You can start yoga practice anytime. Now is the best!
I have a big goal this year. It is to encourage my students to do yoga practice at home. (Or, anywhere.) I hand out yoga practice cards for the students to take home. Each week they receive a card that represents the class that they’ve just attended.
The following week I check to see if any of the students have done some yoga practice. So far, I haven’t converted too many, but it’s still relatively early in the year.
I’m hopeful. I know that anyone can do yoga. That it’s never too late to begin. And, the rewards are huge and worth every minute of yoga practice.
Further encouragement comes in the form of a special guest blog this week. ‘Yoga with Eve Grzybowski’ features Angelika Knoerzer, director of North Sydney Yoga, a studio which teaches in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I’ve asked Angelika to write from her 28 years of yoga experience about the hows, whys and joys of yoga practice.
What it takes
When Eve asked me to write a post for her blog, I felt very honoured. She was my very first Yoga teacher in 1989, and still is my teacher, in encouraging me to reflect on the topic of discipline, which she is a living example of.
From the beginning I admired her reliability, her discipline for the practice, and her punctuality – she converted me to a 6 am practitioner, when back then my belief was that every sensible human being would still be sound asleep at that time. Often when after class we would all go for a cuppa, relishing in a lot of Yoga talk, she would resist the temptation, and opt to stay behind to practice.
As a newcomer to Yoga this was truly inspiring, and gave me a real sense of what commitment and dedication mean. It made it exciting to get on the mat and face the next challenge.
Embarking on the journey of Yoga is a very personal experience, and what sustains our inspiration to practice, will vary from person to person. I am still practicing six times a week in my 28th year of yoga, and the motivation to do so keeps on changing over time. It certainly is much easier as a Yoga teacher to keep up the regularity, as you feel a great responsibility towards your students to at least attempt ‘to live’ Yoga.
Often when starting out with Yoga the ‘rediscovery’ of your physical body makes it easy to practice fairly regularly. We are exploring all these extraordinary shapes our body can get itself into. The rather swift improvement of both strength and flexibility are astonishing and keep us going.
Then at a point when the first high is waning, luckily we would already have had an experience of our subtle body being soothed and stabilized. We now know that a Yoga practice leaves us feeling so much better. We experience emotional equilibrium and great clarity of mind. That’s when we get hooked, I suppose, because our mind wants to relive the past and repeat that beautiful moment again and again. This is a natural tendency of the mind, which in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is recognized as an affliction or ‘Klesha’ called ‘Raga’. It is only through awareness-building and practice, that we can come to a point where we simply enjoy a beautiful experience in the present moment, and don’t get attached to it; but we are able to simply rejoice in the memory without longing for more of the same.
So at this stage of our Yoga journey we most likely enter a phase where we keep on practicing, because it makes us ‘feel so good’. It has always been more than one student telling me that it is Savasana – the resting at the end of the practice – which keeps them coming back.
The inevitable ‘plateau-ing’
Now the opportunity arises to learn the ‘letting go of any expectation’ from the practice: – vairagyam or detachment. This is an important step we have to take, as most likely – by now – we will have encountered some limitations, and a time of ‘plateau-ing’ is setting in. Nothing much is changing for the better or worse, and we can easily get bored. At this point, it is important to commit to our regular practice, because most likely a bigger hurdle has to be conquered, a break-through is nearing. We just have to give it a bit of time until our system is ready to face the next challenge, and through that rise to the next level.
‘Vairagyam’ is very helpful during this phase, it is even freeing to be able to do one thing in our lives, where no one is expecting a particular result from us, least of all ourselves. Never-the-less, the physical wellbeing, emotional stability and increased mental focus are still occurring when practicing. Having a Yoga class to go to regularly certainly helps in sustaining a level of consistency.
Like-minded people, the ‘sangha’, are all important.
In every spiritual system the cultivating of a so-called sangha or community, is encouraged. It is helpful to be surrounded by like-minded people. On the contrary it is not necessarily inspirational and supportive of your motivation, to get that look of disbelief when talking to someone about one’s life-style at a dinner party. Not everyone is drawn to early bedtimes, getting out of bed early, and less alcohol consumption and partying.
If you don’t have access to a Yoga class, you might be able to form a small practice group, with which you have a regular ‘appointment’.
It was this, and Eve’s wise advice, that saved me, when I made the big transition from being a regular practitioner at a Yoga shala to teaching at my Yoga school, during my usual practice time. Suddenly I didn’t have the usual daily support of a teacher anymore, and other students to surround myself with. Eve stressed the need to ‘make appointments with myself’, put a time in my diary for daily practice, and work around my teaching commitments.
Some of my Yoga friends who were also beginning to teach, were in the same boat. So we got together regularly. We started forming a solid, and what was to become a long-lasting, Yoga sangha. It really helps the commitment to daily practice, when you are expected by someone who wants to share a practice with you.
After many years of regular practice, the daily discipline hasn’t only become a habit, I somehow feel truly ‘compelled’ to practice. Although I can be the master of procrastination when it comes to starting my usual routine, I know that the mind likes to conjure up an image of insurmountable difficulty, trying to keep me from getting going. But years of experience state the fact clearly: it is only the mind, not reality. Once started, it is always easier than I thought it would be and the necessity of the practice is never something I doubt. The daily commitment has simply become a part of my life.
Yoga practice for all ages and stages
When growing older and witnessing the health of the people around you, deteriorating, you gain a profound understanding for why you practice. Also when encountering your own physical issues – and again, Eve has been a wonderful inspiration in that regard – you have this amazing tool available, often preventing you from having to take strong drugs, allowing for a rapid healing with fairly comfortable and quick recovery time. This tool is – you guessed it – Yoga!
It is a preventive medicine, and its healing properties are limitless. Its effectiveness comes down to the depth of your own exploration and enquiry into the nature of your multi-layered being.
So yes, at least for me, it has become easier over time to generate the discipline to practice, as meanwhile it is such a deeply rooted habit. But more so, endlessly, Yoga has proven to me to give amazing benefits. It has helped me to heal ailments and injuries. It has made me a better person, more peaceful within myself, and at ease: – convincing to me, but then everyone’s experience is different.
Yoga offers an approach for all of us, to the young, older, weaker and stronger ones.
You can start Yoga at any stage in your life. More importantly though, for your quality of life to improve and discipline become more natural, you can increase your commitment to this most beautiful practice anytime – especially today!
Angelika Knoerzer, February ’17
I find the topic of home practice fascinating it’s not as hard as people imagine. The key is to start off small. I remember my first yoga ‘practice’ was 5 mins on the bathroom floor before my shower – just forward virasana, box pose to the wall and a seated twist – that’s all. And I felt so much better. Eventually my 5 mins become 10 (and I moved out of the bathroom). I kept coming back each morning because I always felt better and 5 mins is not a big ask (really … ). I became a yoga ‘junkie’ – all the good stuff with none of the downside. 15 yrs later and my home practice has grounded me through some tough stuff but it is my time, my self on the mat – for as long as I want. I love it – am walking advert. So please try to start small. Don’t magically expect to practice a whole class straight away – it takes time to build a practice .. your practice – like all good things 🙂
I love this. I’ve been trying to practice not for the exercise, but for the mindfulness benefits. Once I start I don’t want to stop and get back to my day. I can definitely feel a difference in my energy and overall wellbeing.