Time Enough for Yoga Practice

It took me ages to understand that not every asana practice has to be a 90 minute sweat-fest to be worth anything.  Looking back, I've always been the all or nothing kind - when I learnt how to play the violin if I made a mistake playing something, I would always have to go back to the beginning and start again, so that I could play the whole thing through perfectly.  I watch my son play his cello now and observe that if he makes a mistake, he just goes back a bar or two to repeat the bit that he got wrong until he gets it right.  Once he's mastered those tricky bits, the whole piece comes together naturally.

That's how you learn, not by aiming for perfection every time, but by patiently applying yourself to the task at hand, with whatever time and tools you have at your disposal.  I'm glad that he seems to have learnt already what it took me the best part of 35 years to realise.

I wonder why we dissuade ourselves from applying ourselves to something because we don't feel that we have time to do it properly, or as well as we could if all of our stars were aligned and everything went perfectly.  Is it a way of being hard on ourselves: if it doesn't hurt, it can't be working?  Or is it because we think that if we can't do it perfectly, then we shouldn't bother at all?  Or is it just an excuse - a way of letting ourselves off the hook, because in truth we can't find the motivation to do it?

Speaking for myself, I think I was sabotaging myself with my own mental image of what a 'good' asana practice looked like.  If it wasn't going to look like that, then I felt that it just wasn't worth doing it.  In addition, when I am warm and have worked for a long time, my muscles are gratifyingly long and my ego liked that I could get deeply into poses and stay there for a long time.  Harder to accept my creaky old self on a cold morning in Autumn when even a standing forward bend felt difficult.  Lastly, I think lack of focus was an issue: it used to take me a lot longer to get to that place that we're all seeking in our yoga practice: that peaceful, calm, centred state.  If it was going to take me half an hour to get anywhere near that feeling and I only had half an hour available for practice, that meant that my mind was scattered and fragmented for the whole thing.

So what's that?  Imagination; ego; self-criticism; lack of patience.  Ouch.  It turns out that it wasn't my asana practice that was at fault, it was my whole mental attitude to it.

This applies to asana in another way too.  There are always things that we can't do, either because we are not physically open or strong enough, or because we are not mentally ready.  Should we avoid handstands completely, because they make us feel afraid and we can't see ourselves ever being physically able to do it?  Of course not, we know from our efforts to learn simpler poses that improvement comes with time, effort, patience and humility.  So we apply ourselves diligently to each aspect of a pose, accepting our current limitation, knowing that with persistent effort we will move gradually, but inevitably towards being able to do it. 

Our asana practice waxes and wanes too: when the days get shorter and colder our bodies naturally contract and we have to face the fact that the expansiveness of the warmer months (that saw us attempting hanumanasana and challenging arm balances) are over.  This is when we learn to accept and love our bodies and our practice as they are - we work with whatever we find in ourselves in the moment, rather than trying to fit ourselves into a pre-set mould of expectation.

It is the small practices, when we find ourselves with half an hour and seize the opportunity to practice, that make all the difference - these practices lay the foundations for the greater focus, strength, confidence, flexibility and calm of our asana practice in general.

Nowadays, with a busy teaching schedule, two children, a dog and a house to look after my practice usually lasts half an hour.  I know that there are yogis out there who practise for 2 hours a day and good luck to them.  I know that my asana practice won't ever look like theirs - some of them can do amazing things.  But in terms of the true meaning of asana practice, and it's true purpose, I know that I am as focused, calm, humble and happy in my 30 minutes as they are in their 120

Your practice is beautiful and will only become more beautiful.  Don't throw blocks across your path by intimidating yourself or talking yourself out of yoga practice.  Talk yourself into it!  Whatever it is you do (this doesn't just apply to asana practice), the cumulative effect of little and often is of more benefit to you than a once a week marathon.  And if you miss your once a week marathon, you'll have done nothing.  How often does that happen to you?

Sit quietly.  Ask yourself why it is that you hold your particular attitude to practising at home with whatever space, time and body you have that day.  Once you have found the answer to that question, you can shift it out of the way and get on with your yoga.

"Nothing would be done at all if we waited until we could do it so well that no one could find fault with it."
John Henry Newman


  1. The first step is usually the hardest...after that, you wonder why you made such a fuss about it! V.


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