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What is practice? – Issue 80

Whatever yoga means to you, you just have to show up for it. By Victoria Jackson

Apparently in class I often say “if it’s part of your practice…” before I offer some variation of a pose or transition. Someone came up after class to ask me what I meant. As a relative newcomer to yoga, he found the expression weird. Yoga teachers talking a weird language (and I don’t mean Sanskrit) – whoever would imagine that? Yes, I know there are lots of strange expressions teachers use, but like many others I’m sure, I try hard not to slip into using them. If you’re around yoga classes long enough, you can’t help pick up jargon or the fashionable cue of the moment. But what’s weird to one person is normal to another. Time was when “opening the heart space”, “blossoming your buttocks”, “breathing in through the crown of your head” and many others besides were all expressions that had me in stitches. Okay, some of them still do, but other variations along similar lines have now become my everyday language.
So a reality check from a confused student is always a good thing. It keeps things real, it reminds me that clear communication is vital, and that people hear and learn in different ways. So what was his confusion with this expression? It was about the word ‘practice’. “Is this my practice?” he asked, gesturing around the studio being vacated by the lunchtime class.
His question reminded me of my first yoga teacher, who used to end each class with an injunction to “offer up your beautiful practice”, which always left me wondering how she could look so kindly on my clumsy novice transitions and see beauty in my awkward shapes – as well as the billion dollar question of who or what I might offer this practice to! I used to be slightly awestruck by her, how physically graceful she was, how loving and patient with her students, and I wondered whether she was born this way or had somehow evolved magically into the yoga goddess I saw. I never thought to ask her what ‘practice’ meant, though that might have given me my answer.
So I wasn’t sure how to respond to my student. I tend to think that practice just is what it is. But that’s an irritating yoga teacher answer if ever I heard one! It might sound deep and spiritual, but it’s not actually very helpful. I suppose there’s no good answer because yoga defies quick definitions or easy summaries, it ultimately takes the form each of us needs it to. Classes or home practice, energetic and sweaty or slow and meditative, chanting, pranayama, spiritual, secular, with goats or with beer…. All this is yoga – apart from the last two perhaps!
But whatever yoga is, you just have to show up for it and do it, again and again. And that’s the practice.

Victoria Jackson lives and practices in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as a vinyasa yoga teacher

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