‘Progress’

Practise, practise, all is coming.

When we start to practise astanga vinyasa, most often we are concerned with the scaffolding. That is, with physical technique – with alignment, bandhas, jump-through, jump-back, strength, stamina, flexibility and so on. This is appropriate, because until we have built the structure, we cannot inhabit the house. Often, though, we translate this priority for engaging with some basic principles into the belief that there’s somewhere ‘we’ (usually meaning ‘our body’) have to get to – and as soon as possible. We construct ‘somewhere’ according to whatever we feel our own physical deficits to be. So the nirvana of arrival may be stretching our hamstrings, losing weight, jumping back without touching down, getting into a more challenging variation or a more advanced posture, being able to do padmasana, sirsasana, urdhva dhanurasana … and so it goes on.

Generally, though, over the months and years, our attitude gradually starts to shift. We become more engaged with what’s happening now than with what might (maybe) be happening sometime soon. We begin to dwell more often in the reality of the moment. This shift begins to happen when the yoga mat becomes home, a place we need to go to every day in order to re-find ourselves. It is therefore an outgrowth of a regular self-practice (and something that cannot result from attending no-matter-how-many classes). It’s not dependent on a teacher. No teacher can give us this; we already possess it and only need to uncover it in ourselves.

When we are engaged with practice in this simple, regular way, ‘progress’ is no longer something that we reach for, but something that occurs, quite ordinarily and routinely, when a space opens up and we move, quite ordinarily and routinely, into that space. Space opens out of the act of stepping onto our mat, with a willingness to be present (and a willingness to be present to our inability to be present), day after day. It may manifest as a tiny increase in strength or flexibility. It may manifest as a little more capacity for abiding through difficult emotions. It may manifest as the opportunity to catch sight of the place that bores us, frightens us, brings us so much joy we just can’t bear it, and, for a second, look it in the eye. It may manifest as the growing tendency to get onto our mat even when the loudest voice in our head is telling us that there isn’t time and our life is too busy. It may manifest as injury and the need to find new ways, both physical and psychological, of being in our practice – and the willingness to look for those ways rather than roll up our mat and have a break.

Progress can look like going backwards. It takes a certain bigness of mind to embrace this kind of progress – and it’s the bigness of mind that makes the difference, the bigness that recognises the prince in the frog. The miraculous thing is that, even in what appears to be a setback, spaces are always opening out. We just have to be able to see them and expand into them – and with time and practice, this way of responding becomes our natural impulse.