Simple not easy
If yoga is so beautiful in its simplicity, then why is it so darned hard stepping on to the mat in the first place? By Meg Jackson
“I find it so easy to make time for my practice. Sometimes it’s difficult to choose between my own dynamic home practice and getting out to a great local class; is it wrong to do both? Literally every day I skip to my mat, knowing that as soon as I get on it all my worries will just melt away and I’ll be totally focussed for the next 90 minutes. I sink into a deep Savasana, then float off my mat and know that the blissful feeling will stay with me all day….” Said no one doing yoga ever in the real world. Ever.
What do you think an advanced practice looks like? If social media is anything to believe it’s whatever makes you look like something that should be in Cirque du Soleil and equips you with an unshakeable Photo by Tim Chow on Unsplash om body - Real Life Yoga outlook on life that would make the Dalai Lama ask you for tips.
Of course, for most of us mere mortals it would take a Herculean effort to radically alter our whole life (or at least tweak our genes and physiology) to be one of those yoga folks. And good luck to all of them; that’s where their yoga journey is taking them, and I hope they have a lovely time, and that the wind doesn’t change when they’re all bent wrong.
It’s easy when we’re in class to cast a glance across the room and notice Bendy Wendy, or Double-Jointed Dave, contorting themselves into a pose that’s so far away from the version we’re working in; it’s like comparing Bambi on ice to Torvill and Dean. Our Crow pose is struggling to get out of the nest whilst theirs is soaring over Ben Nevis; our Warrior is barely strong enough to kill a mood but they’re Attila the Hun; and our Upward-Facing Dog should’ve been put down a long time ago, as theirs is a Crufts’ champion.
But here’s the thing that’s so easy to forget. If we (and I speak as the self-appointed Chairwoman of The Least Bendy Person in the Room Club) are genuinely, consistently and skilfully giving our asana practice 100% of our effort and focus, our practice is no less impactful than that of the Advanced Asanas R Us Gang.
Whilst the shapes we can make with our bodies may not bring about a call from Yoga Poses Monthly to be their cover model anytime soon, if our practice is taking us (sensibly) to the edge of our comfort zone, helping us to get stronger, enabling us to focus our attention, pushing our emotional buttons, and getting mind, body, and breath to connect, our practice is just as ‘advanced’ as anyone else in the room.
When the teacher says those magical words “and now begin to set yourself up for Savasana,” the depth of relaxation, the delightful relief that it’s over, and the cellular knowing that you’ve just done something awesome for yourself, will be just as delicious for everyone who has given their practice their version of 100% effort and commitment.
Before all us yoga teachers engage smug mode and proclaim “but I always tell my students that they shouldn’t push to the most advance pose…” we have to remember that we have to practice what we allegedly preach.
If we’re showboating at the front of the class or giving all our attention to the bendiest students in the room, we’re giving a very clear message that it’s only in the most ‘advanced’ version of poses that our students will find validation or a feeling of achievement.
I know that some of the most challenging classes I have taken (and taught) are those where we go back to the foundations of asana (I’m resisting the temptation to call them ‘basics’ because that also suggests that they’re easy), break poses down into their essential ingredients and add the most potent challenge of slowing it down. We know how barrelling through a Vinyasa class can leave us feeling endorphined-up and sometimes just achieving a sweaty glow is enough, but you’ve only got to take a couple of Sun Salutations a teensy bit slower than usual and you’ll soon feel how ‘simple’ can be at the opposite end of the spectrum to ‘easy’.
It’s time that we stopped thinking that advanced means hard and easy means simple. Speaking from my own life with yoga, most of the time the first hard bit of my practice is just getting on the mat to begin with. Whether it’s other commitments getting in the way, or my own procrastination, rolling out my mat and taking that first mindful inhale, in that moment, feels way harder than getting my foot anywhere near the back of my head.
Justifying 60/30/15 uninterrupted minutes just for you when there are groceries to be bought, washing to be put away, kids to be organised, and friends to be phoned is hard.
Leaving work on time so that you can get to class, despite the unanswered emails in your inbox, demands for your input into the annual review, and judgemental comments from colleagues is hard.
Investing in an online yoga course when it’s not payday until next week, you have promised friends that you’ll go out for dinner to a swanky restaurant on Friday, and the car is due an MOT, is hard.
Any teacher worth their weight in incense will remind us that our yoga practices shouldn’t end when we step off our sticky mat. When you take it right down to its simplest definition, you could live a ‘yogic’ life by using the practices and going out into the world and just being a nice, decent, loving member of society.
When you’re angry or jealous, find the space between feeling and reacting and use that pause wisely. Try to do as many of your daily tasks with a sense of mindfulness and avoid switching into autopilot. Recognise that every other human (and living thing, for that matter) contains the same spark of spiritual awesomeness that you do, thereby connecting everything and everyone. Don’t forget to breathe.
Simple? Yes. Easy? No.
Taking time to connect to your yoga practices despite whatever else is going on in your real life, and giving those practices 100% of your effort, focus, dedication, gratitude and commitment, then trying to hold on to those qualities whilst you try to joyfully ride life’s rollercoaster — that’s what an advanced practice looks like
Meg Jackson is the founder of Real Life Yoga, a movement to help real people bring a little (or a lot) of yoga into their real lives. Join her in Spain this August for her ‘Me Me Me Retreat: a yoga holiday that’s all about you’. Visit: reallifeyoga.net/yoga-retreat-2020