When you begin Ashtanga yoga (or any yoga, for that matter), you are downright hungry for new poses. It’s exciting and you want more. This continues until you get to the point where your practice is long enough. Adding another pose would feel like trying to shove an extra outfit into it already stuffed suitcase. Yet, we manage to do it!
The long practice struggle is real, especially if you are an Ashtangi. When you begin to progress past the primary series, or any series for that matter, you do so by taking on one new pose at a time. This continues until you are doing a practice and half, smoothly and easily, before you get promoted to the new series altogether and leave primary behind. This means you might be practicing for 2-2.5 hours each day. Wowsers!
Whether or not you are currently in this place in your own practice, today’s blog will give you great tools for success in both your physical practice and your mindset around it.
Today we are talking about how to survive a long practice and the often overlooked benefits you receive in the process.
Step 1. Make the time.
Anyone who practices with me knows I am relentless when it comes to making the time to get on your mat. It isn’t as though some of us have tons of extra time and others don’t. It’s all about how we prioritize ourselves.
If your practice as long, make sure you are carving out enough time so you don’t have to rush. This is key to the enjoyment factor. Rushing and shallow breathing will physically make your practice less enjoyable. If you combine that with the added length it will feel downright brutal.
Step 2. When you feel like you “just can’t”
Nobody is questioning that a more advanced practice is challenging. Of course it is! If you are a teacher, this is the point where the onslaught of complaining from your students begins. Usually, it goes something like this:
“But my practice is just so long!”
“I’m so tired the rest of the day.
“I just can’t do it anymore”.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you are an Ashtangi, you probably know there are specificl points in the practice at which it is customary to let go of the series you have already mastered and move onto the new one completely. If you have ever had a long practice, you also know that EVERYONE thinks they are a special case and should be split before the traditional split point (see the complaints mentioned above).
I’m going to give you a spoiler: you aren’t an exception.
There, I said it.
When you practice at KPJAYI and see tons of other people doing practices even longer than yours, you realize you aren’t alone. This reminds us of the importance of having a community and support system as we walk the spiritual path. When we are left to our own devices we quickly forget the benefits involved in facing a daily challenge such a long practice.
So let’s talk about them, because there are many good reasons for sticking with a long practice even when you are tempted to quit.
3. Why it behooves you to stick with a long practice
It allows your nervous system to adjust to the intensity level of your new poses. This is especially crucial through intermediate series, which can feel like you’re suddenly powered on 220 volts even though you’re only wired to run on 110. This adjustment takes time, and by adding just one or two poses at a time you’re allowing your nervous system to process the physical and emotional changes you are experiencing. This is not to be taken lightly. I remember telling a fellow teacher about a practitioner in my area who had been advanced in her practice far too quickly (in my humble opinion). I my friend replied, “she’s either going to get injured or crazy or both”. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens when people don’t respect the time in the process of these from the other practice. When the injury or the crazy happens, the student is critical of the practice and ignorant to the role of his/her approach. When people don’t respect the time and the natural process of the practice. But that’s a topic for a different blog entirely.
You develop strength beyond what you ever imagined, physically (you are doing many of your hardest poses once you are fatigued…hello strength!). By the time you get split onto the new series, you are prepared to handle it and will find the transition manageable with your super human endurance!
You develop more mental strength than you ever thought possible. When I returned to India in 2013, my first trip after having two children, I was doing a 2 1/2 hour practice. I was proficient in it and had no trouble doing any of the poses. Yet, Sharath Jois (my guru), did not split me until my very last day in India. He did give me a few more poses along the way, which made my practice even longer, but let me work through it. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given in my life. Waking up each morning and knowing I had a huge practice ahead of me taught me mental strength and calmness on an entirely different level. My return home from India, I felt like I could conquer the world. No task was too big for me and nothing intimidated me. In hindsight, this is not an accident. He knew I had two young children at home, one of had just been diagnosed special needs, and I needed every bit of strength available to me to be a great mother and leader. If you are in the midst of a long practice, you must have faith that your teacher has walked in your shoes and had your best interest in mind. It goes so far beyond the physical in ways I cannot possibly express. I can promise that when you will take away from how long practice will be so much more than nice. Focus, tenacity, patients, faith, strength and beyond.
4. Don’t have a lot of energy later in the day?
That’s a good vehicle for discernment! How are you spending your time and energy? When doing the other practice which takes up a lot of your time and energy, you learn to conserve your resources for what really matters. In a culture where most of us are spread too thin, discernment is a valuable lesson many of us need to learn. Furthermore, we will never learn this lesson if we have boundless energy all the time and don’t have a problem spreading ourselves too thin. A long practice makes us take a closer look at how we are really spending our time and energy.
If you are faced with many work, social, or family obligations, ask yourself if it will matter in one year from now. If the answer is no, politely decline and save your energy for something more important.
Put your smartphone down for a while. Be mindful of the amount of time you spend checking email and social media.
Needing more energy encourages us to take a deeper look at our eating habits. We need fuel, not junk. And lots of it! We also need hydration!
Maybe you don’t eat as frequently, but choose foods with more density and healthy fats.
Tired? Rest! Get out of the busy trap! Sleep deprivation isn’t cool. Learn to have boundaries with your work hours and make caring for yourself a priority.
Step up your self care. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Take an Epsom salt bath and listen to a spiritual book. Massage your sore muscles with coconut oil. Book the time for a massage with the professional if you like.
I find silence to be the ultimate dose of self-care. Find time for this in your day, even if it is a quiet walk during your lunch hour.
YOU BECOME FORCED TO DECLUTTER EVERYTHING WHICH DOESN’T SERVE YOU ANYMORE.
This is the ultimate way to up-level your yoga practice and your life. If it isn’t serving you, give it the boot.
In essence, having a long practice teaches you mastery in your life!!! It teaches you lessons people who only scratched the surface will never, ever learn.
As you remind yourself that yoga is about enriching every aspect of your life, it will be easier to value how having a long practice is truly changing you from the inside out. If you keep this in mind when getting on your mat, what once felt arduous will now feel much more joyful because you have deeper appreciation for it.
As Yoga sutra 1.14 tells us, “” is only when the correct practices followed for a long time, without interruption, with a positive attitude and eagerness, but it can succeed.” If you stay connected to the appreciation factor, it will be easier to practice for lifetime, whether your practice is long or short, easy or difficult.
It is this rooting in yoga philosophy which reminds us WHY we do what we do. It reminds us how to take our practice off the mat.
If you are ready to take the next step, join me for a phenomenal online yoga philosophy course I am leading this spring. From the mat to the modern world, ancient wisdom to help you achieve anything you want in life.
From The Mat To The Modern World:
Ancient Wisdom To Help You Achieve Anything You Want In Life
A 4 week online yoga philosophy course with Sara Intonato
It’s ok to admit that life just isn’t working right now.
Yes, I said it.
Behind that caffeinated smile, that overloaded, ultra coordinated schedule and the “I got it handled” persona, can we talk about the bone-drenching stress that you feel?
One more request and it feels as if everything could shut down.
I get it.
We have all been sold a lie about how to live.
We have been browbeaten into believing that busyness and burnout are badges of honor, that overwhelm equals success.
After all, doesn’t everyone feel like this? Aren’t productivity and multitasking the holy grail of battling the increasing barrage of noise?