Does this sound familiar?

“I’ve been practising ashtanga yoga for six months/two years/ten years and I still can’t bind-in-marichasana-A / lift-up-and-jump-back / stand-up-from-drop-backs / insert-name-of-asana-here. I should be able to do this by now”.

If we practise ashtanga yoga for long enough it’s almost inevitable that, at some stage, we’ll fall into the trap of believing that we are supposed to achieve certain postures; because we’ve practised for long enough and regularly enough.

After all, doesn’t Patanjali say:

Practice becomes firmly grounded when done for a long time, without interruption and in all earnestness
(Sutra I:14)

First, let me say that these thoughts are completely normal and are actually part of the process. But it’s important to eventually realise that, this kind of thinking misses the whole point of the practice in the first place.

The point of yoga practice, as we all know, is to calm down the relentless spinning of our own mind. It’s right there in the second verse of the yoga sutras.

Yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuations
(Sutra I:2)

That’s the only definition of yoga that Patanjali gives.

And yet, over and over again, we fall into the trap of trying to achieve certain yoga postures, in the vain hope that this will get us closer to success in yoga.

Even though we know it won’t!!

What is wrong with us!?

When we catch ourselves operating on this level there’s a very, very simple remedy. It doesn’t work just to remind ourselves that the point of yoga isn’t success in yoga postures, because we already know that, and it hasn’t helped us from falling into the trap so far.

We should try to remember why we started practising yoga in the first place. Well, not what first made us decide to give yoga a try, but what made us come back for a second, third, fourth time.
For me, after my first ashtanga yoga class I felt a huge sense of peace, openness, ease, well-being. Physically speaking I felt amazing (well, tired but amazing!), but it also felt as if I had tapped into something deeper; some deep-seated feeling of both ease and vitality that I had rarely felt before.

Did I achieve any advanced yoga postures in that first class? Of course not, and yet I still vividly remember that feeling all these years later.

So is it necessary for me to achieve advanced postures now in order to experience what Patanjali was talking about? Absolutely not.

And yet…

We forget.

Until we remember again.

And then we forget again

  • when the next new posture comes along
  • or one of our friends learns a new pose that we haven’t done yet
  • or we’re unable to do something that we used to be able to do
  • or we see someone doing something fancy on Instagram
  • or we realise it’s been a year since we saw our favourite travelling celebrity yoga teacher and we haven’t yet nailed those couple of poses that he/she taught us last year, and he/she is coming back again soon, and we’re going to be embarassed, and, and, and
  • for a whole host of other reasons.

And so it goes. A continuous struggle.

Here’s the thing though:

We can use this ashtanga system to really begin to practice yoga, in the sense meant by Patanjali, very simply; by breathing deeply, always keeping our awareness on the drishti, and starting to pay attention to which of our thoughts are true and which are not.

If we practise in this way then we will always be going in the right direction, even if our ability to perform yoga postures is going in the ‘wrong’ one.