Is yoga fun for you? Do you enjoy coming to your mat each day? Sure, some days resistance pops its head up, but overall, I love my practice. I love my yoga practice the most when I really listen to what my body is telling me, and trust the inner wisdom that guides me through movement, and yes, into stillness.
Recently, I came across this bit from Erich Schiffman:
“Be clear about this: If you start not liking the stretch for any reason, then move out of the pose until you find a place you do like. Reasons for not liking where you are can be physical or psychological. You may be stretching the muscle too much, or you may not be in the mood. Either reason is valid. Never be in a place you don’t want to be. If you do not like it, change it. Adjust. Find the degree of stretch you can totally immerse yourself in.” (italics his)
— from The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, by Erich Shiffman
Good advice whether you are speaking of a stretch or a strength pose. Find the degree of the pose that you can immerse yourself in. Be kind to yourself!
This advice hit me at a moment when I needed it most. I had been berating myself for suddenly not liking the ashtanga style of yoga practice. I stopped going to the Mysore classes, and pretty much stopped doing yoga for a while. I was no longer having fun. I was pushing myself too hard when it was not what my body (or my spirit!) needed. When I read the above passage, I got it. I had forgotten about the concept of Ahimsa.
Most yoga styles claim the lineage of Patanjali, who is said to be the author of an ancient sacred text called The Yoga Sutras. This text describes the eight “limbs” or steps of yoga, not just as exercise, but as a philosophy that underlies yoga and indeed all of life. In fact, the name Ashtanga means “Eight Limbs.” The first two limbs described in the text are the yamas and the niyamas, and are considered to be ethical precepts, or guidelines as to how we should behave toward ourselves, each other, and the environment.
There are five defined yamas, or personal morals/characteristics, the first of which is Ahimsa.
Ahimsa is often defined as non-violence. I think of it as the guiding principle in health care: First, Do No Harm. In general, it means to be kind, to be considerate, and to think of how your actions will affect the people and things around you.
In hatha yoga, it also means to be kind to yourself, to your body, to your energy.
We need to listen to the energy systems within our body. Sometimes, energy is low, and simple stretching and restorative yoga are what are called for. Other times, energy levels are high and we want to ramp up the intensity and see just how far we can push ourselves. Pushing further into intensity when you really want to is very different from pushing yourself when your physical and mental bodies really don’t feel like being there.
What was happening for me when I stopped enjoying my yoga was that I was pushing myself further into the intensity when I was not capable of that level of energy. I was trying to force my way into the poses. Maybe my body WAS ready, as I was told, but my energy was not. That distinction matters. We NEED to listen to the wisdom inherent in our bodies.
I still love the Mysore style of Astanga as a practice, however I have learned that I cannot push myself in that way every day. It is important for me to push when the energy is there, and to honor my truth when it is not there. I need to balance my practice with restorative and intuitive work in addition to the work that involves strong precision and intensity.
More and more, as my body goes through its own changes, I am aware of the importance of ahimsa. Be Kind, goes the saying, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Some days, its the hard battle in my own body, and it’s me I need to be kind to. Kindness, after all, begins with ourselves. When we learn compassion on the mat, we are more able to be compassionate with those outside of ourselves, in situations off the mat.
Are you being kind to yourself in your practice? Is yoga fun for you? How do you mange your varying levels of energy in your practice? Comment below and share your wisdom!