"For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace."
We are experiencing a good snow season in Colorado, which means many of us here are on the local mountains snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and making merry. As I was putting my snowboarding gear away the other day, I glanced over at my mountain bike and felt a bit of nostalgia for riding my bike on the amazing trails we have here. Snow season means no biking. Biking season generally means no snowboarding. Long story short, outdoor sports in Colorado are seasonal endeavors.
Seasonal activities are great because when the spring thaw comes and I am back on my bike, I will feel elated for the return to the trail in much the same way the opening of snow season brings with it a joyful return to the slopes. Each season is made a bit sweeter by time away involved in other pursuits.
Yoga, unlike most sports, doesn’t run by seasons. I am not only talking about the fact that since we practice mostly inside, in temperature-controlled environments, we are not dependent or deterred by weather patterns. I am talking about a stated or unstated imperative that we practice daily, no matter what, maintaining inspiration, enthusiasm, and devotion throughout the process.
Almost every other serious physical endeavor has an off-season and a on-season. Take body builders or triathletes, for instance— they have a season where they bulk up, eat more and gain weight and a season where they slim down, lean out and so on. Many yogi’s expect to exist happily all year round on green drinks and weight fluctuations indicate some loss of discipline or moral high ground. (Don’t go too far down the road on the food or the sports analogy, I am just saying poking a little bit at the unrealistic expectations that often result in shame, self-criticism, feelings of isolation.)
And the double binds are endless— practice daily, but don’t be compulsive; get better at asana, don’t be attached to the poses; make sacrifices for your practice, have a full life.
And so on.
Truth be told, my practice has had very definite seasons over the years. I have maintained a regular practice but certainly not always an inspired one. I have had cycles where the only thing I wanted to do was spend my day working on postures. I have had phases where the topic of poses seemed absurd and irrelevant. I have found joyful connection in the online platforms of social media and I have wanted to throw my phone across the room when I saw someone post a yet another yoga photo.
I have felt strong, supple, and capable. I have felt weak, stiff, and limited. I have felt inspired by the possibility of enlightened community as often as I have felt betrayed, cynical, and hopeless about what can happen when two or more are gathered in the name of yoga. I have loved by body. I have hated it. I have felt good about my practice. I have felt critical about my practice. I’ve had periods of puritanical restriction and periods of bacchanalian indulgence. To be clear, I am not talking about a night or two. I am talking about seasons of each swing on the pendulum.
As a teacher, I have showed up to my classes, workshops and trainings regardless of what my own personal seasonal weather pattern has been. I have done my best and admittedly, my best has varied over the years.
None of my teachers ever talked much about the waxing and waning of their enthusiasm for practice, so I am writing a blog entry to talk about mine in case you are on a downswing of some kind and judging yourself. No matter how you feel, you are not alone-- at least two of us in the world have struggled to accept the seasonal nature of the inner and outer lives of our practice.
There is no single way to sustain a relationship to practice over the course of one's life. My approach might make your life miserable and yours might not work well for me. None of those outer expressions matter so much to me these days. I have come to appreciate what gets built over the long haul, in the cumulative effects of sustaining some connection to practice through the different seasons of my interest and involvement. While there are pivotal moments and threshold experiences that can usher us into new depths, the gifts of the practice are not built in any one practice, class or workshop. In the same way that riding my bike in the spring is made sweeter because of a 4-month break, sometimes my appreciation for asana returns when I allow myself some time away to pursue other activities.
I am on a bit of an upswing with asana these days, finding inspiration and delight through my Asana Junkies webinar and some recent, rewarding teaching experiences. Kelly also re-did my practice space and that change has helped me settle in again. Ever since my move to Colorado, I haven’t liked the space I have had to practice very much and now I love my whole office/practice space scenario. (This is a high-class complaint, I know, but since my practice is 90% solitary and home-based, not studio-based, having a space I like is pretty important. More so than I realized, in fact.)
At any rate, I trust the process this many years in. Sometimes I see my students in the season of zeal and I miss that season. I see other students in the dark night of the yoga soul and I recognize that season from personal experience, although I would be lying to say I miss it. My point is that yoga is a relationship like any other relationship and, after the flush of new love fades, the work of intimacy begins, often marked by a period of conflict, restlessness, and/or boredom. And, as any one who has worked through any of those issues in any of their relationships knows, the seasons of difficulty where things are burning, dying, or laying fallow can become fertile soil for future growth.
And, two practical pieces of advice in closing:
1.) Occasionally, give yourself permission NOT to practice.
2.) Don’t underestimate the power of 15 or 20 minutes to keep your connection to asana alive. The short practice we actually do is way better than the long practice we don’t do.
(Yes, I know, these ideas are sort of “blinding flashes of the obvious.” However, perfectionistic types out there often find these teachings quite difficult to take to heart. You know who you are.)
Keep the faith.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."