How does one become adept at yoga? Simply. Through patience.
Timely conversations always seem to happen, well, at the right moment. Just before I sat down to write this post, I spoke to the friend who had set me up on a blind date with yoga nine years ago, then left me to be seduced by the transformational qualities of this siren.
After hearing us talk, my girlfriend asked whether he still practiced yoga. Not really, I responded. She looked at me a bit confused and asked why not. I smiled and replied, “Because that is the hardest part of practicing.”
This is also what I tell students – advanced and novice alike – when they ask what the most challenging part of yoga is: continuing to show up. Cultivating patience with yourself, your practice and your path is the key to transformation, both on and off of your mat.
Yoga has become trendy. Sticking with it when it gets challenging does not seem as cool as buying your new yoga wardrobe was when you decided to become a “spiritual gangster.”
It is easier to dress like a yogi, to talk like a yogi, to act like a yogi, and to Instagram like a yogi than it is to actually be one. It is more comfortable to live in spandex than it is to live through every sensation, thought and emotion that arises on your yoga mat. It is more convenient
to flirt with your practice for a few months or years, then say: “This is too much work. What’s next?”
But yoga desires more than a fling. It requires courtship. It wants you to call it the morning after it takes you to what you bragged to your yoga buddies was the deepest savasana of your life. It demands that you put a ring on it.
The patience that the practice proposes must be developed, earned even. But I promise – this union is worth it. The results that a committed relationship with your yoga practice can yield are nothing short of miraculous. Because they offer you a life with your soul mate: your Self.
Here are five steps to cultivate patience in your practice:
Step 1: Practice, practice, practice.
Get to class and keep showing up – for a long time.
I constantly watch students come to class intensely for a short period, then trickle off one by one. The ones who transform physically, mentally and spiritually are the ones who return. And return. And return. And return.
It is not the teachers or the poses that guide this transformation. It is the students’ choice to get their ass to class that creates this change.
Step 2: Stay in the pose.
When you go to class, stay in the poses. This is especially true for the poses that you do not like. If you always avoid backbends because they agitate you or always skip inversions because they scare you, go for them.
As you stay in these poses, your mind will begin to list every excuse as to why you should give up. Do not listen to it. Learn to decipher between pain and discomfort. If you are in pain, stop. If you are uncomfortable, keep holding, smooth out your breath and smile.
Step 3: Find your edge.
Your edge is the sweet spot of your practice. It is the line that separates ease and pain, the line that marks just the right amount of intensity for you in that moment. Find it, walk it and breathe into it.
To sharpen your edge, find a teacher who pushes you outside of your comfort zone, not one who plays hip music or cues all the poses that you like. Find one who even pushes your buttons a little.
Your edge will challenge your patience with challenge. It will develop your ability to stick out tough times. It will push you to change.
Step 4: Abandon your judgments.
Ease your judgment of yourself and your jealousy of others. Some poses may take years, even decades, to achieve. It took me a few years to kick up into handstand at the wall. It took another few years to nail without the wall.
For some, this process may take only a few attempts. Others will never get into handstand. Either way, be patient and continue to work until there is nothing left to do in the pose or to feel in the experience.
You are always exactly where you are supposed to be in your practice. Let developments come to you when you are ready for them.
Step 5: Have fun.
Remind yourself that they are just yoga poses. Remind yourself that you chose to spend your free time forming them.
Remind yourself that yoga is not one more thing in your life to fuck up at. It is the opposite. It may be the only space in your life where there is nothing to mess up and nothing to accomplish. I know this has been true for me.
By giving yourself permission on your mat to explore, to experience discomfort, to grow, to let everything unfold in due time and to feel joy, you are giving yourself the permission to do the same in your life. You are cultivating patience as a yogi and as a person.
The cultivation of patience in one’s yoga practice and, ultimately, in one’s life is a process. It is not something that you can or even would want to force. Your body, mind and spirit will transform when they are ready – not a minute sooner.
So, next time you find yourself debating skipping class, fleeing discomfort, avoiding or ignoring your edge, bullying yourself for what you cannot yet do, or dragging yourself through your practice – STOP. Get on your mat, try a new shape, breathe into yourself, accept yourself and enjoy yourself.
Trust that everything is OK in this moment. With patience alone, you are one step closer to where you want to be.
A Maur Unity collaboration, edited by Maura Bogue