The Vinyasa of growth


IMG_2503 I often hear from friends and students that they feel ‘stuck’ in their Yoga teaching or practice. I know exactly how they feel because it happens to me all the time. We want to know how to move forward. It’s an excellent question.

But I wonder is the solution really another new technique? A longer ratio in pranayam? Mastery of yet another asana? Or does the answer lie simply in living our Yoga more fully?

I like to think of life like a pie, each slice representing a different aspect of our humanity. A slice for work/career, a slice for relationship, family, creativity, home, spirituality/growth, service, and so on. And my sense is that progression in Yoga means taking a closer look at that pie from time to time to see if it actually represents our highest aspirations?

Does our outer life adequately reflect our inner life?

Are there any areas that feel disconnected, in contradiction to, or an obstacle to any others?

These are excellent questions, that show me in no uncertain terms exactly where I have work to do.

For a long time my work and spirituality/growth pie slices (because as a Yoga teacher these have mostly been one and the same) were super fat and juicy while my home and relationship slithers would’ve left a gnat still wanting.

This is not to say that we should have perfectly compartmentalised lives with specific ratios for everything we do. Not at all. It’s more to do with what we value, and if there’s something that we value that remains un-investigated or un-lived (even if we pretend that we don’t really care), then we will feel unfulfilled. We won’t be living all of the life we were born to live.

And so for me, home and the heart form the landscape for much of my Yoga right now.

My personal practice has always been a very intuitive thing, and whatever I’ve needed to read or hear or do next has just showed up or arisen internally at just the right time. When my asana practice was a lot more impressive than it is now, it wasn’t because I had a preconceived idea or desire to “get”  this or that pose. It was more that the postures themselves kept revealing or unfolding themselves before me, or inside me, taking me gradually deeper into more extreme variations.

Until they didn’t.

I remember the morning that I sat post-practice, eating porridge at the kitchen bench of my friend and Yoga Arts director Louisa Sear. “I think I might have peaked” I said. She laughed and asked me how old was I again? (she’s not got the best of memories!). “36” I replied. “Yep” she said in agreement, “same thing happened for me at about that age”.  We both started practising very young by the way – she at 17, me at 21, so 36 was after more than 15yrs of practice. It’s not the age that’s important here but the process.

Now at 50 I know she still practices almost every day, but free of the need to get anywhere. So how do we keep going deeper in our Yoga without breaking our bodies in two? Or exhausting our minds with an excess of information?

My feeling is this: by letting it infiltrate each and every aspect of our lives. By staying very alert and awake to the situations in which we contract or close down. At the same time nurturing an ever-growing compassion and patience towards our humanness.

Every Thursday for the last month or so I’ve been hanging with my 14-month old friend Kaiin, while his Mum, my good friend goes to her Art class. This time feels like Yoga to me, except that he is the teacher and I am the student.

His innocence, curiosity, and absolute delight in pushing an old broom around our living room melt my heart in a similar way to kirtan. The small rocks and ‘dead’ leaves he picked up and showed me yesterday found their way to my altar as symbols of the divinity that is everywhere when we bother to notice. The satisfaction I feel when he’s fed and sleeping soundly is much better than that from any arm balance I ever did.

Because ultimately life is about relationship. And our Yoga practice the training ground for getting better at it. A friend once cracked me up by saying, “I swear I’m enlightened when I’m on my own!”. Me too I thought. Why does it all fall apart as soon as I open my mouth to talk to somebody?!

This fluid, breathing, unpredicatble Reality we call Life is the playground for integration. And Yoga gives us the presence and courage to do just that. To integrate. To have our spiritual aspirations made manifest in this world, through our everyday words and actions. To learn how to really love somebody. To see the Deity in the radiance of a sunrise. To be in satsang with the sound of the rain on the roof. To remember God as you’re doing the dishes and feel the simple subtle bliss of that.

So if you, as I do, feel a bit ‘stuck’ in your Yoga practice sometimes, then just let the magnifying glass of awareness run over your thoughts and actions for the course of a day. Or take another look at the pie of your life, and if there’s still places and spaces that Yoga doesn’t penetrate, then that is exactly where you need to go next. Every second of your past the preparatory vinyasa for your next bold move.

“The seeds of purification are within you, nurture those and you will awaken. The form helps, but it is the awareness that liberates.”  ~ Sayadaw U Pandita

Om Namo Narayani