What if it’s not about being better than you were yesterday? What if it’s not about finally learning to stick a handstand? Or reaching your goals? Or achieving … anything?
I’m not saying handstands, or goals aren’t worthwhile pursuits – not at all, but I am starting to realise that my yoga mat isn’t the place for achievement.
Like, we all know that intellectually right – yoga is about inner peace, and presence and connection right? So even though I KNOW that, why had my practice become about progress?
I don’t have the perfect answer to this, but it feels like a combination of internal and external pressure. Like all those instagram photo’s circulating of chicks doing killer arm balances in bikinis. Or the fact that I sometimes still feel like my practice doesn’t measure up. Or that I’m a yoga teacher and I want to set a good example for my students. But if I really wanted to set a good example for my students, I would teach them that yoga isn’t about progress.
Merriam – Webster define progress as: moving forward towards a place.
Which makes sense when you are going from your tiny apartment in the suburbs to the airport at 6am, you want to clearly and swiftly calculate if you are going towards, or away from your destination.
But what is the destination of a yoga practice? Where are we going? Am I working towards an advanced asana practice? Inner peace? Impressing students and other teachers?
In all honesty, in the last six months, five times out of ten, I have had to convince myself to get on my mat.
‘It will be so goooood for you’ I say – or
‘Your body will thank you for it’ – or
‘You’re a yoga teacher, practice what you preach god dammit’
But the reality of it was, in those moments I actually felt physically repelled from making shapes on a piece of rubber.
Why, you might ask – would a yoga teacher not want to get on their mat? Well, I think I have the answer – I didn’t want to get on my mat and practice because it felt like work.
I felt an internal pressure to show up and be better than I was yesterday. To do a physically advanced practice when my body really needed to rest or sleep, or a cuddle with my boyfriend. Because it felt like I wasn’t being true to myself.
I love moving forward – I love having goals with soul, so much so that a huge chunk of my life is about progress. But yoga? Yoga used to be my safe place. A place where I could just show up, and listen to my body. So when it started to feel like work, like I was on my mat because I SHOULD be – you can imagine the internal conflict that started to bubble up.
So I decided that yoga and I were going to take a break, until I could stop striving on my mat.
I bet you can guess what happened. I didn’t practice for over a month – no nothing. Not even a single down dog or cat/cow. Eventually my body actually started to crave a little side stretch, or twist – and when it did, I listened. I started practicing some gentle yoga with my mum – and I felt a little like I was a brand new yogi again. I was stiff, and tight – and yoga felt ahhhhhmazing. I’ve only been back on my mat a few more times since, and each time it felt delightful – just the way it did when I was new to yoga. It felt free, and spacious, and like I was connecting to, and showing love for my body.
So, you might be thinking (and I know I was) what about discipline? What about tapas, that internal heat that a dedicated daily yoga practice builds?
Well, these days I think discipline is over rated. I used to beat myself up all the time for not being disciplined enough – but when I decided that I was good enough, just exactly as I am – discipline felt a lot less important.
When you give up striving, you can simply find peace with who you are and relax into your life.
And isn’t that what we all want from discipline anyway – a feeling of contentment, with what is? Well what if, what is, is already good enough.
I wrote this over a year ago, but never published it. I’m so happy to say that once I vowed to remove striving from my practice, I crave my mat time as much as an early bed time.
Do you find yourself focused on progress in your practice?
Has your practice started to feel more like work and less like joy?
If you’ve got something to say – leave it in the comments below. I want to hear your voice!