In Depth Asanas / October 1, 2019

How to make real progress in your practice

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Sometimes, when you stop trying to get your body into an asana, you can make more progress towards achieving it. It is by letting go of the notion of shape that we can truly advance our practice.

Recently, we wrote about Drishti and invited everyone to play around with it. It produced some interesting thoughts. PYC yogis who experimented with the yogic gaze found that sight had a big impact on their practice: from mental focus to the physical position of the upper spine. And curiously, the very idea of the way we look seems to change poses.

When we fixate on the way a pose looks – and even the way we think it looks – we often forget to pay attention to the sensations. The experience becomes a self-conscious one. We want to break free of this approach!

If a yogi practices with a mental image of the perfect asana, they will impede their own progress. They’ll often find themselves straining or dumping into a pose. For example, in Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold), they might be locking out their knees whilst rounding their spine in pursuit of their forehead touching their legs. This isn’t actually a hamstring stretch, and the shape they’re pursuing is further out of reach.

It’s all too easy to mistake the shapes themselves for the “goal” in yoga. However, there’s no single goal to yoga. If we can’t touch our toes, we’re not “bad at yoga”.

Part of what makes yoga so magical is when we lose ourselves in it. We let go of self-consciousness, withdraw into ourselves and use the internal sensations as our guide for exploration. Instead of Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) being about reaching the floor with your lower hand, it’s about finding the extension in your side muscles. To look for space, strength, fluidity and stability in yoga, we start with the sensations. When we tune in, we can notice when we’re coming off-stretch or we could release tension. From this starting point, we actually see physical progress in strength and flexibility much sooner.

But the benefits stretch beyond the physical. Tuning into physical sensations helps us better understand the body we’re working with. It is wonderful practice for doing the same with our minds. On days when you’re stressed or distracted, approach your mind with the same careful attention. What are you coming up against? How does it make you feel? Why does it feel like that? With patience and self-awareness, you can make more progress.

Yoga helps us become conscious of parts of ourselves we had previously taken for granted. When we stop worrying about the way things look, we can find something truly beautiful.

Why not try a slower-moving Level 1 class – designed for beginners and those wanting to revisit the basics – to give yourself the space to tune in to your sensations?