Why you sometimes hit a low point in your yoga practice, and what you can do about it
If I'm really honest, I'm feeling disappointed and a bit disheartened at the moment. This week my practice has hit a low point after my enthusiastic 'week six' experience last week. Not only have I not reached my feet (see my earlier post) but I felt drained and have just skipped three days in a row for which I feel a bit guilty. I'd love to just write about success after success, but I don't think it ever goes like that (except maybe in the movies - although even then there's usually a low point where all seems lost until the hero recovers his strength and determination somehow).
Of course I know that it isn't all plain sailing, and that ups and downs in practice are to be expected. You'd think after 15 years of practice I'd be sailing through the 'ups and downs' with ease by now, but that isn't the case. So why do we sometimes hit a low point in our yoga practice and, more importantly, what can we do about it when we do?
Part of it is our high expectation. We're obviously doing yoga for a reason, right? ...and that reason is often what keeps us going most days! Whether we want better health, more agility, strength, flexibility... whatever the reason, if that reason becomes an expectation then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we don't get it. Or if is doesn't happen fast enough.
Part of the issue is our tendency to think in terms of goals. When we think in terms of goals we set up a dynamic of judging ourselves, measuring ourselves against the desired result, and a dynamic of constantly 'seeking'. This brings an unsettled, restless, quality to our mind, which is in total contrast to yoga's aim of 'settling the mind into silence' (Patanjali).
High expectations + goals = restlessness (are we there yet?)
Are We There Yet?
This restless 'seeking' state of mind is the same one we experienced as children. When we're in this restless 'result oriented' frame of mind, we are constantly asking 'are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet?' rather than enjoying the ride.
If we don't stop this constant focus on the end result and bring ourselves present into this moment, we will miss a beautiful journey that we otherwise could have enjoyed. ....and there's still no guarantee that we will ever reach the 'goal' anyway! I could get hit by a bus and killed before I ever reach my feet!
Hold Your Intention Gently
So am I saying goals are wrong? Of course not! We'd never get anything done if we didn't have goals. But there is a knack to teaching our goals without having them destroy our peace of mind. The trick is to hold your goal as an intention, then release your attachment to the outcome and be fully present with whatever arises in each moment. This feels like holding your intention very gently, like a butterfly, not grasping in such a way that could crush it, and maybe even letting your intention go... to fly on the wind!
Be Fully Present
"There is beauty in the acceptance of what is" - Vanda Scaravelli
Once again I remind myself of those inspirational words of Vanda Scaravelli. When we experience the restless mind, we are in an aspect of our ego mind. How can we tell? There is a 'pushy' quality to it. We're trying to control every aspect of our experience, and that 'controlling' aspect of our mind, is our ego at work.
For years I struggled with my ego, trying to 'get rid of it'! In fact, the part that was trying to get rid of it was also ego, slipping in through the back door! The key is not to struggle with anything, but to relax and allow the moment to be exactly as it is, warts and all!
Do A Reality Check
Once we relax and stop struggling against reality, we can do a reality check and see if there are any practical adjustments to be made. In my case, being new to Bikram Yoga, there could be any number of practical reasons why I'm feeling drained: maybe my body doesn't do well in the extreme heat, maybe my electrolytes need adjusting.
I addressed this by making sure my electrolytes are covered by diet and supplements, and this week I am experimenting with the heat. I'm going to try a few days doing the Bikram method, but in a more 'normal' but warm room temperature of 77º. At least this will give my body a break from the heat and I'll get a better quality of sleep (see my earlier post).
Release Attachment To The Outcome
In summarizing all of the above we could say it really all boils down to this one thing: releasing attachment to the outcome. Of course we have goals and intentions for our yoga practice, otherwise we wouldn't be doing it but we need to be careful when they are turning into expectation and attachment.
The 'lowest point' in our practice is usually savasana (corpse pose). The time when we let go of 'doing' and relax. It is during savasana that our circulation returns to normla, our muscles relax and are open to receive more nutrients and prana (life-force energy), and we feel the benefits of the energy that we have accumulated during practice.
So when we experience a low point, maybe it is a savasana of the mind. Maybe life is calling to us to relax, let go, and receive, instead of trying to push the river. If (like savasana) we deeply let go into our low point, we may become aware of unimaginable inner treasures.
Relax and Enjoy The Ride
The answer when we hit a low point is to relax and enjoy the ride. When we stay focused on our presence in each moment, then the restlessness settles of it's own accord, we feel more relaxed, and have more energy available for our practice.