Secrets to a Joyful Practise

Oh the heartfelt practise! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it happened every time?!

Like an elusive, higher energy, the magic seems to come and go of it’s own whim. When ‘it’ happens we sail through postures and leave the world behind, and finish feeling blessed with a sense of pure inexplicable peacefulness. Other times it’s just not there, leaving us to wonder if we did something wrong or didn’t deserve it today? Almost mystical, it cannot be summoned wilfully of course. If we seek too hard to find it the bubble bursts and the magic is lost, or, perhaps we are just too hard, or not in the right headspace to know it. The thing is we need to get out of the head and back to the heart, I have been pondering ways in which we can encourage this process….

1. Don’t force it, be reasonable with yourself.
For whatever reason, a lot of us find it hard to cultivate a steady practise, or practise at all. Life gets in the way, work, stress, family, tiredness… there are a million and one reasons to become distracted or lose the will. The hardest part is to not feel bad about it, we should only practise because we want to, not because we feel we should. The trick is to not beat yourself up. Work with what you have, plan, and be realistic!
As a waiter, I would work ridiculously long shifts, drive my body beyond tiredness, eat erratically and go to bed well after midnight! In truth, I rarely felt relaxed or strong enough to practise, but I wanted to practise! My ego wanted to practise! This meant that mentally the practise became a chore, not a joy, and physically I hurt myself. The standing postures made my legs tremble and my knees became unstable. It took me a long time to realise I ought to investigate how and why I was practising, as I was obviously doing something wrong.
Many yogis feel under pressure to practise daily, as the sun rises or complete the whole Ashtanga Primary Series, whatever the reason, punishing yourself definitely does not help, although I know, we all have those little shame demons in our heads (that’s a phrase I’ve stolen from the wonderful Santina Giardina- Chard who writes about the practise in a beautiful and frighteningly truthful way). Whatever demands you make of yourself will only hinder the beauty of it… try to just do something, and do it truthfully. As we learn what works for us and our body’s needs we come to understand that this is part of the process. We learn to notice stuff through self-observation and then comes the self- control and then self- care. We begin to understand the guidance offered in the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali’s Ashtanga, eight limbs of yoga.
So whatever happens on the mat, be glad you are practising! No matter when, how or for how long, just practise with intention and devotion to yourself, not the postures! They are just the method, the doorways, the way in! I always reassure students at the beginning of class that it doesn’t matter how they come or what happens, and at the end of class just to smile and feel joyful that they practised.

2. Plan your Peace.
Recognise that part of the day when you are most at peace. Forming a habit is the key to practising consistently or forming any habit. When we identify this window we can nurture it and safeguard it, make it sacred and let it mean NOW I PRACTISE. Plan ahead to minimise distractions, obligations or chores during this time so that you are calm and stress free. Yesterday for example, I allocated the time for today’s practise which meant cleaning the house at 8 am and teaching before and after, but I had such a wonderful practise because I knew I had nothing to worry about, nowhere to go, all was calm and I wasn’t pressed for time. Eating and sleeping patterns are worth noticing too, as these greatly affect your mood and energy levels, and nobody wants to go upside down on a full stomach!
Yes, it takes planning and effort but it is worth it to create a mental calm, if the mind is calm the body will surely follow. And you will see, the more we notice the small stuff, the more there is to notice! It’s seemingly unending, there are so many ways to change the daily routine and habits to allow the practise to shine brighter. In my case I noticed a more consistent energy level when I swapped coffee for tea and began to consume more carbohydrates during the midday meal, I also noticed how menstruation cycles affected my mood and energy, the clumsiness of a new moon, the jitteriness and sleepless nights of a full moon, the effect of staying up too late reading Game of Thrones! This is all part of yoga, the questioning, the waking up, paying attention. Study yourself to know yourself truly and refine your habits so they work better for you.

3. Don’t be greedy.
If we stain our practise with greed we will not transcend. The experienced practitioner knows that the key to the joyful practise is in the surrender, in the not knowing, not expecting. Have the courage to want nothing and the discipline to let go of the ideas or expectations that surround this practise. It can be scary to be a blank canvas, but if the ego/ the thinking mind has the reins, we will get stuck in the trap of analysing, judging, comparing… We all have these thoughts, so soften them with a smile and come back to the breath, feel your way… A good practise will unfurl and show you its secrets, give up it’s treasures, and over time open new inner landscapes for you to behold. A good practise should feel natural and effortless, harmonious….
When we step on the mat, we enter our temple, and we devote ourselves to the practise, and the practise to ourselves. Use this time to exercise not only the body, but the philosophy. Take on your journey those teachings of Yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas, be pure, content, don’t grab, don’t desire… in other words don’t chase poses or have goals, the body will open naturally under consistency of breath and awareness. You must just trust and breathe…

4. Start Soft.
The essence of the personal practise is to feel, not think… begin moving as if in water, instead of just smashing it out.
Always start with a warm up, however short! Notice the tenderness or stiffness, notice the joints waking up, and give the mind time to switch to practise mode instead of expecting it to happen as you arrive to the top of your mat in mountain pose/ Samastitih. Blend this softness into some Surya Namaskara A/ Sun Salutations, and when you feel ready, step it up a notch! I always begin Surya Namaskar with stepping not jumping and Cobra pose not Upward Facing Dog.
If you’re still not feeling it who cares? Ok, so you’re disappointed, annoyed, but honestly who cares? Tell yourself ‘I’m doing it’ ! and do something!!!! Use your yogi wisdom and intuition to tailor your practise. Maybe you take rests or spend more time in the places that feel nourishing, then enjoy a good Savasanah or meditation knowing that you are serving your body what it needs. OR MAYBE you carefully proceed, you keep going a little longer, and just ‘perhaps’ you make that magical break through to that special place where we leave the world behind, the thinking mind gets left by the wayside and you approach the heart…. it’s happened to me countless times! Listen to your body, if it says no then it’s probably best you don’t force it and then regret it, or even worse, hurt yourself.

This is why we practise, practise, practise. After all, Yoga is a teacher, a medicine, a self healer, and even a psychologist at times!! Each time we practise we dive deeper into our senses, ourselves, we discover nuances of our nature that perhaps had never been revealed, or we had just not wanted to notice before. Whatever happens, you will learn something about yourself! And those somethings will sneak into your whole being as you become fully alive and awaken to your true potential and the impact you can have on the world around you, however small. All that matters is that you DO IT.


Written by Ashtanga_Geek www.leannenatkaniecyoga.com

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