Our relationship with yoga, in common with our relationship with everything else in our lives, is constantly changing. Personally, I have gone through many different phases since I discovered the practice.
For me, ashtanga yoga started off as something to challenge myself with. I loved the physicality of it all and, every day that I practised, I felt fantastic, bordering on euphoric. Every day there were new challenges and, every few weeks, my body could do something that it was unable to do before. Tiny, incremental changes and improvements were happening both in my body and mind (not always in a totally linear way, but in a generally upward trajectory). I now think of that as the honeymoon period.
Over the years that honeymoon period changed to something else. Sadhana. The practice took on something of a devotional aspect. Not devotional in the religious sense (I’m a sworn atheist) but more in the sense of a daily ritual; a way of paying respect to my body and mind in a way that was very real and very tangible. I was devoted to continuing to practise daily, to visit Mysore as often as possible, and eventually, to pass on what I had learned to anyone who was interested. I felt, and still feel, a strong devotion to my teachers and the lineage of which I am a part, and I feel a duty to continue their work, albeit on a much smaller scale. But I didn’t feel that same sense of being on an upward spiral in terms of what asanas I could do. And the euphoria, while still there sometimes, had become a less frequent occurrence.
Then I started to teach. And sadhana slowly became seva. I feel that now, I’m in the service of my teachers and, to a greater extent, our students. I practise because it makes me feel good. But it doesn’t make me feel as good as it used to! I practise because it’s important that I practise. If I am, along with Suzanne, to lead a community of practitioners then it’s hugely important that I practise what I teach. Some mornings that’s the thing that gets me out of bed and onto my yoga mat.
And now I am also a Father to two small girls, and practice has become something that is still very important, but not the most important thing in my life. I often have to snatch a short practice at home before our girls wake up. Some days, like this morning, they wake up halfway through the first Surya Namaskara. Some nights they wake us up three or four times and I manage to drag myself out of bed for a short ten-minute practice before it’s time to wake them up. Some days I practice fully and some days I don’t manage it at all.
For years I heard people say “I’m just a better husband/wife/parent/colleague/etc. when I practice than when I don’t”. I had never really experienced that personally, but I now realise that it was because I always practised. I almost never missed a day. Now I know exactly what they were talking about. I’m a Grumpy Dad when I don’t practise in the morning. “Good God”, I say to myself, “the girls are a total nightmare today”. On reflection I realise that it’s usually me.
So, in a sense, I now practice just as much for the benefit of my family as I do for myself.
Really the practice, for me, has changed so much over the years, and that’s besides anything to do with progression (and regression) in the asanas.
The beautiful thing about this ashtanga yoga practice is that, although my relationship has changed many times (and I’m sure yours has too if you’ve been practising long enough) it still keeps me coming back. It does tend to provide whatever is needed during whatever stage of life we are at. There are endless benefits and so much to learn through the repetition of these same series of asanas over a lifetime.
And what it looks like from the outside, is totally irrelevant.