I’ve just taught my first weekend retreat. It was a yin and Ashtanga retreat and many of you were new to Ashtanga. Some of you were new to yoga!
When assisting the led Ashtanga classes I noticed lots of stuff going on throughout the room: glances and voiceless looks of “I’m in pain, come and rescue me” and whispers of “I can’t do this.” There were baffled looks of “you’re expecting my body to do what?!”
When we go about our every day lives, we encase ourselves in a suit of armour. We smile broadly and up goes our facade. We have our coping mechanisms.
We might be successful at work, we might have a wonderful loving family. On the surface it might look like we’ve got it made.
But we all have issues with our bodies and minds. They carry our habits and histories.
I’ve heard it said that we’re at our most honest and ‘authentic’ when we’re on our mats. We’re laid bare. We’re vulnerable. There’s nowhere to hide.
Ashtanga, without a doubt, is a demanding practice. Moving your body in unfamiliar ways is challenging. Finding your breath in these postures can feel near to impossible.
How do we approach these situations? What goes through our minds? There’s fear, feelings of not being good enough, worries about getting it wrong or hurting ourselves, thoughts of being the worst in the room. Do we give up or do we give it a go?
You all did so well. You experienced the Ashtanga primary series. And maybe this weekend you weren’t able to sit in half lotus (let alone full lotus) but that doesn’t mean you never will. You just can’t do it… yet.
But to be at your side, listening to your fears and concerns, and offering little words of encouragement while you took your first Ashtanga steps was a privilege. It’s wonderful to pass on bits of knowledge I’ve had shared with me over the years.
Thank you for letting me in. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for giving it a go and exploring and playing. You’re amazing.
With winter in the UK closing in and the early mornings becoming darker and colder, snuggling under your duvet is likely to feel increasingly appealing. But how do you stay connected to your home practice?
I’ve heard people say that the hardest step to practicing on your own at home is rolling out your mat. But once you’re standing on that mat, you’re half way there.
I’ve asked some teachers for their tips to help you stay motivated through the winter months…
One of my favourite sayings is: A little a lot is better than a lot a little. Make it accessible. You could just sit for five minutes. Go with the morning. When does the evening start? When you get in from work? After dinner? Before bed? The morning is better.
If you can’t work out how to fit it in, just get up five or ten minutes earlier. It’s not rocket science. We can be so disciplined in reading the paper, watching the latest boxset…
People forget that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time. We have to be realistic about what we can do and we just have to do our best. Be less ambitious.
Get support. It’s great to have a home practice but a sense of community is important. In Buddhism it’s called ‘sangha’. The support that we require in these hard and difficult times isn’t unique to now – they were difficult in the times of Buddha too. But we need support. We need sangha.
Norman has been practicing yoga for more than 15 years and teaching since 2001. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, I’ll be interviewing him for the blog very soon – sign up on the right to make sure you don’t miss it.
Dedicate a specific time each day to practice which is realistic and manageable.
Let go of the idea that you need to do a full primary series practice. In an ideal world this is great, but with the many pressures we often put ourselves under, this is not always possible. Be happy to start with ten minutes and let the universe decide if you are able to do more.
Remember what you feel like when you finish your practice and reconnect to that feeling if you are struggling to get on your mat. Have you ever regretted getting on your mat? I know I haven’t.
Aim to get to a certain posture in your practice each time you start. This may be the sun salutations, standing, or maybe navasana. When you reach that posture, see if you feel like doing more. If not, be very happy that you have achieved your goal. Don’t forget to allow time for your relaxation at the end.
Avoid beating yourself up if, at the end of your day, you didn’t manage to get on your mat. Trust me, it doesn’t help! Look to smile inwardly as you progress through your practice, trust it, and enjoy it.
Cathy runs BAYoga Studio in Berkhamsted, Herts. Her favourite class to teach is a Mysore self practice and can’t wait to visit the place itself in India next year.
When it comes to starting a home practice or keeping one going my best advice is to find something to motivate you and let that motivation be fluid.
BKS Iyengar says that practice “waxes and wanes like the moon”. Some days I spend several hours luxuriating on my mat with my books and pen to hand. Other days it’s all I can do to stick my legs up the wall in vipariti karani. It took me about three years to be ok with that.
I’m pretty sure that since you’re reading this blog something’s motivating you, but in case you’re stuck here’s my top list:
1. I’m going to a workshop/training/retreat I better get a bit fitter
2. I’ve been on a workshop/training/retreat and I’m pumped with enthusiasm
3. No reason, I just gotta do it
4. I really don’t want to do this today but I’m going to anyway
5. I am going to nail that pose
Christina Sell would say that every second you put into practice is a deposit in the bank. If you see someone striking a perfect pose and the words “I could never do that” enter your thoughts, the truth is that for the majority of us, we’re not born like that. What you don’t see are the hours, blood, sweat and tears which went into that asana.
Adele describes herself as a yoga teacher and spiritual adventurer. She’s very excited to be currently studying towards her 500 hour qualification with Chris Chavez. This requires regular trips to Istanbul. Can’t be bad.
So keep it up people! And do you have any advice? What keeps you motivated in your home practice? You can leave your comments below.