monkey!"  Alas, this is not what the article said.  Instead, it introduced me to a few new Sanskrit ideas and lots of practice tips that I've already heard: build strength by building heat through vinyasa, work to open the shoulders, work to acheive balance and core stability, work extra hard in Adho Mukha Svanasana - it's the foundation of everything, including handstand.  These are all things I know, but they take time.  "I don't have time," says the ego in my mind, "I must achieve excellence NOW!"  Nope.  Just 10,000 hours of asana and I'll get there.

What I hadn't heard were the ideas of abhyasa and vairagya.  Both the Yoga Sutras, by Patanjali, and the Bhagavad Gita mention the two ideas, together, as a means to controlling the mind and achieving enlightenment.  Vairagya is detachment: "Allow the asanas and the practice to come to you as you consciously explore opening to them. Use the breath and the intensity of physical sensation to guide your effort, and remember that it is not about how far you go but how you go. You may find your practice is best explored without getting to the fullest expression of the peak pose."  Yoga is not competitive.  It is not about getting there the fastest or the easiest or the prettiest.  If I can let go of my need to be the best, the need to perfect the pose right now, I can experience the movements and everything that goes along with that journey.  I "embody my higher intention instead of identifying with the outcome of the pose or the completion of a goal."   I get to enjoy every milestone along the way.  Which is where abhyasa comes in - regular and constant practice over a long period of time. Persevering practice.  Which means I keep moving, I keep practicing no matter what my body or my mind throws at me, I persevere.  Yoga, like life, like knowledge, is an ever-evolving practice.  I'm never going to learn it all, or perfect it.  Which means, if I continue to persevere, I continue to have success.  I continue to move towards a higher intention.

That's the beauty of yoga.  You can keep coming back to the mat and keep moving deeper into poses, deeper into your body and your mind.  At some point, you lose the scorecard of what you've achieved and, all of the sudden, you're in the pose you never thought you'd get into.  That mindfulness translates off the mat and, all of the sudden, you're calm in situations that would've been difficult before.  You're aware of what your body needs and, all of the sudden, you've lost those extra 15 pounds.  Gradual movements that lead to gradual success is difficult, especially since we're used to immediate gratification.  We want the perfect body, perfect life, perfect mindset right now.  But, it's never sustainable.  When it's gradual, it's integrated into your life as a new lifestyle, and not just a quick fix.  Gradual is good.  Plus, you get to savor all those small moments along the way, too.  

Gradual is difficult.  It requires commitment.  It requires perseverance.  It requires detachment from the ego.  But, eventually, we get there.  And, with those 10,000 hours under our belt, we're wiser and more prepared, anyway.  Instead of dropping off the face of the earth, I can just keep practicing, just persevering, knowing that I can still make gradual changes as I move through my emotions and my life.  I can keep working towards that handstand, knowing that each day, whether I flip over or not, I'm strengthening my practice just through my effort, just through my intention.  

Maybe most importantly, I know that by persevering through struggles and triumphs and detaching myself from what it means to succeed or fail, I am doing just what I'm supposed to be doing.  Right now.  I'm exactly who I'm supposed to be experiencing exactly what I'm supposed to be experiencing.  What a relief.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?"

And, we already are.