Diary of a Happy Yogi: Honor Your Practice

Posted: May 13, 2015 at 9:52 am

By: Ashley Whimpey

Yoga could be seen by some as art due to its endless number of shapes created during practice. While beautiful, the best shapes are the ones that honor your practice.

Today, meet Carson and Lily. Carson has been practicing yoga regularly (about three times a week) for the last year or so, and has begun to complete full expressions of many of the poses. Lily is here for her second yoga class ever. She used to be a dancer and feels confident can twist her body into anything to match the instructor.

About half way through the class, Carson feels fatigued, especially in his legs since he ran this morning. Carson breaks himself from the flow to pause in a child’s pose for a minute and then resumes his practice. Lily is also feeling very unstable. Her years of flexibility are allowing her to extend extremely well, but now that the balance portion is coming up, she’s starting to get wobbly and almost takes out a fellow yogini.

Closing the class with the final series, the instructor offers progressions and lower variations of a shoulder stand. Carson feels confident about tucking his chin into a familiar place, pressing his heels into the ceiling, and even advancing to lower his hands from his low back as he removes the bend in his hips. Lily does her very best and is able to manage the same shape, but does not feel able to breath freely and experiences a lot of pain on her upper vertebra.

The class concludes.

Carson and Lily are probably at a similar fitness level, and because Lily is female, she probably has more inherent flexibility than Carson. So why did Lily wake up the next morning unable to move freely and Carson felt rejuvenated? The answer is simple: Carson was honoring his practice.

Honoring your practice is tuning in to the soft hum of life inside that dictates how and when you will do something. It’s what causes the difference between Monday morning’s class being incredible—leaving you feeling like you could run a marathon, lift a car over your head, and take on Michael Jordan on the court—and Friday morning’s class leaving you feeling like you’re made of stone. Both classes could be exactly the same, but it’s not always the class or the lineup of workouts that changes, but rather the hum inside you.

Honor is very similar to honesty. You might start off saying, “I’m compromising my triangle so I can reach for the floor because Susie is. I feel like I’m better than she is, so if she can, I can.” Then you realize it doesn’t matter what Susie is doing. Susie is not you. Susie does not have the same practice, thoughts, or internal hum. Honoring your practice also lets you go the other direction by realizing “My instructor said we could take it down, but I’m actually feeling pretty great, and I want to expand on that feeling.”

To honor your practice is to allow your focus to be so sharp and tuned in that the other yogis fall away from your vision. With practice you’ll begin to move only on their energy, feeling it and adding to it with your own, instead of whipping your head around trying to match them or surpass them.

Three things are crucial to honoring your practice:

  1. Ask when you don’t know. If you’ve never done a shoulder stand before or if your triangle isn’t matching up with the instructor’s but you can’t tell why, ask. The reason to practice with an instructor is to be able to have someone to ask, otherwise you might as well stick to hurting yourself in your living room and feelinging lost.
  2. Realize not all days are created equal. Maybe last week you had your elbows wrapped all the way under your toes in that forward fold, but this week you feel more like it’s a better idea to keep your hands on your shins, or vice versa.
  3. It’s a yoga practice. At practice we learn, we learn, and we learn.