Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Moving Beyond the Practice Plateau

When I first came to the practice of Yoga, like many, I immediately fell in love with it.  The sensation of lightness and clarity I had after my first class was like nothing I had experienced before.  It blew my mind.  I was hooked.  Each practice brought with it a sense of euphoria, and the changes in my body and mind were both obvious and exciting. 

I've seen this same initial passion for practice in many students over the years.  At the beginning it is encouraging to see all the visible transformation happening, and you might even get to taste a little bit of bliss, an aftereffect from this practice, which is distinctly different from any other activity you might have dabbled in.  

However, after some time, maybe months, if you're lucky it's years, the fascination and exhilaration wear off, and all that's left is you and your practice day in and day out.  

The changes become imperceptible, and the overwhelming sense of well-being that was so novel at the beginning becomes your new normal; and it's around this time that the practice starts to get hard; consequently,  I would argue that this is when the real yoga truly begins.   

Unfortunately, it seems that it is also around this time that one starts to hit a wall or plateau and many students head for the door and start to look for the next best thing to entertain their minds, bodies and senses; some fall back into old patterns that work against the practice, while others move onto something more gratifying to their ego.  
For those who decide to stick with it, many obstacles and challenges come up along the way that act to deter or sidetrack us from keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the goal of liberation or Self-realization.  

Personally, I found that difficulties often arise to keep my ego in check.  They are obstacles disguised as life-lessons and opportunities to go deeper into what Yoga really is all about, and what it's calling us to become.  They are like a spur that urges me to get unstuck from that universal habit of stroking my ego with pride about some physical or pseudo-spiritual achievement.  They help me to refocus on what is important, and identify less with the things that are not real and do not ultimately matter.  

Over the years, I’ve become very conscious about trying to remain unattached to the fruits of my practice because in the past, it has seemed that whenever I started to feel a little bit high on myself it never takes very long for the great fall from grace to come, and I have to pick myself up and start from the beginning again.  

Once we start on the path of yoga it can be a long journey back home to our True Self.  

One of Guruji's favourite quotes from the Yoga Sutras was: sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkarasevito drdha bhumih  
"Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated without interruption and with sincere devotion over a long long period of time." (Yoga Sutra 1:14)  

This is the recipe for a successful yoga practice.  It must be sustained without interruption and with love for the practice for a long long period of time, likely your entire lifetime, and possibly several lifetimes (if you believe in that kind of thing).

I often compare the relationship we have to our practice with a marriage.  At the beginning it is all rainbows and butterflies, excitement, passion, and adoration; but after some years, your spouse becomes so close to you that at times you barely notice them, their presence is your new normal as the titillation of unfamiliarity is replaced by routine.  

You might not even realize how integrated that person is into the very fabric of your soul until they are gone.  In many ways they start to act as a mirror for you, to see all of your own stuff, both good and bad, and all the areas you need to work on, if you are to evolve spiritually and become a better person.  Interestingly, if you can see this, and respond positively, you will figure out a way to keep that spark alive through the test of time, and your relationship will have the space it needs to grow, and change, and move through all the different phases of life together.  
You will be able to adapt and overcome all the obstacles and struggles that undoubtedly will come up along the way because you are open to giving your whole self, without reservation, and your love and connection will become deeper then you ever could have imagined.  You verily become One.  
You are yoked - this is also Yoga.

It is the same with your yoga practice.  Over time it will go through different stages and phases. Growth will not always be in an upward moving linear projection.  Sometimes we have to go back to the beginning to understand the inner workings more deeply, to get reestablished in something we missed the first time.  The practice also acts like a mirror showing us our areas of weakness and the places in our lives where we need to let go.  Ultimately, if you stick with this practice through the good periods as well as the less enjoyable ones, it gets interwoven into every moment of your day.  
 It becomes your time to connect intimately with the Divine.  

It becomes your very heart.  

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