MYndful Musings | 15th June 2021
Defining ‘success’ in the practice.
If I had a pound for every time somebody has said to me “I did yoga once, but I wasn’t good at it” .. I would be able to buy another 10 pairs of yoga leggings (jokes).. but really? Are you ‘good at’ ANYTHING the first ever time you do it? That’s why we call it practice. But to say it’s not about having skill wouldn’t be honest, of course there is skill to learn, lots of it!
Learning to breathe well is a skill, developing mind-body connection is a skill, learning to listen & follow a teacher’s cues is a skill. In truth, true yoga is all about becoming skilful. I think this message sometimes gets watered down by messages of self-care & compassion-these things are also at the heart of yoga but are not separate from. Knowing when to push & when to rest is a tricky skill to master. And in order to reduce our own suffering we need to empower ourselves.
Mastering new skills of any kind require repetition & consistency. But if you ask me, there lies all the fun. The juicy stuff, the growth.
Lately I’ve been exploring what ‘home practice’ is/should be/can be and it dawned on me.. you can only have a personal practice when you have a fully equipped toolbox to draw from AND the skills to use them all. Then you know which tool to pull out to do a particular job & do it effectively on any given day. After 8 years of regular attendance of multiple classes per week I feel I am getting there. I’ve got a good basic toolkit.
What I’m saying is, It’s a long road but a deeply enjoyable one rich in experiences, joy & challenge. We have such a tendency as human beings to always wish we were further ahead than we are. This practice has taught me to enjoy exactly where I am, take deep breaths & take in the views without thinking ahead to where I’m going tomorrow.
Sounds idyllic hey? But the reality often is that, after a full on day & with a mind full of all the things you need to do- giving yourself time & space to do this is often challenging.
For me that’s the beauty of group classes. The toughest part is just showing up.. no matter how shitty my day has been I can usually commit to doing that! Then it’s like a surrender to the process. It’s a wonderful dance between putting yourself at the steering wheel of your body, immersing your mind in the teacher’s instruction, the experience in your body & the sound of your breath. All this, surrounded by the uplifting experience of others doing the same thing I have always found to be a powerful magical thing. It’s why I still place such high value on attending classes with other teachers.
Personal growth is the magical side effect of all of the above, you don’t have to force it. The process of commitment to showing up is enough at first.. over time this becomes ‘knowing how to get what you need out of it when you show up’. Noticing & becoming aware of your mindset & narrative in that space you create to ‘just be’ then becomes regulating that (just like you regulate your breath); “I’m a little tired today so I’m going to approach my practice with softness” or “I need to kick my own butt today to get out of my depths”. Even in a group class the experience is yours to tailor. The real skill you acquire is truly knowing which one you need & which one the ‘monkey mind’ would have you believe you do.
So how do I measure my success?
It’s interesting to think about what makes for a ‘successful practice’. As human beings it is pretty important that we feel successful in our endeavours to help us stay motivated.
I think the answer to this question changes throughout the journey. There are so many layers to yoga & so much to explore that its like having an empty recipe book and slowly filling it up over the years so that you know how to make lots of different food depending on what you feel like eating..
One thing is for sure, having a way to measure success is valuable. For me there has been times when it’s been ‘nailing that arm balance’, or working on a specific goal like forearm balance, other times my measure has been how well I have stayed connected to my breath in a class, or how much I have managed to shift myself from feeling heavy & sluggish to lighter, refreshed, exuberant. Sometimes success is the feeling of power that you get after a class you found tough; “I can do hard things”.. take the mantra & feeling off the mat with you!
Whatever else is keeping you motivated it’s always useful observe the ‘residue’ after class to measure the success of the practice. Once the dust settles how do you feel compared to before you went to class? Settled or aggitated? Relaxed or anxious? Satisfied or frustrated? Content or irritated? If you notice these things aren’t as they should be you can perhaps begin to shift your own narrative during class to make the experience serve you better.
Ultimately there is no right or wrong, no this OR that. It’s all useful. And individual. The best part is you don’t even have to tell anyone what your measure of success is on any given day, only you need to know. In this way the practice really is like your own personal religion, your tool for joy, strength, growth, surrender.. it’s all in there.
See you on the mat-