Having a Little Faith

I am often asked by friends or students: what do I do when yoga doesn't seem to work?

My answer has always been the same:

Keep going. Keep showing up. Even when you don't want to go. Even when you just sit there and think through life or your to-do list while you move through poses. Whatever keeps you on your mat. Go to classes where you feel safe - but keep going. Even if you can't be present - go to a studio or to your bedroom, roll out your 72 inches of solitude, and DO.YOUR.YOGA. Have a little faith that your practice will come around again.

Over the past five years, I have definitely had weeks of very deep distance from my yoga, even though I practice daily. For me, yoga is like any long-term relationship, it has peaks and valleys, and is dynamic by nature. 

When I finally decided to take the leap and quit my job, my yoga practice started to fall apart as my support system. And I say that rather dramatically, of course. I still practiced daily, but it wasn't the refuge it always had been. I couldn't get out of my head. All I got was body movement and a lot of monkey mind. So much fear, and worry, and uncertainty. Here was my ultimate act of letting go - the act of leaving - and my practice seemed to buckle under the weight of it all. 

I went to class, I got on my mat, I did all the things that I had advised people to do when they struggled. And I waited. I waited all through May. I waited all through June. I went to class. I practiced at home. I stretched. I ran and hiked and did all sorts of other physical activity hoping to will the numbness away. I went on two yoga retreats, and found my happiness in cool lakes and hot springs, but rarely in our morning and afternoon yoga sessions. 

My entire practice began to feel like dealing with an injury, only I was trying to modify for what felt like my "broken yoga" in every class. Going to yoga was now an exhausting task. I started to get used to the fact that I couldn't anticipate the person I would be when I got on my mat. I would have a great day of writing, show up at an evening class, and have to modify every pose to down level because my mind wouldn't settle down. I cycled through emotions like a quick moving thunderstorm: anger, frustration, fear.

Every once in a while, a class would feel "good" or I would feel relief after going. Two months into grasping for my practice, these were my touchpoints.

I told my teacher on more than one occasion: I want my practice back.

That was the simplest way to put it. 

Sometimes, as Rumi tells us, what you seek is seeking you. I had committed to assisting an intensive, month-long teacher training starting in late July. This meant that instead of doing hours and hours of yoga as a student in the morning intensives, I would be assisting and co-facilitating, six days a week, 12+ hours per day for four weeks. I gave some thought to backing out, and trying to be a student instead, feeling that my practice simply wasn't accessible enough for me to be a good facilitator for a yoga training.

But I'm not really the backing out type. So I showed up ready to work on the first day of teacher training, and met seventeen amazing souls.

It was here that I found the missing link:

Inspiration. And a want for my practice to be for more than just myself. 

Being present every day for this group of individuals has given me back my practice.

Over the past two weeks, I have realized that I need to rebuild my practice the same way I am rebuilding my direction in life. Teacher training requires me to focus on yoga without a lot of frills. What are the basics? What are we doing here? Why are we doing it? Is our cue-ing clear? Are we looking at foundation first? 

It is vital as a teacher to practice what you preach. Right now, this means that I need to focus on doing the work, not on how strenuous, how beautiful, how advanced, and how cathartic my practice feels.

My practice is different than it used to be. And that's okay. I suffered through two months of gripping to what wasn't serving me, to realize that surrendering to serving a greater purpose would bring it right back in a different form. 

As yoga teachers and practitioners, we do a lot of messaging around "letting go" - and that is certainly relevant here. But so is staying and holding on. I would modify my advice in these situations now that I have lived through one of the longest periods of doubt. I would offer this:

Keep practicing. Keep showing up. 
Let it be different. Let it be uncomfortable. 
Look for inspiration. Look outside yourself. 

Have a little faith. Have a lot of faith.