November 22nd, 2010

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Yoga Reflections Day Eleven - Practice

When I was a kid, like a little kid, seven or eight years old, I used to be on swim team. I would go to practice every day, but I hated it. I would laze around in the pool, pushing only as hard as I had to to make it to the end of the hour, so I could get out, dry off and come home. When it was time for the meets, I would try really hard to swim fast, beat my times, and wonder why swimming fast felt like torture, and if I beat my time, it was by milliseconds if at all.

One day, my mom asked me if I knew why the fast kids were so fast. I just assumed it was because, well...they were fast. I wasn't fast. That's how it was. She told me they were fast because in practice, they pushed themselves to go a little further each day. They challenged themselves to try to catch the person in front of them, to try to pass the person in front of them, and to be a little faster than they were the day before.

This seems obvious, but it blew my mind at the time. I'd never really considered practice to be a place where you actually work on improving. It just felt like torture to me. So I started applying that technique in practice, and I could actually feel myself getting a little better.

I still hated it, mind you. Swimming, as much as I did it and taught it and even, at times, enjoyed it, was never what I was meant to do. But it taught me a lot about the nature of improvement.

Hooping taught me even more, the difference between hooping and swimming was that I actually WANTED to improve quickly and so I pushed myself to practice, to drop, to fake it until I made it, because it was fun. I would practice for hours without even realizing I was working.

Yoga seems to fall right in the middle for me. It is hard, a challenge, and sometimes being in the room is like torture. Bikram even refers to the room as his "torture chamber". But at the same time, I want to improve, I want to push myself and I want to get better. So here comes balance. Applying what I know about the nature of practice, that it is not aimed at a goal, but is the constant state of improving one's self. Tiny goals, bit by bit, but overall, it's constant shifting, constant pushing, constant letting go and seeing where you are on that day.

For a long time in my yoga practice, I let myself sit in my bad habits and that self-imposed certainty of "I can't", and no wonder things fell stagnant for me. This time around, with this challenge, I'm really watching out for that. Some days are better than others, but this is part of the practice, being aware of that and accepting it.

Today was a pretty good day, if you're wondering, except for a bit at the end when I started to feel kind of woozy. But I made crazy progress in some of the postures I'm (not!) struggling with. Balanced the entire time in Dandyamana-Janushirasana, even kicked my leg out and held it, bending my arms down to my calves. NEVER DONE THAT BEFORE. Bit by bit.

(A beautiful video by SaFire about the nature of practice as it relates to hooping. I've posted this before because I love it, but it relates pretty well to this post.)