Note to self
A little mantra memo on the mat can go a long way during the ebb and flow of a yoga practice. By Victoria Jackson
I often have a little slip of paper at the top of my mat with a word or mantra written on it. It’s a memo to myself. I usually write it in Sanskrit, partly because I’m a nerd that way, but also because I think this will keep it private without distracting anyone around me in class. Unless I’m lucky enough to be practicing next to another Sanskrit nerd, that is! But lately my mat neighbours have become intrigued by my little notes. I’ve been asked several times what the words say. What is so important that I must have it under my nose during class?
Well, it changes, depending on my focus. My favourite word right now is Anavasthitatva. The dictionary definition is ‘instability’ which doesn’t sound such a good thing for a flowing vinyasa class. But in the Yoga Sutras ‘instability’ is nothing to do with asana practice; it refers to the difficulty of maintaining a particular mental state or attitude. We might translate as ‘backsliding’, ‘inconsistency’, ‘regressing’, something like that. I think of it as yoga snakes and ladders: one step forward, sometimes a couple backwards.
Now maybe you can see how this applies? I come to class full of good intentions about trying something different, something that takes me out of my comfort zone and helps me move away from old habits that aren’t doing me much good.
But change is hard and chances are whatever intention I set at the start of my practice fades out somewhere along the way. Anavasthitatva reminds me that this is completely natural. We set intentions, we lose them.
It’s no big deal. We can always come back and try again. Anavasthitatva is an acknowledgement that lasting change takes dedication and persistence.
Towards the end of class as I find seated shapes close to the ground, I might see my note-to-self again. I can make one last effort to reconnect to my original idea for the practice. Maybe I’ll carry my intention into Savasana where I hope it will permeate my cells as I lie there quietly. And when I roll out my mat on another day, Anavasthitatva allows me to start afresh, without the burden of any expectations from my past efforts. I make progress one day, the next I might feel I’m back to square one. It’s all part of the practice. If Patanjali had a word for it, I know I’m not alone in my struggles. And that helps.
Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a Vinyasa Yoga teacher