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”.