I have very fond memories of my first few years of ashtanga yoga practice; being exposed to new ideas and philosophies, enjoying the challenge of learning new postures, bringing awareness to new parts of the body that had, unbeknownst to me, been lying dormant for years, and enjoying progressing through the primary series (albeit at a much slower pace than most people).
I had a feeling of empowerment unlike anything I had experienced before and I was hooked almost from the very beginning.
Because I teach ashtanga yoga now, I regularly get to share in my students’ experience of the same process. It’s a real privilege.
Ashtanga yoga is such a powerful method for body and mind, and it can facilitate great insights into how we are living our lives on a daily basis. In our daily practice, we hold up a mirror to our physical, mental, and emotional state and can examine what we find.
At the beginning of our practice journey, this can lead to many revelations which can have the potential to profoundly change our relationship to the world around us. This can even happen very quickly. However, it’s not uncommon to find that, just when a student realises they have the power to change their life circumstances for the better that they give up practising; unwilling, unable, or simply not-yet-ready to deal with the changes in consciousness – and in personal circumstances – that may arise.
The simple tristhana method of moving the body, with conscious breathing, while concentrating our gaze can have some unexpected real-life effects.
This is what I often call the honeymoon period of practice. It can last a good number of years or even a lifetime but, for a lot of us, there will come a time when we feel like we are not experiencing the same benefits from the practice that we once were.
And then what happens?
There is a binary choice: Keep practising or stop practising.
Lots of people stop practising when they feel like they’ve reached a plateau, or they get injured, or they just don’t feel the same enjoyment as they once did.
Those that keep practising can go through a period of frustration and doubt. This, though, is to be expected as part of the journey. When we realise that Patanjali wrote about exactly this in the Yoga Sutras, 2,500 years ago, we come to see that frustration and doubt are all part of the process.
The nine obstacles to success in yoga as set out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras are:
- Disease or sickness
- Lack of enthusiasm, stagnation
- Over-indulgence, non-moderation
- Incorrect understanding
- Inability to hold onto what has been achieved
- Sliding backwards from what has previously been achieved
When we see that the problems we are experiencing have been experienced by most, if not all, of the practitioners of yoga who have gone before us, it can provide some sense of solace and also a feeling that, despite feeling like we’re getting nowhere, we’re actually right on track.
To open a 2,500-year-old text and find our current thought patterns being expounded upon is a bit like one of those sealed-envelope magic tricks; like the one where the magician writes down the name of the playing-card that an audience member ends up picking from the deck. Patanjali’s premonition of our mental state is not magic though, it is borne of experience, forged in the crucible of uninterrupted, daily practice. He knew what we must go through in order to get to the pinnacle of yoga practice because he, himself had gone through that exact process.
So if you’re faced with that nagging feeling that you’re not achieving anything.
Let it go.
Enjoy your time on the mat.
There is no need for daily progression in the asanas. Ashtanga yoga is a daily ritual which, when practised for long enough, has the potential to open our hearts and minds. It is when we become ‘opened-up’ that we can receive insight into the nature of reality and of ourselves.
And that’s what we are really striving to do.