When ‘Not Practicing’ Yoga is Practice
A yoga friend asked recently, ‘What poses do you avoid in your yoga practice, and how does that translate into your daily life?” Well…
First off: asana practice is only one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and it’s certainly not the only way to practice. Really, everything is practice….but it’s helpful to narrow things down so our minds can explore possibilities. I’m using my asana practice as one lens of observation here.
Avoidance or Deep Listening?
It’s become clear to me over the past few months that I HATE Virabradasana A & B (Warrior 1 & 2). Loathe. I dread them, which is pretty rotten considering much of my practice over the last ten years has been the Ashtanga Primary Series, sets of poses where those two come up a lot. I could deal with the quick in and out of Warrior 1 in the Surya Namaskara B’s (5 rounds of Sun Salutes including Warrior 1 on both sides), but it was the holding of the poses later in the sequence that would get to me. I’d feel whiny, anxious, bitter, annoyed, agitated, frustrated, angry, sad, unstable; all inside my own head/heart, and I could defend the hell out of myself to avoid them. You know excuses: “My quads are too weak. I’m too tired already from the standing sequence. This one must just not be good for me. F*%# this. I hate this pose. This pose is stupid. Ashtanga must be dangerous. Yoga must be dangerous. Why am I letting someone tell me what to do!?”
Listening to the deepest self? to a teacher? to both?
The whole practice of yoga is to get us closer to our own deepest self, our soul. The word Yoga actually means “to yoke or harness the soul.” So, in training to hear and listen to my deepest self, at what point do I surrender to a teacher, to a lineage, to a practice? What if I’m being instructed to do a pose , but MY own inner voice is saying “I f*%#ing hate this pose?” Should I take a break from it? Maybe. It can feel confusing.
I practiced various forms of Hatha Yoga for many years before diving into Ashtanga around 2002. Around that same time, I was exploring a very regular home practice. I practiced the full Ashtanga Primary Series in class with a teacher, and at home, my practice might be anything from the full Primary Series to lying on my back in savasana for a half-hour (& typically somewhere in-between). A few years into that, I quit going to classes altogether–I desperately needed a hiatus from external input regarding my yoga. It seemed like suddenly everyone was a yoga expert & I was yoga-media overloaded. I stopped reading the magazines, & all but a few classic books. I just practiced, trusting the words of Patthabi Jois: “Practice, all is coming.”
I practiced: often and on my own, giving space, giving time for listening and responding to whatever wanted to come through my body/mind/spirit. There were not very many Warrior 2’s in these years.
My focus was inward, and it was an incredibly fruitful time in my own personal growth. In taking a hiatus from everyone else’s thoughts on the best way to practice (or what to wear, where to travel, the new greatest ‘style’), I was able to discern my own truths & clearly recognize my own inner voice. I truly began to trust in myself, and in my deepening yoga practice. I don’t know that I would’ve gotten there without the withdrawal….was this some form of pratyahara (conscious withdrawal of the senses) or avoidance?
During this inward time, my long-standing partnership with my husband seemed to be reaching an end. What we thought would be divorce surprisingly evolved into two humans reconnecting at a much different and deeper level. (that’s the VERY short story.) Even with reconnection as the outcome, we each suffered the loss of the marriage as we knew it. It was a death, of sorts, and an intense process. We blew apart a structure that was no longer serving either of us and rebuilt our trust and connection from a more realistic and pure, present space.
As we’ve been able to remain more present and compassionate with one another, I am finding that I can be more & more vulnerable. I have so much more trust in who we are together, and who I am personally. I had to totally let go of a marriage, and of a person, to get there. And, here we are, somehow stronger and softer.
Back to the dreaded Warriors
Healing from a broken heart and lost illusions takes time. Part of my healing has been showing back up to Ashtanga classes. I’ts another love-relationship that’s evolving.
Part of my healing has been trusting not only myself, but my teacher, and my lineage. Some interesting things happen in a safe surrender. This, too is evolving for me.
Part of my healing is practicing Warriors 1 & 2, and staying with the emotional discomfort there, allowing it to flow through me. There are subtle rotations in the hip joints here that open up (for me) a Pandora’s box of old emotional wounds. I can go there in a different way now, because I have the support at home to be exactly this vulnerable.
I don’t believe that one needs a spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend to do deep healing work. These particular blockages that I feel in the Warrior poses just happen to be related to my closest childhood home relationships, and have mirrored in my partnership dynamic.
Push through, or listen and wait?
Would things have evolved differently if I’d forced myself to hold Warrior 2 for all of those years? Yes, no, maybe? All of the above? I’m not sure it matters.
Every single living being has the awareness at some level within themselves of what they need at this very moment. For some people, pushing through is the right thing to do. For some, taking it slowly and gently is the better path. Experiencing the variety of my own needs has helped me to let go of judgements about how others are practicing. This stuff changes from moment to moment.
Conscious ‘not practicing’ seems to be a vital part of the practice. Even those unconscious moments are serving their purpose.
Whatever path you’re on, surround yourself with wise friends, take it easy & trust yourself. namaste~