-Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
This past weekend, I attended a series of workshops by one of my teachers, Maty Ezraty. During class, she said that when we (inevitably) discovered something new that we needed to work on, that we should approach the opportunity for self-improvement with joy and optimism. If we approach yoga in this way, our practice will always continue to grow, and we can find a method for staying positive and free of judgement from our own expectations. At the end of this discussion, she reminded us that "all we are doing is practicing every day," just practicing to get a little bit better each time.
I played the piano for many years; from the age of 4 to 18, I spent countless hours each week practicing for recitals and competitions. I felt that my daily sessions and weekly lessons were always just a dress rehearsal for the final show. Most of my time with the piano was actually spent practicing, exploring different pieces of music, familiarizing myself with the difficulties of each song, and trying to remedying the mistakes that I would make over and over again. Although my life as a musician was a result of this process, I always felt that the reason I practiced was to not screw it up when I had an audience, the only time it really mattered. In the end, I won very few competitions (only once! when I peaked at 5 years old) and always made mistakes during concerts. As a result, I felt like a second-rate musician, comparing myself to my friends who didn't have the same issues.
This theme has repeated itself over and over again in my life: when my high school lacrosse team lost our final game, or when I lost my last debate in my college debate career. I felt like the time I invested in each activity was a waste because I had failed when the barometer of success came to test me. Unfortunately, I sometimes also apply this mindset to my yoga practice. I catch myself feeling like a yogic failure because I can't balance in a handstand, or frustrated by my inability to extend my leg fully in compass pose. On the flip side, I feel like a success when I can finally lift off in an arm balance--a feeling that is ultimately fleeting and temporary.
Given the easy tendency for all of us to apply self-judgement to our lives, imagine the sense of relief it might offer when we realize that there is no final concert or end point when we will be judged for our competency or lack thereof. The title of my blog post is actually a little bit misleading. The truth is, there is no right way to practice yoga. The trick is just to remember that we are all only practicing every day. Every time we get on our mat, we are granted the opportunity to start over and to make progress indefinitely, with no pressure to ever be perfect. And for me, that is the true essence of yoga.