I have a pretty short attention span. I love new projects, I hold multiple jobs, I haven't lived in the same home for more than four years since I was eight years old. In fact, yoga may be one of the most consistent aspects of my life since I took my first class over a decade ago. For a discipline that is truly the essence of simplicity when you boil it down, yoga in western culture has become a circus. A practitioner can choose from a myriad of styles, products, teachers and studios to create a perfectly tailored experience. Teachers often become entertainers, spending quite a lot of time outside the classroom to develop new and exciting sequences, not to mention playlists, in hopes of keeping students engaged. It's really quite a spectacle and a long way from executing basic postures to ready the body for lengthy periods of seated meditation.
A student stopped me after class this week and politely suggested my teaching lacked the variety he feels he needs to advance his practice. And so I spent a few days wondering - is our collective quest for new and exciting experiences, products, and relationships really advancement or just distraction?
Truth is, I saw some of myself in this student. I went through a period of time where I craved new poses and sequences every time I unrolled my mat. I mentally criticized teachers who repeated playlists. I went through a teacher training and found I had fun developing the strength to execute complex poses I had previously shied away from. More recently however, I've been influenced by practicing and studying with teachers who are returning to the basics. Who spend entire classes on the pelvic floor, tiny backbends and alignment of bones in a handful of postures. Who repeat the same sequences week after week to give students the chance to familiarize and refine poses. Over the summer I spent a week working on Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and discovered a way to shift my alignment so that it felt effortless to stand upright on my two feet. I came away as elated as if I'd conquered handstand.
Advancement in yoga doesn't have to be about mastering difficult poses. For me, it's become about subtle shifts and attention to detail in poses I've been working with for years. It's about how I move through my boredom that can surface during a short and repetitive daily practice. About staying committed when I feel like moving on. About believing that advancement often looks like standing still, or even moving backwards.
Fall is a particularly good time of year to return to basics and invite repetition into your yoga practice. The season is full of chaotic energy, as evidenced by the weather outside my window today. I woke up to rain, then ate lunch in a patch of sun. Blue sky disappeared as deep, dark layers of clouds moved across the sky and the wind churned up the gray waters of Elliott Bay. Soon my herbs and pansies were being pelted with driving rain and hail. The rain continues as the sun creates a bright glare over the waterfront.
The pace of life, if it slowed at all during summer, has picked up speed once again as we hurtle towards December. It's the perfect time to cozy up to the poses you love and fine tune them. Explore the familiar faces of Downward Dog, Chair, Lunge, Bridge, Forward Fold. Move through Surya Namaskar A & B over and over again. Try these poses and sequences with eyes closed, with deep attention to the structure of your body. Practice them until boredom sets in and then see what you can find within the monotony. You just might discover a steadiness and peace of mind.