Practice and Letting Go

Orange DotOver the last week I’ve found myself attaching a great deal of expectation to my practice on the mat.  The first time it reared its ugly head was in a restorative practice on Friday.  I had had a long, though admittedly shortened, week at work and desperately wanted some nourishment from my practice.  I spent the first 45 minutes chasing my mind around like you might an overly sugared toddler.  At one point, I yelled very loudly into that swirling space, “Just let it go!  Who cares what spices you’re going to add to dinner tonight?”  I don’t know if it was the right approach but something clicked and I felt my jaw release, my eyes go heavy, and my entire body sank into the support of my props.  It didn’t last very long, but for those few minutes I felt fully present.  I had let go.

The second time occurred Sunday morning when I rolled out my mat.  I stepped onto that mat with a plan.  I wanted to work on refining my transitions in the vinyasas, and, as if that weren’t enough, inversions and maybe some backbends.  It was planned expectation under the guise of practice.  It knocked me on my butt.  After the first several vinyasas I was more than a little disappointed at how weak they felt, as if I’d regressed in my practice.  I moved onto some standing postures and just breathed.  It was standing in my second warrior 2 when the realization bubbled up.  I was intent on achieving an outcome based on some previous result, not on being fully present in my practice.

I realized I wasn’t accepting my practice for where it was that morning.  I wasn’t beginning in the now.  Over the holiday season my practice on the mat changed to reflect what I needed in that time and space.  It was gentler, more restorative, and filled with many fewer vinyasas than before.  Yet I came to the mat that morning expecting to pick up right where I’d left off in mid-November.  I wasn’t being realistic with my expectations and that led me to feeling disappointed and angry with myself for what I could and could not do.

It was a lesson I needed reminding of: persistent practice while letting go of the result.  It’s abhyasa and vairagya from Sutras I.12 to I.15 and I wasn’t doing either very well.  While I had had a consistent practice throughout the holidays, it wasn’t in this more vigorous style that is typically the base of my practice.  Yet I wanted the same result I had had then and I wanted it now.  So instead of being fully present, having a quality of ease for where I was in my practice, I became very attached to my idea of what my practice should look like.  The result I got was what I was practicing: being unsettled, anxious, and a bit angry.

In that warrior 2, I recommitted to practicing from where I am right now.  Instead of a dozen or more full vinyasas in each practice, I can take some of them and move from plank to downward dog with longer holds to rebuild strength.  It will require persistent practice to get back to where I was before.  With that persistent practice, I’m going to need to cultivate patience (which I am not famous for!) and my full presence so that I’m bringing the same qualities onto the mat that I want to take with me off of the mat.  And I need to do that regardless of what the outcome might be.

As a very goal oriented person, letting go of my desired outcome is the hardest part.  I have to keep reminding myself of what being attached to the result left me with: disappointment, anxiety, and a bit of anger.  I’m not going to be a more fulfilled person if I do the perfect transition from chaturanga to upward dog to downward dog.  What it provides is a training ground for life off of the mat.  How am I going to respond to a situation when I don’t get the result I expected or hoped for?  It’s human to be disappointed or angry but I hope that out of that I can cultivate a quality of presence and ease in the chaos that disappointment can bring.  Because what comes with the end of a hoped for result is my favorite thing of all: a new beginning.

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