I admit that when I started Yoga years ago, I was afraid of repetition.
I was in fact afraid of anything that would give me the slightest reason to be bored.
One of the great things that Yoga has done to me was to really transform that fear of being stuck in a place.
That fear that would lead me to start something new and exciting all the time.
My Yoga practice has made me FEEL that there’s no limit to the joys I can experience in my body, and to the expansion I can live in my mind. I was privileged to shed all these fears of „staying in something known“ – physical experiences, relationships, work…
This series is meant for all of you new or seasoned Yogi/nis out there who are tired of the stereotype’d answers to the good ol‘ question: „What do I do to keep the little flame burning?“
In a way, you can read this post as a suggestion for any area in which humans tend to get frustrated, bored, or stuck. Relationships. Sex. Work. Life in general.
And I find that the solution of of adding or changing something in the outside reality is really not working for me. At least not for a long time. And it also makes me worry what I will do if there’s nothing more to add or change from outside. As in: buy vibrator. Quit job. Exchange boyfriend.
So, in this series, instead of telling you to read more Yoga books, or book that exciting retreat with that hot new teacher, I’ll try to offer from my own experience some insights about what is going on when you get bored, and how you can navigate in that phase FROM THE INSIDE.
In this manner, you stay committed to YOURSELF. And this always is a sure and gracious way to know what’s best for you.
Maybe you will find these suggestions useful even if you don’t know or practice Yoga at all. For all I know, you could be passionate about fly-fishing or archery and face the same frustrations.
My sincere wish is that this series will
- inspire you, if you have never committed to a practice of self-development – just do it!
- encourage you, if you are interested in keeping up a practice like the studies of Yoga, but experience hesitation about which to chose, or whether to continue
- empower you, if you have committed to your practice but find yourself on a plateau, by offering some insight about what is happening in „season 2“, and what you can do to make the most out of it.
As usual, your insights, suggestions and comments are warmly welcome.
After some years, or even just months, of Yoga practice you are no longer busy trying to tell apart your hands and feet and still breathe in a pose. And you might catch yourself feeling bored more and more often, as the initial thrill of the unknown is fading. After 200 and more Down-Dogs, you may even wonder whether it’s time to move on. Or, you actually love the practice and philosophy, but don’t quite know how to keep the flame burning in your daily practice.
In your first stage on the Yoga journey, you’ve learned the basics of physical alignment.
You learned lots about the mechanics of your body and experienced just about as much bliss rediscovering this physical reality as a toddler is enthused and unstoppable when it comes to learning to walk. You had fun putting your body into various unusual shapes, and since most of the shapes were unusual to you, you had lots of fun (and some frustration, I know).
Now, as you’re moving on to the second stage of your journey, you’re ready to learn about the basic functioning of deeper layers of your being: this stage is about learning everything about your subtle body, your emotional body and your mind, and to find ways to align them.
In the second stage, you are building your capacity to fill the “shape” of the first stage with radiant awareness, compassion, and intrinsic wisdom.
If the colours seem to fade, and you feel frustrated when on your on the mat, cheer up!
It DOESN’T MEAN that you’re not practicing your Yoga right.
It doesn’t mean that you should switch to something else – it’s all part of the journey.
When you started, there were aching joints, weak muscles, short tendons and an even shorter breath. You worked it out. You got to know your body and understood that the reluctant body is not an obstacle to the practice, it’s actually a great starting point to practice everything this philosophy is about.
Now, you get to learn that the reluctant mind is not an obstacle to your practice. You get to learn to practice your Yoga within a place that you might would’ve labelled as totally “unYogic” to begin with.
YOGA IS NOT ABOUT FEELING GOOD.
But Yoga builds your capacity to embrace your Self, your Existence, your Circumstances, your Experience – regardless of your feeling “good” or “bad”.
If that seems incomprehensible – read on.
Set goals. And again.
Now, let me rephrase this: goal setting is not about getting somewhere.
Yoga – which I understand to be a philosophy of Union with the God in you and around – states that you are already united with everything there is. This is your nature.
(Personally, I also add in my practice and teaching of Yoga the aspect of actively EXPRESSING this Oneness in everyday life, but that is my personal “development” of the classic teachings.)
Goal setting means that you are being very specific about the perspective you have for your journey.
Speaking in metaphors, you can set the goal to align yourself with the reality that there is a sun and then view the clouds covering it for what they are.
Or you can wander around aimlessly and mistakenly believe in thunderstorms, snow, and hail as an ultimate reality.
So here are two questions:
Where are you heading with your practice – in general?
And then: what do you expect from each single time you practice?
What is it that you want? Happiness? That fabulous Yoga-butt? Peace of mind? Spiritual growth and total liberation?
Maybe you find yourself being very unclear about why you’re doing what you’re doing.
You may just be hoping that repeating the routines of the past will somehow make you feel so good again (like you did in your early Yoga days…).
The Big Picture – on and off the mat
In my humble opinion, the most complete vision to have for your Yoga journey is the desire to unravel your full, radiant Self. This goal is your Sun, so to speak.
If you align yourself with this goal, you will naturally view every “obstacle” (cloud) as something permitting you access to deeper and more subtle layers of your psycho-physical makeup.
The Small Picture – your practice
A Yoga practice is per definition a practice of realising one-ness. This means that any activity or state of mind has the potential to become a practice of Yoga, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s stick with the definition as “You and Your Yoga Mat” – time.
You may already be familiar with setting intentions from public Yoga classes. Personally, I find this moment in Yoga class difficult – there never seems to be enough time to feel, see, hear, taste and experience my intention and make it come completely alive for the practice.
I need to underline that oftentimes, our true intention lies underneath what we think our intention should be. For instance, you think your intention should be to be concentrated and mindful.
But in reality, your Yoga practice could be about surrendering to and working WITH your distracted, muddled, cloudy mind and embrace that quality of being (that’s the only way to change it, by the way).
Take as much time as needed to see where you’re heading today, what your physical and your psychological needs and issues are. There’s going to be more about that further below and in the next parts of this series.
The actual aim here isn’t so much about pinpointing your needs and goals, than about learning to discern the underlying pattern of your momentary state of being.
Trust me, making this an integral part of your practice will help create a lot of meaningful insight.
See where you’re standing today, what your general outlook on life is, which kind of thoughts predominates in your mind, and how you feel in your body.
Something very common is that we come to our mat fighting our experience: we want to turn inwards but can’t seem to sit still, or we plan to work out hard while our body feels weak and tired… In short: we expect ourselves to be something different than what we are at the moment.
In this case, some great intentions to align with would be “compassion with Self”, “deep understanding”, “learning to bridge the seeming opposites”, etc.
These intentions are specific yet broad enough to grant your intrinsic Wisdom space to operate. Set your intention as consciously as you can and you will be surprised by the solutions suggested by your body-mind during your practice.
My personal experience
I have noticed big qualitative differences between the times I’ve set an intention for my practice, and the times I’ve simply started to move without thinking of where I was heading.
The act of having a goal for my practice paradoxically gives me more room to explore and let myself be surprised by how my intention will come to life in breath, mind and body.
I find myself more aware of the many wonderful, unique, and unforeseen features of the landscape I’m travelling in.
At the same time, I’m deliciously connected to the path that leads me across this country – this is the ground that holds everything together.
Calling for guidance
What on earth were you thinking-
you just wanted spiritual awakening, a bliss body, and good vibrations …
And now you’re knee-deep in a big crisis – maybe not just a Yoga crisis.
First: This was supposed to happen.
Second: It’s time you asked for some help :)
(A small parenthesis for those wondering about why this was supposed to happen: remember how you push in the ground from your hands and feet to make your pelvis lift-lift-lift in Downward Facing Dog? This is the anatomical equivalent of the old saying: “Who wants to go up needs to go down.” You want high and lofty things like happiness, stillness of mind,… ? – Now dig your hands in the ground you’re standing on, Honey…)
So. You’ve set your intention, and now it’s time to call for guidance.
Who do I ask for guidance?
Your “guide” is an entity or quality that you look up to and trust. In short, you are guided by “the best in you”, and you choose for yourself what expresses or embodies that place of perfection inside. It is, essentially, the first thing that comes to your mind. This can and will certainly change as the months and years go by. It is an interesting aspect to look back in retrospect at the qualities you were drawn to during previous stages of your evolution.
Asking for help and guidance simply opens you up to the guidance that is already available all the time.
Having called for help and guidance will enlarge your vision to include more signposts on your way. For instance, your hamstrings may sound the alarm in any case (which is a sure sign of “guidance”), but without openness, you just override the symptoms and go “business as usual”.
Calling for help will also help you to stay focused on your intention and avoid getting lost on side roads.
In this second stage of Yoga practice, you’re dealing with everything that is not yet consciously part of the Union. In short: your shadow-self.
When you ask for Guidance, chances will be higher that you will not only stay compassionate when your ugly parts emerge. You will be confident that you can embrace and heal them, and your intuition of how to do this will be imperturbable.
Remember, when you’re working with Guidance, you’re working from your Best Self.
My personal experience
I’ve had many “teachers” of that kind, and I stuck with each for some time.
I remember that approximately three years ago, I used to connect to the teacher-figure of B.K.S. Iyengar before my practice. In retrospect I see that he embodied my wish to gain deep knowledge about the workings of the gross and subtle body, and a tremendous ingenuity of how to convey my knowledge and make it a tangible experience rather than a lofty, but distant concept of the mind.
I had several dreams in which Iyengar explained exactly to me how to align my mind and body in a pose, and the suggestions worked in waking mode too.
I learned Headstand only with guidance from my Inner teacher, through the course of 1 ½ years – a Headstand that I later learned from a flesh-and-blood Yoga teacher was perfectly aligned and balanced. (As a Yoga teacher, I will tell you of course that my way of proceding was grossly negligent ;-) As a person, I will tell you that this was a totally awesome experience of self-reliance.)
For some time last year, I have worked with what I call “Grace” as a teacher, primarily to understand through physical experiences what Grace is. During that time, I developed a kind of compassion that I could “feel in my bones”. I also developed a deep-rooted faith that I can transform any unhealthy situation for the better, and I learned that surpassing the boundaries of the “normal” is actually the true identity of each human being.
In the next episodes, I’ll be writing about how to deepen your understanding of your Mind, Body, and Psychology through Yoga practice, and how to use “Passwords” and “Archetypes” to access deeper and deeper layers of experience.