Thursday, March 26, 2015


I was recently working with a group of students on the components of belly-down back bends which is really tough stuff. They are deceptively challenging poses because from the outside they appear to be petty plain, even easy, but a whole lot is happening just beneath the surface. Poses like Salabhasana (Locust, 100), Makarasana (Crocodile, 101), and Dhanurasana (Bow, 102) require strength in your legs and all along your spine - front and back - as well as openness in your hips, chest, and shoulders. Part of their challenge comes from the effort it takes to lift yourself up against gravity. Not only is that difficult by itself, but it is made even more so in this case because you can't use your arms for help. And, even though in the long-run they actually serve to improve respiration, lying prone sometimes makes breathing feel restricted. So, while they are "simple" and "fundamental" poses, they are not by any means easy. And for that reason we were discussing the purpose and importance of these poses in an effort to encourage continued practice of them.

During the class I made a kind of off-handed remark about Locust pose being one of the most important postures; possibly in the top five of all time if you were to make yourself a list. Later on I found myself thinking about that comment, and I wondered what would my top-five asana list actually include?

Mr. Iyengar provided his own list of "important asana" in LoY, and I have already commented a little on that (see previous post: "Most Important Asana"). I think his is a great compilation of fundamental postures that nearly anybody would benefit from (see disclaimers below). Although mine does overlap with his, that wasn't conscious on my part; it just speaks to the merit of the poses. And given a list longer than five, mine would differ slightly (see below).

A few things should be kept in mind as I share this with you. First, this is solely my opinion. This is what seems appropriate to me given my experiences as a student and an instructor. Other people, with other experiences or other trainings, may have different opinions. And none of us would be right or wrong, just different.

Secondly, the list does not take into consideration contraindications. By that I mean the list assumes that you are capable of performing each of the poses in their full (or nearly full) form free from any overt risk of injury. I do not mean to imply that you mustn't need the assistance of props or some kind of modification, but that the basic form of the pose is accessible and appropriate for you. If, for instance, you recently suffered a neck injury, you shouldn't be performing Shoulderstand as that is explicitly contraindicated. However, if your neck, spine, and shoulders are generally healthy and fit, but stacked blankets help you maintain good alignment, then you can practice Shoulderstand. In other words, if any of the poses are inappropriate for your practice, then your list would need to be adjusted accordingly.

Thirdly, by "most important" I do not mean favorite poses or the most fun poses or the ones most frequently requested. This is not a list based on popularity. I promise you that if the list were titled "my personal favorite poses to practice because I love them and they feel good," it would be a very different list. What I mean is these are the poses whose basic forms and functions provide the most benefit to a general practice; the ones which are arguably the most advantageous physically and metaphysically. Their teachings are deep and multi-layered, and continue to be so whether we have practiced them one time or a thousand times.

Lastly, Tadasana (Mountain pose, 61) and Savasana (Corpse pose, 463) are implicitly listed as they are essential elements of postural practice. Do not think that I am ignoring them, and do not discredit them for yourself. They are imperative.

With that being said, here, in no particular order, is my list of the five most important yogasana:

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing dog, 110)
  • Salabhasana (Locust, 100)
  • Salamba Sarvangasana I (Supported Shoulderstand first variation, 205-13)
  • Janu Sirsasana (Head-toward-knee forward bend, 149)
  • Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-angle forward bend, 81)

I'll make a few comments to explain each of my choices.

Adho Mukha Svanasana. Even though I said the list was presented in no particular order, if there were an order, I would put AMS in first place. This singular pose contains a nearly complete practice all by itself. It provides stability and strength to the legs which are toned into a neutral "Tadasana" position. It also generously stretches the legs from the buttocks through the heels. It opens the hips and pelvic-floor. It tones the abdomen. It lengthens the spine. Its weight-bearing component adds upper-body strengthening which prepares you for arm-balancing and inverting. It stretches the arms, shoulders, and side-body. It opens and loosens the upper-back. It is an inversion because the hips are higher than the heart and the heart is higher than the head. But because the feet stay anchored, it is less strenuous than more overt inversions such as Headstand and Shoulderstand which makes it a more appropriate choice for some people. In that way it serves as either a preparation or a replacement for upside-down poses. It can serve as a warm-up before activity or a cool-down afterward because, by adjusting just a few key actions, it can energize or soothe. It is known to have positive effects on the nervous system as a whole, including respiration, brain function, blood circulation, and heart health. And it is the beginnings of understanding the idea of "root down in order to rise up" which is vital for both physical and metaphysical growth. It is really unparalleled.

Salabhasana. The primary function of Locust pose is to strengthen the spine's extensor muscles. And it performs that job so well that the pose is a common exercise in many modalities beyond yoga such as Pilates, gymnastics, body building, physical therapy, and more. The reason why it is so effective is because the muscles all along the back are getting undivided attention. By that I mean there is no assistance coming from other body parts, namely the arms as is the case in many other back bends. When you include the arms in a pose like Cobra, for instance, the action is split between a back bend and a push-up. That is not bad, of course; Cobra and poses like Cobra are fantastic. Unfortunately, it is common to allow the strength of the arms to override the capacity of the spine, and then the bend is deeper or the lift is higher than is optimal. In Locust the extensors get to do precisely what extensors do best without any interference or peer-pressure coming from other muscle-groups. In that way it teaches patience, humility, and self-reliance. Additionally, the effort it takes to lift the body up against the force of gravity enhances its effectivenes. And, because the front body is compressed against the floor, the organs of digestion, elimination, and reproduction receive needed stimulation.

Salamba Sarvangasana I. The basic form of Shoulderstand is such a tremendously powerful pose. Of course there are risks involved (every yoga pose involves risk), and it is not appropriate for everybody. However, if you are capable of practicing it, even in a prop-supported or slightly modified way, do so. I will let what Mr. Iyengar has written about its benefits suffice for explanation as it is clear and thorough, and I could not add anything to it to make it any better. If you have not read the Shoulderstand (205-13) and Shoulderstand Cycle (213-37) sections in LoY, I highly recommend it.

Janu Sirsasana. In Sanskrit janu means "knee" and sirsa means "head," so the name of this pose suggests that the head comes to the knee when the truth is that, if the spine is properly elongated, the chin comes to rest on the shin rather than on the knee. If that form of the pose is achieved, along with the recommended width of the thighs, adequate external rotation of the back leg, sufficient reach of the arms, and proper positioning of the trunk, then the pose provides ample opening for the hips; stretch for the legs, back, and side bodies; and elasticity for the upper-back and shoulders. It conditions the internal organs, including stimulating the kidneys, and its deep forward fold is calming.

Most of the seated forward bends share those positive effects. What differentiates Janu Sirsasana, and grants it a position on the list of five, is that it serves as the foundation, the model, for the rest of the seated work: Janu Sirsasana is the seated cousin of Tadasana. From this pose emerge the variations of forward folds in which one leg is in lotus (153-55), hero (156-59), and squat (159-61); those in which the torso is revolved (152, 162, 165, 172) and/or the arms are bound (154, 160-163); the wide-legged variations (164); and the symmetrical forward folded posture known as Paschimottanasana (166-70).

It seems counterintuitive to think that the straight-legged, symmetrical fold would develop after the more pretzel-y asymmetrical folds, but the truth is that it takes the full conditioning of the legs, hips, spine, belly, and arms received by the one-legged poses to properly prepare the body for Paschimottanasana. There are comments in LoY further explaining this idea on pages 148-70, particularly pages 157, 161, and 170.

I think that the series of seated forward folds is the most difficult category of asana, more so than back bends, arm balances, and even inversions. That is primarily because of their relationship to gravity (which limits our ability to manipulate the pelvis and activate the core) in combination with our culturally-developed biomechanical habits (i.e. our tendency to slouch works against us in these poses). As a whole, the collection of poses is meant to provide cleansing and stimulating effects on the internal organs as well as calming effects on the nervous system. But before we can experience those things, Janu Sirsasana needs to be well understood.

Prasarita Padottanasana. LoY provides two variations of Wide-legged forward fold: the one pictured here in which the hands are placed on the floor between the feet, and the one in which the hands are joined behind the back. Other styles of practice recognize other versions of this pose, both formally and informally, and I recommend them as an effective series with this first variation serving as the starting point.

Like all the standing poses, this pose strengthens and tones the feet and legs. It also stretches the legs from the buttocks to the heels very much like AMS. Different from AMS though, and perhaps advantageous to come, is that there is less weight-bearing in the upper-body. Therefore it may be more appropriate for those with wrist or shoulder injuries. Also like AMS, it is an inversion without the stress of lifting the feet. And it serves as either a preparation or a replacement for going upside-down. Because the legs are widened, it is typically more accessible and therefore performed more skillfully, than the narrow-legged version known as Uttanasana (93). If the hands are placed according to the instructions, there is some conditioning for the wrists, arms, shoulders, and even the upper-back. And those effects are enhanced when attention is paid to the "back bended stage" of the pose in which the back is given ample extension.

Even though standing poses such as Triangle, Side-angle, and the Warriors are incredibly important poses, my opinion is that the added benefits of mild weight-bearing and inverting provide enough advantage to this pose to place it on the list of five (within the bounds of the disclaimers mentioned earlier). It also has the perks of wrist, shoulder, and chest stretching when other variations are considered.

Five poses is not very many; it makes for tough decisions. What is missing here, for better or worse, are postures whose primary purpose is twisting, balancing (both arm and leg), and core-strengthening. If the list were expanded to ten or even fifteen, I would likely include poses from those categories. It would be something like this:

Top Ten

  • Trikonasana (Triangle pose)
  • Virabhdrasana I (Warrior pose first variation)
  • Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Hand-to-big-toe pose, plus variations)
  • Virasana (Hero pose)
  • Jathara Parivartanasana (Reclined twist, plus variations)

and Top Fifteen

  • Navasana (Boat pose)
  • Vrksasana (Tree pose)
  • Ustrasana (Camel pose)
  • Bakasana (Crow pose)
  • Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle pose)

I admittedly put less thought into the secondary lists, so I cannot say I am fully committed to their content. But you get the idea.

The list of five can serve as a foundation for a more full-spectrum postural practice; it can be an outline from which to proceed and grow. It can also be a condensed practice all by itself when time or energy is limited. It could be a way of warming up when you arrive a few minutes early to class. And maybe, for any number of good reasons, you disagree with my list either partially or entirely, in which case you could make a different list for yourself.

Whatever asanas are practiced, however few or many, in whichever forms or levels of skill, the poses serve an important purpose: they better the body as a means of bettering the "something-more-than-your-body." They are an embodiment of the gross serving as a gateway to the subtle; of the material providing access to the spiritual. They affect us in ways that we see and feel, and in ways which are wholly imperceptible. I'll end with a few words regarding asana by Mr. Iyengar:

The yogi conquers the body by the practice of asanas and makes it a fit vehicle for the spirit. ... By performing asanas, the [yogi] first gains health, which is not mere existence. It is not a commodity which can be purchased with money. It is an asset to be gained by sheer hard work. It is a state of complete equilibrium of body, mind, and spirit. ... The yogi realizes that his life and all its activities are part of the divine action in nature, manifesting and operating in the form of man" (41).

(All quotes, images, illustration numbers, and page numbers refer to: Iyengar, B.K.S., Light on Yoga. New York: Schocken Books, 1979. Print.)

Friday, March 20, 2015


Things we don't know how to do or that we think we can't do often intimidate us because it can be scary and embarrassing to face what is unknown or inaccessible. To admit to ignorance, an inability, a wrong-doing, or a misperception is one of the universally hardest things for people to do. And, unfortunately, yoga practice is not immune to that.

Maybe as you have listened to your instructor talk about which poses she is going to lead that day you feel your tummy knot up a little bit as you think to yourself I don't think I can do that or Oh no, that part of my body is really weak. And then you wonder if you have made a good choice to attend that class or if there is still time to move into the back row. Or maybe you see a flier for an upcoming workshop and you say I probably shouldn't go because I've never been any good at those poses.

Maybe just getting yourself into the studio and on to a sticky mat for the first time was difficult because you thought something like I'm not flexible enough to do yoga. I hear that from people all the time, and it drives me crazy! I want to say to them Of course you aren't flexible if you don't do yoga! Most people are not naturally physically fit; doesn't that seem like a good reason to start a practice? And of course you are challenged by those poses you don't practice very often or by those poses you haven't been taught how to do or by those parts of your body that haven't been developed or conditioned yet. That is precisely what yoga class is for.

Practice is (in part) about learning how to do the things you don't or can't currently do. It is about asking for help to attain that which you need but aren't sure how to get. If you could already do all the poses; if you were already strong, flexible, coordinated, patient, compassionate, self-aware, knowledgeable, humble, courageous, and mindful, you wouldn't need yoga. You wouldn't need to attend class. You wouldn't need a teacher's advice and guidance.

Remember Patanjali says that in order to experience yoga's ultimate goal (nirodhah; stilled consciousness) it is necessary to be nonattached (vairagya), to be free from reaction. It is normal to be attached to your sense of self, to think you already know all of your can's and cannot's. It is a natural inclination to protect your selfdom, to avoid damaging your sense of personal identity, and to seek out experiences which confirm, rather than confront, the person who you think you are. But you have presumably come to yoga to affect change, and to relieve some kind(s) of discontent or suffering. It is irrational to think that you can foster change -- that you can experience the results of potential change -- without making any actual changes. Thus abhyasa (practice) and vairagya include being willing to step outside of your comfort zone, to take on new challenges, and to risk hurting your ego.

Certainly this must be done within reason. Not every pose or category of poses is appropriate for every body. Not every risk is worth taking. Not every practice needs to be a psychological confrontation. Practice should include elements which are comfortable and familiar. Those moments when we are engaged in an activity we do well or that feels comfortable are affirming, and they serve as a reminder as to the good and hard work which has already taken place. We need parts of our practice to be simple and free from overt challenge. But if you only practice that which you do well and avoid that which you don't do well, you will more fully imbed your imbalances. Your strengths will become stronger while your weaknesses become weaker. And you will stagnate inside of your self-imposed limitations.

If you said to yourself, for instance, I shouldn't attend that back bending class because I don't know how to back bend, you would be missing the point of the class. It isn't being offered to those who already back bend (although those students would likely also enjoy and benefit from the experience). It is being offered to those who want to learn how. If you don't know how to back bend, and for that reason you avoid going to back bending classes, then you will never learn. And you will remain attached to the label of "non-back-bender."

Don't let what you don't or can't do restrict what you practice. Instead use those things as the (sometimes direct, sometimes indirect) building blocks of your practice. Bring curiosity and provocation with you to the mat. Allow your practice to be one of insight and transformation. Be willing to experiment, to interpret, and to change your mind. Practice what you don't already know. Learn something new.

(Image: Yoga Sutra I.15 as translated by Chip Hartranft, 2003)

Thursday, March 12, 2015


(Image: Yoga Sutra I.12 as translated by Chip Hartranft, 2003.)

Do you know that sometimes in order to master a challenging asana you have to stop practicing it? As counterintuitive as that seems, it is true that sometimes the best way to practice something is to not practice it at all. Actually, to say "not practice it at all" isn't entirely accurate. It isn't the case that practice stops outright; instead you shift the focus thereby making it a kind of indirect practice which, in some cases, turns out to be better than the more direct route.

We already know all about "practice"; we have discussed it at length -- what it is and what it isn't, how best to establish as well as to sustain it, and that it is both for our body and for that something which is more than just our body. We also know that, according to Patanjali, true practice emerges from efforts which are constant, consistent, and passionate (see previous post: "What Does Dirgha Kala Mean?").

(Image: Yoga Sutra I.14 as translated by Chip Hartranft, 2003.)

But that is only half of what Patanjali says is necessary on our part if we want to experience the kind of stilled consciousness he thinks is yoga's ultimate goal. If you want the physical and mental peaceful well-being that eliminates suffering, cultivates authenticity, and bolsters happiness, it isn't enough to practice, even if you do it really well. You must also be nonattached to the outcomes of your practice.

The word for "nonattachment" in Sanskrit is vairagya. It also means non-reaction, indifference, and disinclination. Its roots mean dislike and even hatred. Yoga tends to refrain from hating things, of course. And this isn't about liking or disliking. Patanjali is encouraging something less extreme here; namely, an attitude of neutrality.

We are beings easily moved by sense perceptions. That is to say, whatever we see or hear or touch creates desires in us. And we are naturally inclined to satisfy our desires: when we desire something, we are tempted to act in whatever way alleviates the desire. What is important to understand is that it isn't the wanting which is problematic. Lots of wants are good and necessary. When you are hungry, you want food. When you are tired, you want to sleep. There is nothing wrong with satisfying those desires assuming they are genuine and not manufactured for the wrong reasons.

What is problematic is when you act upon the desire with the intention of merely enjoying or benefiting from the outcome or result. If you eat, for instance, in order to relieve boredom or just to experience the flavor in your mouth without being truly hungry, that is an attachment that Patanjali says impedes the yogic path.

Vairagya is about balancing discrimination and contentment. First you must know the difference between wants and needs. Then you have to enact willpower in order to act reasonably toward those things. Discrimination in that sense is a kind of heightened self-awareness, and being skillfully particular allows you to make good choices. When you make good choices you are less likely to be tossed around by feelings (either positive or negative) associated with those choices. That is to say, when you have made what you believe to be a good choice, the results, for better or worse, are easier to accept. And contentment and acceptance are keys to nonattachment.

Remember practice is about affecting change; it is about producing outcomes (see previous pose: "First the Fish"). Nonattachment is about being genuinely okay with those outcomes regardless of their states or characteristics. Practice is about wanting something. Nonattachment is about understanding why you want it, and knowing how to achieve or receive it properly.

There are as many different ways to cultivate nonattachment as there are ways to practice. In fact, nonattachment is itself a kind of practice requiring constant, consistent, passionate effort. You can plant the seeds of nonattachment while on your sticky mat by watching your reactions to the way your body performs asana. Choosing to practice poses which are supportive and empowering with an attitude of curiosity and experimentation while abiding in patience and satisfaction is vairagya.

Of course that is all easier said than done. And the stronger the desire, the trickier it is to uphold. The more you want to perform a pose and the more strongly you desire mastery over it, the more difficult it can be to let go of your attachment to that achievement. And that is where cessation of its practice can prove the most useful.

Sometimes in order to master a challenging asana you have to stop practicing it. By that what I mean is practice something else. When some given pose is persistently challenging and unachievable, it probably means you are not ready for it. Some physical or mental or energetic necessity hasn't been developed in you yet. And continuing to plead for it and chase it will only stoke your ego, agitate your mind, and preserve restlessness. Not to mention the fact that it can put you at risk for injury.

Instead, if you shift your attention to some other (directly or indirectly related) area(s) of practice, you can continue working toward strength, mobility, patience, resilience, graciousness, awareness, and all the other things that arise from good practice. If you need longer hamstrings or stronger arms or more humility or less criticism, you can create and develop those things in other poses and in other experiences.

What often happens if that when you do return to that challenging asana weeks or months or even years later, it's not so challenging anymore. You have prepared yourself for it, you have made yourself ready. You are stronger and more flexible in more ways than one. You have more yogic maturity. You better understand the what's, why's, and how's of your practice. And your choice to reintroduce yourself to the pose is a good one which means you are more inclined to be content with the outcome of your efforts.

Sometimes it is your attachment to the pose which prevents you from experiencing it. Perseverance, commitment, and boldness are valuable yogic traits, but too much of a good thing turns virtue into folly. Sometimes wanting something too badly turns you into your own biggest obstacle.

Vairagya is the act of choosing your higher good, of setting aside feelings of success or defeat, and of neutralizing temptations. It is learning to be in the moment exactly the way it is without measurement or comparison or judgment. It is a kind of trust in yourself that you are right and good and capable. When your practice is free from the burdens of conquest and validation, it has the capacity for exponential growth.

Of course sometimes the right choice is to push through with dedicated effort. And sometimes skipping a pose is more about avoidance than intelligent discrimination. And sometimes taking a break doesn't give you any more capacity than if you had stuck with it. This is just one way to open your practice to new experiences, not a guaranteed liberation of obstruction.

But I do know from first-hand experience that it is worth considering. If you are struggling with a pose, maybe your yogic efforts are better directed elsewhere for the time being. In this way, you can continue to strengthen your practice as a whole while establishing yourself in nonattachment. By letting go of desire, you might get exactly what you want.

(Image: Yoga Sutra I.12 and I.15 as translated by Chip Hartranft, 2003)

The following is the "16th and 17th week" sequence in its entirety. The asana in blue correspond with the list of "Important asanas in Course I" on page 468 of LoY.

     Sanskrit names are in bold.
     (English names are in parentheses.)
     [Numbers in brackets correspond with illustrations.]
     Poses with an * are new to the sequence.
     Observe the change in the order of the asana.

Salamba Sirsasana I (Supported Headstand first variation) [184]

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle pose) [4 and 5]

Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle pose) [6 and 7]

Utthita Parsvakonasna (Extended Side-angle pose) [8 and 9]

Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side-angle pose) [10 and 11]

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior pose first variation) [14]

Virabhadrasana II (Warrior pose second variation) [15]

Virabhadrasana III (Warrior pose third variation) [17]

Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon pose) [19]

Parsvottanasana (Intense Side-stretch pose) [26]

Prasarita Padottanasana I (Standing Wide-angle forward bend first variation) [33 and 34]

Prasarita Padottanasana II (Standing Wide-angle forward bend second variation) [35 and 36]

Padangusthasana (Standing Big-toe pose) [44]

Padahastasana (Hand-under-foot pose) [46]

Uttanasana (Standing forward bend) [48]

*Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Standing Splits) [49]

*Utkatasana (Fierce pose) [42]

Parighasana (Gate pose) [39]

*Ustrasana (Camel pose) [41]

Salabhasana (Locust pose) [60] or Makarasana (Crocodile pose) [62]

Dhanurasana (Bow pose) [63]

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-limb Staff pose) [67]

Bhujangasana I (Cobra pose first variation) [73)

*Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog pose) [74]

*Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog pose) [75]

*Virasana (Hero pose) [86]

Salamba Sarvangasana I (Supported Shoulderstand first variation) [223]

Halasana (Plow pose) [244]

Karnapidasana (Ear-pressing pose) [246]

Supta Konasana (Reclined Angle pose) [247]

Parsva Halasana (Side Plow pose) [249]

Ekapada Sarvangasana (One-legged Shoulderstand) [250]

*Parsvaikapada Sarvangasana (Side One-legged Shoulderstand) [251]

Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen pose) [274 and 275]

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Legs pose, aka UPP) [276 to 279]

Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat pose) [78]

Ardha Navasana (Half Boat pose) [79]

Janu Sirsasana (Head-toward-Knee pose) [127]

Paschimottanasana (Seated forward fold) [160]

*Purvottanasana (Upward Plank pose) [171]

*Siddhasana (Adept's pose) [84]

Savasana [592]

Ujjayi Pranayama without inhalation retention (Section 203) in Siddhasana


Saturday, March 7, 2015


I like to remind students, as I have oft been reminded, that yoga "is not a race and it's not synchronized swimming." By that I hope to subdue the (sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious) tendency to be in a hurry and to compare one's practice to someone else's. Often when I look into a room of students, regardless of their experience level or the longevity of their practice, I see an embodiment of "faster is better." During "windshield wiper" twists, for example, I see legs flapping back and forth so fast I want to say Your wipers are on monsoon when they should be on drizzle! That student isn't thinking about what they are doing or why, they are just going through the motions.

I also witness a lot of compromised alignment and mindfulness for the sake of "keeping up." Sometimes another person's pose or the teacher's instructions are translated in your mind (and then in your body) as "you must do this right now." Actually, my instructions are more of a preview or guide for what you can expect to do in the next few moments/seconds/minutes, not a command to perform immediately. It's like when your GPA says "turn right in 500 feet." You know you have to stay focused on your current position and actions while also preparing for what comes next. That's why you hear things like "with your next inhalation..." and "when you are ready..." included with the instruction. I'm like the Garmin for your sticky mat! :)

It's reasonable that you want to participate in the class, you want to keep up with the instructions, you want to do the same thing(s) as your fellow students. It makes you feel proud and excited which are valid feelings. Especially when the instruction happens to be something that you know you can actually do, you may be inadvertently provoked into hurriedness in order to feel that sense of accomplishment. Also nobody wants to be the person in the group who is still trying to get their back foot to step forward into Lunge while everyone else has already been in Warrior for three breaths. And nobody wants to be the only person who goes to the wall during Headstand.

But why? Those are arbitrary measurements of capability which in no way define your skillfulness. Those kinds of impetuous value judgments only perpetuate insecurities and inadequacies when your practice should be a source of empowerment and, if anything, a measurement of all the things you can in fact do.

When you turn yoga into a chase or competition -- either with others or yourself -- you risk losing your sense of direction and getting lost. Then, rather than trusting your ability to take one steady step after another, you just worry about what's around the corner. We waste a lot of time worrying about what is about to happen -- and not in the mindfully prepared way I mentioned earlier, but hastily and conditionally -- and then we aren't engaged in what is currently happening. Instead you think about poses you know are coming later in the practice, you think about next week's practice, you even think about next year's practice. You think about the poses that challenge you to the point of frustration or frighten you to the point of inertia. And you try to pep-talk yourself into an experience that doesn't even exist yet because the moment hasn't yet arrived.

When you think into the future in that way, even by just a few minutes, you are neglecting the present moment. You are gridlocked in the consequences of problems that don't actually exist. And you are measuring your practice by all the things it doesn't have or that you don't or can't do rather than what you do have or can do.

The moments during practice when you move hastily are often measurements of lack, as well. They are overcompensations for those things you feel like you don't do well. There is a little voice in your head saying Oh that one is easy, and I'll prove it by doing it quickly and perhaps even multiple times which will be satisfying! But while you are counting your "I can't's" and making a mad-dash through your "I can's" you are missing the point.

My teacher likes to say that in order to practice yoga well, you have to know how to get off the bus at the right stop or you will end up in the wrong neighborhood. She means you have to pay attention to what you are doing in order to make good choices (both short and long term) or you risk ending up somewhere you don't want to be. Yoga is the practice of noticing. It is a process of learning to pay attention to what you are doing while you are doing it, to feel what you are feeling while you are feeling it. To notice means to know, not to judge and not to compete. It isn't about measuring or labeling, or liking or disliking, or accepting or rejecting. It's not about finish lines or best times. And it isn't Simon Says. It is about witnessing.

You may be in a room full of other yogis all taking part in the same led class, but you are there with and for yourself. It is okay if you need a prop when no one else does. Or if you don't "take a vinyasa" every time your neighbor does. Or if you used to stay in Headstand for ten minutes but you don't anymore. Whatever another student is doing and the pace at which they are doing it is irrelevant to your own practice. As is whatever you were doing in your last practice or will be doing in the next. What is relevant is that you know how pay to attention; that you can pause to notice right now just the way it is. Be in your own practice. Be in your own existence.

There is no itinerary. There is no timetable for mastering any given pose or sequence of poses. In fact there are so many contingencies influencing the performance of asana: body shape and size and proportion, character and disposition, desires and goals, motivations, psychologies, quantities and qualities of investment, accessibilities, preparedness, maturity and background, etc. It is a multifaceted experience as well as an experiment perpetually developing.

By learning how to slow down and really notice what you are doing while you are doing it, you will learn how to thoroughly cherish your practice in its current fineness, no speedometer or trophies needed.


     As if your true self were shrouded in inaudible fog: the will
     to speak is often absolved by the sheer inability to enunciate
     the simplest of questions: where is your heaven? And why
     did you leave me?
What was the meaning of that hypnopompic
     driving expedition, the car like a body whose heart was a wheel,

     you thought you could steal minutes from the timeline
     by driving faster, velvet Monza ether, soft top down, stars
     performing their star roles though death is often mistaken
     for tireless dreaming, what is the meaning of the true self
     speechless, yet desperately steering the body whose heart:

     on autopilot: inaudibly searches for new ways to be alone

     Rumsey, Tessa. "Corvair." Assembling the Shepherd. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1999. 38. Print.