Less is More
I have a pretty short attention span, which hasn’t improved with motherhood. I love new projects, I hold multiple jobs, I haven't lived in the same home for more than four years since I was eight years old. Add in a toddler with inconsistent wake-up times, preschool drop-offs and pick-ups and a sporadic desire for self-play…my life is quite fragmented.
In fact, yoga may be one of the most consistent aspects of my life since I took my first class almost 15 years ago. For a discipline that is truly the essence of simplicity when you boil it down, yoga in western culture has become a circus. A practitioner can choose from a myriad of styles, products, teachers, and studios to create a perfectly tailored experience. Teachers often become entertainers, spending quite a lot of time outside the classroom to develop new and exciting sequences, not to mention playlists, in hopes of keeping students engaged. It's really quite a spectacle and a long way from the original intent of an asana (movement) practice - executing basic postures to ready the body for lengthy periods of seated meditation.
A few years ago, a student stopped me after class and politely suggested my teaching lacked the variety he felt he needed to advance his practice. I spent days questioning my class plans and also wondering–is our collective quest for new and exciting experiences, products and relationships really advancement or just distraction?
Truth is, I saw some of myself in this student. I went through a period of time where I craved new poses and sequences every time I unrolled my mat. I mentally criticized teachers who repeated playlists. In teacher training, I had fun developing the strength to execute complex poses I had previously shied away from. At some point though, I started gravitating towards teachers who saw advancement differently. Instead of more complicated sequencing and body contortion, they encouraged simplification and repetition. A return to the basics to refine them and do deeper; entire classes spent on the pelvic floor, tiny backbends and alignment of bones in a handful of postures; the same sequences week after week to give students the chance to familiarize and refine poses.
Advancement in yoga doesn't have to be about mastering difficult poses. For me, it's become about subtle shifts and attention to detail in poses I've been working with for years. It's about how I move through my boredom that can surface during a short and repetitive daily practice. About staying committed when I feel like moving on. About believing that advancement often looks like standing still, or even moving backwards.
I keep saying it. I hope this theme is sinking in–fall is a particularly good time of year to return to basics and invite repetition into your yoga practice. The season is full of chaotic energy, as evidenced by the weather outside my window today. Patches of blue sky gave way to wild gusts of wind, then some rain, now sun. It's the perfect time to cozy up to the poses you know and fine tune them. Explore the familiar faces of Mountain, Downward Dog, Forward Fold, Chair, Lunge, Child’s Pose and Bridge. Move through Sun Salutations slowly, over and over again. Try these poses and sequences with eyes closed, with deep attention to the structure of your body. Practice them until boredom sets in and then see what you can find within the monotony. You just might discover a steadiness and peace of mind.
Yoga Asana Stick Figures by Justine Aldersey-Williams
Rebekah Papé is a writer, yoga teacher and Riveter member. Join her Mondays and Fridays for a 30 minute yoga break at noon and Fridays for breath and meditation at 11:30 a.m.