Ashtanga Yoga – Bored Doing the Same Sequence?

by Aug 11, 2014

I recently fielded a question from a student of mine who also teaches yoga. It went along the lines of: how do you face people wanting more variety/challenge? Getting people to repeat the poses each day/week with not much obvious progress, do you come up against frustration, boredom, a feeling that it is not worth it, that they can do something else with quicker results?. I have heard this expressed in various ways before and have always struggled a bit to answer it. The reason for this is that although I have certainly experienced frustration in my Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice butI have never experienced it as boring. Perhaps explaining why this is so for me will go some way to answering the question for others.

In the first place I found this practice incredibly challenging physically. Having been a sheep shearer I had learned that the best way to meet physical challenges was through repeated action. I have never been one of those people who can easily do things at first try, but I have never been afraid of hard physical work. In this sense the Ashtanga Vinyasa method taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois suited me perfectly. I could work on the things that I found impossible every day and the exciting thing was that over time these things became possible.

I then discovered that once you can do something that you thought you couldn’t, this practice throws another challenge at you, then another one and another one. It is this continuous rising to meet each challenge as it arises that keeps me engaged and excited. It is also the fact that I am given the space and encouraged to take the time to gently and compassionately meet those challenges that I like.

Eventually, like everyone else in this practice, I reached a point where I had major blocks to overcome. At first it seemed to me that things ground to a halt because I was no longer learning new asana. But then I started to realise that a whole new level of learning was opening up to me. I started to appreciate the deeper understanding of the practice that flowers with repeated action. I started to recognise that no two practices were the same. I came to understand that what I face in my everyday life; the demands of being a parent, running a Yoga shala, fulfilling my obligations, impacts on my practice. Every day there are subtle differences and in these differences there is huge learning. I learnt that my body and my mind thrive on routine once Iunderstand that inside that routine is endless variation and endless learning.

Through repeated action I have come to better understand the true meaning of Yoga. That is, “yogas citta-vrtti-nirodhah”. I understand that in order to restrain the fluctuations of the mind I need to let go of the desire to do something different everyday. I rejoice in the routine of my practice that provides a steady base to my life. I recognise that it is ego that experiences frustration or boredom or the desire to practice that cool asana that you see someone else doing but that you are not yet ready for.

I also recognise that to control the mind takes extreme self discipline. The best way to develop this discipline is again, through repeated action. We must be like the swordsman who constantly runs the whet stone along the blade of his weapon. We must sharpen our will to direct our focus entirely on our goal. In this way, I would consider giving in to the desire to practice something else a defeat on my part.

I do not hold to the theory that practising lots of different methods and having lots of different teachers increases my knowledge of Yoga and must therefore be a good thing. It is not knowledge that I seek, but wisdom. I do not go to the well every day in order to fill my cup but rather, to empty it. This is what I find exciting about my Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice. That I can, through repeated action direct my will to one purpose. My practice continues to answer all the questions I put to it. It continues to challenge me and to nurture me and to teach me.

I think what is required of us as teachers, is to get our students to understand on a deep level what they are practising for. Feeding them more and more information and more and more asana is not going to achieve that. In Yoga, less truly is more, because as Guruji so often repeated, “ Practice, practice, practice…and all is coming”.

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4 Comments

  1. Jon

    As a very early beginner, I just find that the sequence helps switch off my brain. It doesn’t work so well every single time: I suppose this is part of what you mean by subtle differences everyday. When some parts of my brain switch off, it’s almost like boredom is no longer possible anyway – at least until they switch back on again afterwards!
    I’m no scholar, but apparently one of the lessons of the Gita is to enjoy your actions without letting the fruit of those actions be the reason why you do them in the first place. I think this is an amazingly hard lesson to learn and apply in life! Each tiny incremental change is pretty exciting, but maybe if your purpose for practising is to seek these out every single time, then it could start to get boring?

  2. Mike

    Thank you for the great comment. The beauty about letting go of your attachment to the results of your actions is that you can then focus fully on the action itself. You can then discover that there is a huge amount to be learned and enjoyed in the action. In this situation no boredom or frustration ensues.

    Mike

  3. Quinn Taplin

    Mike you are a not only a great teacher but a great writer as well! I especially liked this article because I have brought this ‘complaint’ up to you before and like always the physical and mental practise of ashtanga is relfected and shows how you may deal with day to day obligations and life in general. Being a beginner and having not moved on past the Marichysanas is a prime example where I think most beginners have the same struggle. I have often thought, ‘would I ever get past M-D? Could it be that the way my body is designed and the repitition from prior sport and action have caused perminant tightness to my knees.’ This questionable thinking and negative thought patterns made me realize that through this practise I have been using these types of thought processes throughout my normal day life and that these thoughts have been hindering my motivation, energy and outlook on normal day to day obligations and activities. This is why the repeated action, as you said is very important as it teaches you to reflect not only on the progress of your physical practise, but the progress of the way to free and clear the mind of stresses that ultimately play a negetive role in your life. Yes okay, we will all have negative thoughts every now and then, but I can definately say that my ashtanga practise has helped me to develop the awareness of this repetitive thought process that has played negetive effects on my whole life to this day. This is the wisdom that I have gained and I think this should be recognized because its the base and foundation to successfully achieve the long road of the last 3 limbs or paths of ashtanga. Please excuse if there are any mistakes in this, feeling quite jetlagged and havent slept much! Haha Cheers Mike

  4. Mike

    Great comment, thank you Quinn. I hope that you are enjoying your time in Bali and looking forward to the adventure of being and practicing in Mysore. It will be great to catch up with you again next time you are in Wellington. All the best, mate,
    Cheers,
    Mike