I love my asana practice.
So much so that some might say that I’m “addicted” to my asana practice. I love reading about asana, analyzing each pose and transition, and celebrating when I achieve or learn something new.
Yes, I understand that yoga is ultimately about so much more than the physical practice, but asana is admittedly still my favorite part of the practice.
All that being said, I’ve been struggling; feeling frustrated sometimes during class for any number of reasons: the flow doesn’t progress the way I expect, the sequence feels repetitive, or the teacher is deviating too much from classical yoga movements. In trying to understand why I’m not always feeling the joy in my practice, I’ve come to realize that these feelings are largely a result of me being a little too attached to my asana.
Maybe it’s precisely my love of the practice that’s pushing me to question it; to search for a shift into something beyond the physical. Maybe it’s not all about that asana.
So, how do I get unstuck? Mindfulness, reflection, an exploration of what’s really underneath the discomfort, and a renewed commitment to the mat, with an awareness of my own desire to detach from the “goal” of attaining “perfection”.
Celebrate the Centering
I used to wait impatiently for the beginning portion of a yoga practice to be over so I could dive into the poses. Now, most days, I’m finding that centering might be the most important part of the practice. Focusing on an intention and allowing myself to decide what’s important to me in this very moment is how I can transcend just the physical sensations of the practice. I don’t often set grand or lofty goals, I just pick something that needs working on in my life, however small. If I’m not feeling it, I pick the first thing that enters my mind without judgment.
Find the Ease in the Pose
Instead of just straining to get deeper into a pose, I remind myself to focus on finding more comfort in the pose. This could mean making a small adjustment in alignment to accommodate my personal anatomy, or recognizing that maybe certain movements are just not that friendly to my body on a particular day and modifying in a way that feels better. I have very long femur bones, so finding the leverage point in balancing poses can prove extra challenging on some days. Staying near a wall is usually my go-to option when I feel unsteady. I’m learning to embrace the fact that the beauty of yoga lies in finding grace, space and ease during adversity.
This was reinforced for me by a phenomenal workshop that I attended with Karin Weinstein at Align Amar Yoga, where with ample time and care, we were led to explore and deepen our understanding of our unique bone structure and to integrate that knowledge into our practice. (Look out for Part II when it’s offered in the fall!)
Pull Back from the Edge
This is one that I recently adopted after a class with Allison Sorokin (aka @yogibythebay), owner of Align Yoga & Strength. Instead of going to the edge on every pose, I try to pull back and only go to about 80% of my edge. I find when I try this during the majority of the practice, I have more stamina when I reach the peak of the class and also feel less depleted the next day.
Admittedly, in my 6th decade, my recovery period after a physical session takes significantly longer than it used to and this is one of the reasons I sometimes struggle to get back on the mat on a daily basis. I’m learning to save some energy to thrive another day.
Focus on the Transitions
When I find myself pushing or struggling in my practice, especially in a flow, it helps me to regroup when I more deliberately place my attention on how to move gracefully into and out of each pose rather than just on nailing the pose. This helps me to refocus on where I am right now, so I can enjoy the journey – something that I’m working on taking with me off the mat.
Always Come Back to the Breath
This one may sound hackneyed, but it’s pounded into us because it works. The breath tells you if you’re agitated or overreaching. It’s the most accurate signal your body sends you that you’re doing something it doesn’t like. If I can’t breathe smoothly, I’m most likely pushing too hard, or on my way to getting overwhelmed . My most enjoyable practices happen when I focus on my breath and allow the flow to happen with the breath. This is so hard to sustain throughout a practice, but if I find myself getting out of synch, I literally tell myself: “Breathe before you move”.
Let that S**t Go
If I’m resisting a pose because I can’t do it as well as I’d like, I remind myself that it’s only yoga. It won’t make me a better person if I can lift into a handstand better than anyone else in the class. In fact, I’ve found that when I achieve a pose for the first time, the initial elation is generally followed by a need to chase the next fancy pose. It’s great to work on challenging poses and see improvement over time, but it’s better to enjoy each practice without worrying so much about whether I’m making enough progress each time I get on the mat. Interestingly, it’s often when I take a break from doing certain poses (or just attempt a simpler variation) that I can break through and approach the pose with more ease. And, it always helps to laugh when I fall out of a pose
Relish the Savasana
I still have trouble with maintaining a regular meditation practice, so savasana is the perfect time to naturally fit it in. Ironically ,it takes effort to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our neural system that tells us it’s okay to rest and relax. The more I allow myself to enjoy this part of the class, the more I’m able to integrate the practice into the rest of my day and walk away feeling a little bit more refreshed. I won’t lie – sometimes my mind is going like crazy as I’m lying there, but bringing myself back again and again into complete stillness really works to calm me.
Embrace the Final Re-Centering
This used to be the part of the practice where I mentally checked out and was already on my way to the rest of my day. Now, more often, I look forward to sitting still, channeling into the collective energy of the group, and feeling gratitude for the luxury of having been able to spend this time on some self-exploration and self-discovery. This is especially true if I’ve had a mentally challenging practice.
Build a Home Practice
This one is probably the hardest for me because I love the energy and community of public classes and, being retired, I have more time than most people to take classes. But public classes can’t always address my personal needs. If I’m craving certain movements, I sometimes surreptitiously fit them in myself toward the end of a class, but I know it’s better to just indulge in a small practice at home that incorporates what I specifically need mentally or physically, as often as possible. What often works for me is to fit in a simple mini practice early in the morning or just before bedtime (sometimes in the shower or in the bed) because that’s when I’m generally in a space where I’m less in my own head and am more attuned to my feelings.
So am I moving beyond asana?
Honestly, not yet. But I’m taking baby steps and accepting that I’m just at an awkward juncture along my yoga journey. I do know that avoiding asana is not the answer. Trying to move through it with a little more playfulness, self-reflection and self-compassion is how I’m dealing with it.
I hope some of this is helpful to you in your personal journey!
May Louie first took yoga in college to fulfill a Phys-Ed requirement and immediately fell in love. She, unfortunately, did not continue with her practice but reconnected with it when she retired from her corporate job in 2002 and has since become a serious yoga enthusiast. After her second retirement in 2017, she completed her 200-hour RYT certification, studying with Dina Crosta, Ellen Mosko, and Jamie Segal Hanley, with a focus on alignment based flow.
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